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7 Important Questions You Need to ask About the Magic of Embryo Adoption

It may be September, but I already have snow on the brain.

Snowflake BABIES, that is!

Did you know that, thanks to embryo donation, you can now give birth to your adopted child?

What a time to be alive!!!

Embryo adoption has been around for over a decade, but it’s still relatively unknown, even to couples who are proactively seeking fertility options.

But wait. What exactly IS embryo adoption?

We should probably start there …

The Nitty Gritty on Embryo Adoption

Embryo adoption occurs when couples have leftover embryos after going through in-vitro fertilization. If they decide their family is complete, but they still have embryos in cryogenic storage, they can choose to give their tiny, frozen babies a chance at life with a new family.

These donated embryos are sometimes referred to as “snowflakes” due to their microscopic size, frozen status, and unique DNA.

How magical does that sound?!?

A snowflake adoption!

Quick clarification: “Embryo adoption” and “embryo donation” are terms with slightly different nuance. “Embryo adoption” usually is handled similarly to a traditional adoption, generally involving a mediating agency and traditional adoption requirements, such as home studies. “Embryo donation” is usually handled entirely through a clinic, and the donating family is most often anonymous and uninvolved. Throughout this article, I will use both terms more-or-less interchangeably.

Like all forms of family-building, embryo adoption is not for everyone. There are some important questions you need to consider before investing your time, money, and emotions into such an endeavor.

What questions? Ah….these questions….

Question #1:
Are You Morally Comfortable
with Embryo Adoption?

Family-building is full of extremely personal choices, many of them moral and ethical. There are strong feelings for some when it comes to birth control, size of family, adoption, fertility treatments, and especially IVF (in-vitro fertilization).

A lot of people fall into the category of being comfortable with fertility treatments but feel that creating embryos in petri dishes may be taking things a little too far. For a variety of ethical or religious reasons, they might look at IVF as “playing God” and don’t like the idea of commissioning the creation of tiny souls.

If that’s where you find yourself, embryo adoption may be a great option for you! After all, if you view the half a million frozen embryos currently in storage as tiny, adorable, magical snowflake babies, then they are children who need homes and parents, and it no longer matters how they got here. They just need someone to adopt them, love them, and give them a chance at life!

On the other hand, if you find yourself doing spiritual gymnastics, trying to make yourself be okay with the idea on an ethical level, it’s probably not for you. And that’s okay! If you don’t feel 1,000% excited for a snowflake adoption, then another family-building process is probably a better fit for you.

If you DO decide that embryo donation is something you feel is an ethically good choice for you, the next question to ask yourself is …

Question #2:
Can You Afford Embryo Adoption?

Unfortunately, the magic of embryo adoption costs a little more than a pocketful of pixie dust.

I’ve heard of some clinics that will attempt a single embryo transfer for as low as $4,000. I’ve also heard of some that will package multiple transfer attempts together for $12,000-$15,000. That gives you a higher chance of success for a single flat fee as opposed to dishing out more money for each attempt.

If the other option you’re considering is a $30,000+ traditional adoption or a $10,000-$25,000 round of IVF, the cost to receive an embryo donation may sound quite appealing!

Don’t forget, you may also have travel expenses if the embryos you choose to adopt aren’t local. And oh, honey! Don’t forget to consider the cost of all those medications you have to take to keep your body from rejecting the embryo. It can definitely add up.

Using a Goal Journal to Stay Focused

Most of us aren’t going to find the money for a snowflake adoption hidden in our couch cushions. (But it doesn’t hurt to check!)

If you don’t have the cash up front for a magic snowflake adoption, now is the time to start putting your financial house in order. A financial goal journal can help you keep your priorities in focus.

Use the journal to keep track of your budget, jot down important dates in your treatment journey, and keep tabs on your daily injections (when you get to that point). PLUS, this sleek black-and-gold design that I’m absolutely drooling over focuses on your emotional well-being with places to record good deeds done, things you are grateful for, and positive experiences.

(Trust me. With all those hormone treatments you’ll be experiencing with an embryo donation, you’ll need every bit of support for your emotional well-being you can get!)

How to Evaluate Your Gambling Risk

When you’re trying to plan your family via untraditional means, it can feel like such a gamble! Sadly, neither fertility treatments nor adoption are guaranteed to work.

Each individual instance of embryo adoption is 35-40%. That success rate depends on a number of variables like …

  • Your age
  • The quality of embryos
  • Your physical health
  • The experience of the clinic you are using
  • The causes of infertility
  • How recently you have attempted other fertility treatments (if applicable)
  • Whether embryos are implanted at the same site of original freezing or have been transported closer to you
  • Whether the embryos have been previously thawed and refrozen

To put things in perspective, couples using their own frozen embryos (not from embryo donation) have around a 32% success rate. And couples with no known fertility issues have a 25% chance of conceiving each month (assuming they are not using prevention).

Now, although much more expensive, a traditional private adoption gives parents the greatest chance of success. Keep in mind, though, if you don’t find a “match” before the expiration of your contract, you’ll be out that money…so read the fine print carefully! 

You have to decide whether to invest a small(ish) amount of money in a snowflake adoption or a ginormous chunk of change in the lower-risk traditional adoption.

Which leads very nicely into…

Question #3:
How Do You Want to Invest Your Time?

If a traditional private adoption gets high marks for “Most Likely to Succeed,” it gets very poor marks in “time spent.”

The Blue Fairy isn’t going suddenly show up and turn a wooden doll into a “real boy”. (Which is a good thing. I creeped myself out just by typing that.) Couples often spend YEARS on waiting lists, hoping for a match. If you aren’t in a hurry, a traditional, post-birth, adoption may be the right choice for you.

But what if you ARE in a hurry to have a family? What if you’re already in your thirties? Or if you’ve already been through years upon years of heartache due to failed fertility treatments or adoption attempts? What if you just don’t feel you can hold out hope much longer?

This is where embryo adoption really sparkles and shines.

Depending on your agency/clinic’s policies and procedures, you may be able to complete an embryo adoption within just a few months!

Interview Your Embryo Adoption Clinic

Before you start your baby registry and stock up on underwire-free nursing bras, ask your clinic the following questions:

  • What are your success rates both per transfer and per couple?
  • Where would our embryo donation come from?
  • How would you rate the quality of the embryos?
  • If the first transfer doesn’t take, how long do we have to wait before trying another?

That last question is especially important when we’re talking about your time investment. Some clinics may allow you to do another transfer fairly soon after a failed attempt or a miscarriage. Others may insist on a waiting period for your body to “reset” itself.

The “Double-Dip” Option

Due to the long wait times often associated with traditional adoption, it’s also possible for you to double-dip.

In other words, you can move forward with a traditional and a snowflake adoption at the same time!

It is very possible to contract with traditional adoption agencies (especially ones with low upfront costs) while trying a few cycles of embryo adoption while you’re waiting for a match.

After all, it’s a simple enough matter to cancel the adoption search if you conceive before the adoption agency has got all your paperwork finished! #beentheredonethat

Question #4:
Pregnancy? Genetics?
How Important Are These Things to You?

This is a complicated issue. This is the part I wish I could discuss with you on a comfy couch while we drink chai lattes with a box of Kleenex, just in case.

If you need to take a break from reading to go fire up the Keurig, feel free. I’ll wait right here.

[Insert big, deep breath.] Okay, let’s begin.

Some women really long to experience the magic of pregnancy.

Some couples have a strong desire for a genetic connection with their child.

Some want both.

And for some, neither are all that important, just as long as they get to experience parenthood.

Any and all of these feelings are equally valid.

If you are not ready to let go of the dream of a child with your chestnut curls and Daddy’s crooked smile, well then, my sweet friend, I am not going to recommend embryo adoption. Not yet, anyway. Maybe you need to exhaust every other fertility treatment option first.

That said, there’s something really special about snowflake adoption you should know.

The Special Thing About Embryo Adoption Is …

Snowflake adoption is unique because you rarely adopt just ONE embryo.

Usually, an embryo donation includes a BATCH of magical, tiny icicle babies.

And that means …

SIBLINGS!!!

Even if your children aren’t genetically related to you, they can be related to each other! They can share DNA and (more likely than not) actually LOOK like siblings! Oh, sister [pun intended], it fills me with awe that in this day, women have the option of birthing children with no genetic link to themselves AND give those children siblings they can share their genes with.

If the genetic link to your child doesn’t mean much to you, but your heart still desires to feel your child moving inside you, to experience bonding with your unborn baby, to see those little fingers and toes on the screen as the ultrasound tech slides that funky contraption through the goopy gel on your belly … then keep going! Ask yourself Question #5.

Question #5:
How Would You Handle a Failed Transfer or a Loss?

Do you remember those statistics on how many transfers are successful in snowflake adoption? (Hint: 35-40%)

That means there’s a high chance of a failed transfer or pregnancy loss. I know it’s not easy, but you’ve got to ask yourself the hard question: Are you prepared for that?

If you have been so emotionally damaged due to fertility treatments that a risk that high would be too much for you, that’s okay.

On the other hand, perhaps you are choosing snowflake adoption because you want to give a few frozen babies a chance at life … or because you want to experience pregnancy and the miracle of childbirth … or because you know you would always wonder … what if?

If that is you, know that every good thing worth having is worth a risk. And what a beautiful, magical risk this is!

Yes, 35-40% is a tough number, because you don’t know how many transfers you’ll have to do to be successful – or IF you’ll be successful!

After all, one woman I interviewed adopted six embryos with her husband and lost all of them due to unsuccessful thaws, failed transfers, and miscarriages. Oh, how my heart broke for her!

And yet …

Another woman I interviewed underwent only two cycles with embryo donation, and BOTH took on the first try. She and her husband now have two funny, strong, beautiful daughters! They may have been conceived at the same time, but they are now 3 years apart. (Yeah … wrap your mind around that strange-but-true fact.)

So accept the possibility of some failures, but focus your prayers on success!

Question #6:
How Do You Handle Needles?
(Lots and LOTS of Needles?)

I realize this may seem silly, but it’s actually a really important question for BOTH of you to answer as you think through embryo adoption.

Husbands, can you handle giving your wife daily injections? Depending on your individual clinic, they may recommend that injections be given in a location your wife can’t reach!

The types of injections, the frequency, and how long you have to continue with them after the embryo transfer will depend on the following criteria:

  • The clinic you choose clinic of choice
  • The nature of your infertility (if known)
  • Any medical concerns/conditions (such as blood-clotting disorders)
  • Whether you have received an embryo donation before

If you attempt multiple transfers, your fertility specialist may alter your injection types and dosages each time, fiddling with the medications to find the right balance that works for your body, unique fertility concerns, and hormone levels.

Unfortunately, Miracle Max doesn’t have a chocolate-coated pill for you. That’s a different kind of magic. So be prepared that you could potentially be looking at a year – or MORE – of daily injections.

For some of you, that may be no big deal. After all, you’ve got seven holes in each ear, a nose ring, and nine tattoos.

However, a “friend of mine” is so terrified of needles that she passed out when she got her ears pierced! It may not be as easy for her to commit to hundreds – maybe THOUSANDS – of needles! (Yes, the friend was me. *sigh*)

Question #7:
How Would You Explain
Snowflake Adoption to Your Child?

Yeah, well, okay. Maybe this isn’t a good indicator on whether or not you should choose embryo adoption. But it IS something that every couple I know who has considered any type of adoption has spent time considering.

Fortunately for you, some creative literary wizards have already caught up with reproductive technology and written children’s books that truly embrace the magic of embryo donation.

Yeah, I’m shocked too! How awesome is that!

Any of these books would be a great way to help your future snowflake baby understand what a miracle she is!

A Journey as Unique as a Snowflake

Everyone has their own story for how their family came to be, but snowflake adoption is particularly beautiful – and unusual! After all, how many people can say they used to be cryogenically frozen?

The talking points I’ve brought up should provide great fodder for conversations with your spouse to help you decide if embryo adoption is right for you. (If you decide it IS for you, make sure you pick up this sweet adorable onesie to declare your snowflake to the world!)

Whether you choose snowflake adoption, traditional adoption, other fertility treatments, or none at all, we here at Mighty Moms wish you joy and magic in your unique journey!

Most of my research for this article was drawn from interviewing couples who have adopted embryos, but I also used information from www.embryoadoption.org. That website is an excellent resource for more information on how to get started!  

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