This is a relevant topic for three groups of people.
- Anyone considering IVF. Why? You may not need all the embryos you have for the family size you will want. The time to talk about this is before your IVF cycle. Consider creating only a certain number of embryos and simply freezing the rest of your eggs extracted during IVF. Doing this will mean you need not consider what to do with extra embryos if that is an emotional decision you’re not willing or wanting to make.
- Anyone that has gone through IVF and with extra unused embryos.
- For those considering starting a family, but unable to do so on their own. More specifically, this type of person likes the idea of using an already created embryo. Why might that be the case? If for example this person needs to use an egg donor and or sperm donor, or both, or doesn’t want to create new embryos when so many are already in existence.
Embryo donation, when done right, is a beautiful exchange. It’s often a win-win scenario when a donating family can send off embryos into the world with hopes of them becoming children. On the other end a receiving family gets the opportunity to give the embryo a chance at life while building a family.
It’s something I feel strongly about, and have built a program to facilitate exchanges between people willing to share their eggs called Freeze and Share.
Sharing eggs or donating embryos are not decisions to be made in haste.
Here are 6 Things You Need to Know About Embryo Donation
1. Set the right expectations.
This will be an emotional process. It’s why I recommend that all of my patients that are considering donating or receiving embryos to speak with a fertility psychologist before making a decision.
It’s important to consider the emotional impact on family and work with a trusted and caring therapist to help ensure you’re asking the right questions, and thinking through the process ahead of time.
2. Dr. Allen suggests that you should be aware of the common concerns heard from both donor & recipient families.
Think about and discuss how they may also apply to you:
For Donor Families:
- Will the embryo that becomes a child be provided for in a stable and healthy home?
- How can I ensure I’m doing a good thing by donating the embryo to this person?
For Recipient Families:
- What is the mental and medical health history for the egg and sperm donors of this embryo?
- What type of involvement do the donors expect to have in the life of the child?
- Does the donor family plan on letting their existing children know that an embryo was donated?
- Will the embryo I receive that becomes a child truly feel like mine?
- How will the child feel, and will they be upset in any way?
These questions and more are very common, and the types of topics Dr. Allen works through with people before they commit to the decision to donate or receive.
3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
See all of those common questions and concerns in #2? Yes, those all need to be considered and discussed. I also strongly encourage donor and recipient families to consider an “open” relationship — which can mean many things.
For example, an“open” relationship can take the form of:
a) Matched patients who are donating and receiving and aware of who each other is. They have seen profiles, met individually, and then meet in person with a fertility counselor before agreeing to the terms of the embryo donation.
b) Anonymous exchanges, but those that are open to contact once a donated embryo has become an adult child.
c) Patients that find each other online on their own accord, arrange a transfer, and have largely handled the getting to know one another on their own because it’s the approach that worked best for them.
There are several paths, none of them right or wrong. What’s critical is ensuring both parties are on the same page.
4. Approach the legal phase with an eye towards the future.
Once you’ve met individually, and as a group with the help of a fertility psychologist then it’s time to get into the legal phase.
This is the time to discuss all possible scenarios up-front. This may not be easy, but it’s important. Obviously, this is something you want to go as smoothly as possible to result in a happy outcome for all.
Some things to consider discussing:
- As the donor family: What parameters do you have around the embryos you are donating? Are you asking for embryos back that have not been used? Are you donating outright and with no stipulations? What if you donated more embryos than the family ends up using? What will they be permitted to do with them?
- As the donor family: Do you want to be considered in a will should the recipient family be unable to care for the future child? Will you then be asked to have first right of refusal for guardianship?
- As the donor family: Do you want to request that cord blood is stored from the future pregnancies?
Suffice to say, you can get creative with your contract and discuss and plan for all possible scenarios. Take the time to think this through and you will have peace of mind going into the process.
5. As the recipient, think in advance how you will talk to your child about embryo donation.
Rest assured there are resources to help you with this. You will not have to go it alone. In Dr. Allen’s professional opinion giving your child bits and pieces of information when they are young will help make the story a natural part of their upbringing. This avoids the need for a dramatic discussion later on in life.
Dr. Allen recommends keeping it simple. Start small, and build the story over time. Some suggestions for how to do so:
- “We wanted you so much before you came into the world. We went to a special Dr. to help put you in Mommy’s belly. We love you so much.”
- “We received a special gift to bring you into the world because we love you so much.”
- “We needed the gift of an embryo and it was the most beautiful gift we ever received because it gave us you.”
There are several books written for children on the subject. One is “Hope and Will Have a Baby: The Gift of Embryo Donation” by Irene Celcer. Another one is “Scarlett’s story: A Tale about Embryo Donation” by Linda Stamm.
6. If you’re interested in being a donor or recipient here are a few resources to get you started.
I always recommend speaking with your fertility specialist first, but you can also get creative and research on your own via Facebook pages to connect with others or embryo donation centers online.
Here are a few:
- National Embryo Donation Center: a non-profit embryo donation program
- Embryos Alive: The oldest embryo adoption agency
- Dream a Baby: embryo donation facilitator
- Parents Via Egg Donation: PVED
- National Registry for Adoption
- Fertility Psychologist: Dr. Mary Coleman Allen
Embryo donation is truly a win-win when expectations are understood from the beginning, and communication is clear between both parties. It’s an act of love, and one that both donor and recipient can feel good about!
If you’re considering IVF or in need of fertility support, Freeze and Share may be an option you’d like to consider. The Freeze and Share program gives young women who can’t afford egg freezing, or whose company doesn’t cover it on their health insurance plan, the opportunity to freeze their eggs in exchange for donating half.
The woman, man or couple who is looking for an egg donor can choose from a diverse pool of freezers to find their perfect match. Once the match is made through a series of interviews, my clinic will walk both sides through the process in a personal and intimate setting.
As always, I welcome you to get in touch with me to learn more.
The Egg Whisperer show which airs live on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube every Wednesday at 5PM PST is a great place to do so. I cover just about any and all fertility topics and take questions for the show via email and on my Facebook page live. Life is Sharing.