It has recently occurred to me that when I was starting down the path of IVF infertility treatment we don’t talk about what happens to our embryos we do not transfer. Our embryos that are frozen in time.
Of course, it is natural, I focused on the now, I didn’t think too far ahead. We focused on surviving day by day, battling our infertility. But along the way I simply put to the back of my mind the hard decisions we would have to make once our family was complete and we still have embryos left in the freezer.
Chris and I had one frozen embryo left from our first cycle of IVF. We thought of it as our insurance policy. Maybe we would try for a second baby. It was a small comfort knowing I wouldn’t have to go through the egg retrieval process again if we wanted to try after we exhausted our IVF insurance. Maybe we would decide our family was complete after our first baby.
My daughter Aviana arrived in our lives in 2016 after our third cycle of IVF. Chris was pretty sure he was ‘One and Done’ not so long after Aviana was born. I was not so sure. I was ‘on the fence’. Somehow my brain forgot about the stresses, pain and anxiety of IVF. I cried A LOT in the shower at the prospect of being one and done and grieved the idea of not having another baby again. But we did agree to keep our one embryo frozen just in case Chris passed away suddenly so I could still have the choice. He was fine with that situation.
Over time I started to feel that maybe I could also embrace being one and done and be happy with our choice. There were a lot of pros despite the cons!
I’ll share my Pros:
- No stress of infertility treatment
- No stress of pregnancy
- No child birth pain
- No more baby stuff (Babies are cute but toddler age + are way more fun and cuter)
- No more day care/nursery costs
- Cheaper holidays and easier to travel
- No sibling fights
Then in 2020 we were forced to make a decision with what to do with our last frozen embryo. We were leaving the USA to go back to Europe. It was crunch time.
Now here is the part people don’t talk about. What do you do with your embryos when your family is complete? They list the options when you prepare for IVF, but you don’t think about it at the time. We had only one embryo frozen. Many other people could have more than one at the end…maybe even several or a dozen!
Our options were:
- Compassionate transfer
- Donation to another family
- Donation to science
- Destroy them
We investigated donation. We considered giving to someone we knew from our infertility group. We also considered anonymous donation. But either option for donation ended up feeling like giving a baby up for adoption. Having a sibling to Aviana somewhere in the world was hard to get my head around. But equally I wanted to give the chance for another family to experience what we have – an amazing child. Why should we waste that opportunity to give the embryo to someone in need? I felt like my head was running up and down mountains and around and around in circles.
It was difficult to make a decision, there was also a lot of fog. But suddenly we had the metaphorical ‘gun to our heads’. We had to decide before leaving the USA what to do with our embryo. It didn’t help that it was the beginning of the Covid pandemic. I felt somewhat isolated from friends and unsupported by the infertility clinic in our choices.
Eventually we decided to donate our embryo to science. It seemed somewhat better than discarding. Compassionate transfer was not possible due to Covid and to be honest a little bit odd for me personally. I was done with doctors offices.
I hope our little huckleberry’s twin supported some advances in wider embryo related research at the Jones Institute (although sadly it is no longer known as the Jones Institute and we do not know what happened after it was taken over by Shady grove.).
Once we signed the paperwork to release our embryo, I was very sad. I was angry too. Angry at infertility. I probably needed counseling to get me through that time but it was swallowed up with also the pandemic and moving countries. I regret not doing counseling for both Chris and I, together and individually. Luckily we have a strong relationship to fight through some of communication challenges we had, but I think we could have used some help. It really was not easy and we definitely had heated and emotional arguments. In my opinion, this should be automatically offered by the infertility clinic as a standard service.
So, if you have to make a decision about what to do with your embryos once your journey to build a family comes to an end. Take my one and only piece of advice, don’t be afraid to ask for counseling through the decision and don’t feel the pressure from others. It’s your decision together and yours only.