By the time most couples arrive at the doors of in vitro fertilization (IVF), 99.9% of their focus is on using embryos – most often frozen embryos – to conceive a child. Most couples have at least three to five or more embryos frozen to increase their chances of IVF success and/or to use for future IVF cycles when they are ready for Baby #2, 3, or 4.
But what happens to leftover embryos if future pregnancies are no longer possible or desired?
What Are My Options If I Decide Not To Use My Frozen Embryos?
In an article on Parenting.com, Andrea Cinnamond expresses a very common sentiment we hear from former clients. It describes how her feelings about their remaining embryos changed from before her pregnancies via IVF to after they became parents. Initially, “I thought I was going to be calm and casual” about letting them go. Then, the first bill for storing them arrived and she wasn’t able to let them go. She and her husband paid the first bill, and plan to pay their second, but they realize that a decision has to be made soon as the storage fees aren’t infinitely feasible.
There are several options available to couples who have stored, frozen embryos that will not be used for their own future IVF cycles:
You can pay indefinitely to keep them frozen and stored. Couples have the option to pay the storage fees to keep the embryos stored indefinitely. On average, embryo storage fees run around $600 to $800 per year. That can be cost prohibitive for many families, especially couples who now have a family with children and must stick to a budget. If you feel like this is the way you will go for an indeterminate amount of time, we recommend that you and your partner have a Plan B, in case it turns out that you can’t afford perpetual storage costs.
You can donate them to other infertile couples just like you. Of course, this is our personal favorite solution. No one understands the agony of not being able to conceive a child, experience the feeling of having your baby develop and grow inside you and then give birth and even breastfeed as much as you do. However, this experience is impossible for many couples using their own eggs and sperm, depending on their socio-economic bracket and/or particular infertility issues. Donating your embryos to an infertile couple is an exceedingly generous way to give the gift of parenthood to others. Even so, this can be a very difficult and emotionally draining decision.
There are several ways to go about it and your fertility clinic can assist you with the process. There are both open and closed donations. Just like adoptions, an open embryo donation means that your contact information is shared with the embryo’s recipient parents. A closed version means your identity is kept completely confidential. In many cases, you can be selective about who gets the embryos, in regards to education level, religion, etc., and it can all be done via forms through lawyers, your IVF clinic or your embryo storage facility. We urge you to keep in mind, however, that education, economic status and other black-and-white parameters are no measure of the amount of love a parent has for his or her child.
Donating the Embryos to Medical Research. If it is impossible for you to think of your biological children out there in the world with a different set of parents, you may want to consider donating your embryos to medical research. As one couple put it in the aforementioned Parenting article, “We were ultimately still giving life, just not for those particular five embryos.” Now that the ban has been lifted on stem-cell research, you can also choose to donate your embryos to university-based and other research clinics that use stem cells to advance medical research.
Allow them to thaw. Perhaps the most difficult choice of all, you and your partner can choose to thaw your embryos, which means they are no longer viable. It is worth discussing this option with your clinic ahead of time so you know exactly what is allowed and what is not. Some couples decide not to renew their embryo storage and let the clinic handle it. Others choose to become involved, becoming a part of the thawing process and having some sort of ceremony to pay honor to the embryos as they transition from their frozen to thawed state.
Are you, or have you been, forced to make a decision regarding the future of your stored embryos? Please share your story and help to support others in making their decision using the RRC comment box below.
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