What Should I Do With Frozen Embryos I Won’t Use?

A very common problem occurs when you’ve conceived children through IVF (in vitro fertilization). Very often there are extra embryos that are frozen for future use… but what if you feel that your family is complete and you still have frozen embryos in storage? What do you do with them?

When you have children through IVF, so much of your energy and thought process is focused on “will this work”? You’ve gone through SO MUCH just to get to the point of choosing to do IVF and then it might not even work! But very often it DOES work. And then all of your energy and thought process is focused on the pregnancy and delivering a healthy baby; followed by the energy and exhaustion of raising a newborn (or 2… or 3… or 4…) Most people while in the infant stage don’t really put much thought into “should we have another baby?” They are just trying to survive until their kid(s) sleep through the night!

frozen embryos storageBut eventually you get to the point where you’ve decided that you don’t want any more children… yet there are possible future children waiting in a freezer! It’s a very strange situation to be in and there is no right or wrong answer for what to do with extra embryos. It is a very personal decision. You might be faced with this decision right now and are looking for some guidance.

There are several options — and none of them are easy choices to make:

  1. Have the lab destroy the embryos
  2. Donate the embryos to science
  3. Donate the embryos to a person/couple who cannot conceive on their own

We at Twiniversity thought it would be helpful to gather stories from several people who had to make this very decision, to give you a wide array of viewpoints on the subject. We hope this helps to clarify your decision-making process with this extremely difficult decision!

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A couple who decided to do a closed donation tells their story…

“My husband and I had 5 embryos left after our cycle where we had  twins. The twins gave us 3 children and basically destroyed my body in terms if having additional children. With my ability to carry gone, our original desire to have two kids, and our finances we just couldn’t have any more children. We struggled with fertility for 5 years before we had our first son in 2009. He was born at 24 weeks and had a long NICU stay. As a result we were a little nervous about having more children.

When he was 3 we decided to try again and had 1 abandoned IVF cycle, a failed cycle and then finally got twins. I spent 12.5 weeks on bed rest, 9.5 in the hospital and we had healthy b/g twins in October 2013. With all our struggles we could really empathize with other couples. We are also pro-life and personally belief that life begins at conception so, for us, the embryos are babies that deserve a chance.

frozen embryosWe opted to donate to another couple and we hope that they will have a future. We are a little scared for them, hoping that they have wonderful parents — that they don’t feel like we abandoned them and that they have great lives, but even with these fears we knew they deserved a chance.

We didn’t have to pay anything. The application was very simple and the agency we donated to covered all the transporting costs. It was a long application but the process was simple and quick. We chose a closed donation but we will be informed if any of our babies make it. When I say closed it means that we won’t know the specific couple that adopts. We did still have the option of placing certain criteria on the receiving family. We left it fairly open but we did say that it could not be a family from the area of the country where we currently live.”

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A couple who decided to donate their remaining embryos through an open donation tells their story…

“After three years of trying to conceive unsuccessfully with my eggs, my husband and I successfully conceived twins during our first donor egg IVF cycle.  The day after our embryo transfer, we knew we had four more embryos frozen from that cycle.  At the time, we were glad to have frozen embryos in case our fresh cycle didn’t work.

We started out planning to only have one child, due to my age and other considerations, so conceiving twins on the first try meant that it was unlikely we would use any of those frozen embryos.  Still, we agreed to wait and decide when our twins were a year old what we would do with the embryos. I then had a difficult and miserable pregnancy with my twins.  I had extreme fatigue for all but a few weeks of the pregnancy, all-day nausea from week 6 to week 22, and food intolerances and heartburn throughout (as well as the more minor annoyances like hemorrhoids and skin changes which most pregnant women experience).  In addition to these symptoms, I also had medical complications:  I developed gestational diabetes at 21 weeks and preeclampsia at 32 weeks. . . . which led to a c-section (with significant post-surgical hemorrhage) at 34 weeks.  Without trying to sound too dramatic, I literally could have died, either from preeclampsia or the hemorrhage.  Thankfully, I received excellent care, and my sons and I are fine.

Between our original plan to have only one child–and now having two–and the difficult pregnancy and delivery I’d had, we knew we would never use our frozen embryos, as I did not intend to ever undertake another pregnancy. Because we knew we would not use those frozen embryos ourselves, my husband and I wanted to donate them to another childless, infertile couple. We aren’t particularly religious, but we recognized that each of our frozen embryos had the potential to develop into a living, breathing human being and that there are other people who find themselves in the position in which we found ourselves–childless and unable to conceive–who cannot afford to pursue donor egg IVF as a family-building option.  Donated embryos can be a good option for people in that situation.

We ended up finding a suitable match for us through the website Miracles Waiting. The website is kind of like a dating site. Couples post ads/profiles, and you can browse them. You can also post your own ad, but I preferred to do the choosing myself. Donation didn’t cost us anything — the recipient couple paid all costs, which is customary in these situations. Something else to consider is that posting an ad on Miracles Waiting costs money, but contacting someone through their ad costs nothing.

We were glad to be able to give another couple the chance at parenthood and to give our frozen embryos a chance to grow into babies. Our open donation contract provided for Miracles Waiting to notify us if/when a child was conceived (positive pregnancy test/ultrasound) and born, send us a photo at one year, and then further contact at the family’s discretion, up to and including my husband meeting their child if they wanted that.”

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A couple who decided to donate their remaining embryos to science tells their story…

“We knew we couldn’t afford to keep them in storage and it would be pointless anyway because we didn’t want to have any more children. From there, we went to what did we want done with them? We wanted them to have a purpose. So we looked into donating them for stem-cell research. I really wanted to do this because of the different conditions that run in my family that could be helped with any cures found from stem-cell research.

But there were a bunch of hoops to jump through and we were crunched on time to get it done. The option we took was to donate them to the IVF clinic to allow staffers to practice on them. Because you don’t really want their only interaction and training to be with embryos that you’re hoping to turn into a baby, do you? I figured if those six embryos were going to be destroyed anyway, why not let someone learn with them first? I felt like that was their purpose. To help other babies be created and born.

Donating them to a couple was never an option. We did not want our children out there being raised by someone else. Because you can hope they go to good, loving homes, but you just never know.

In order to donate them to our IVF clinic we had to sign a form stating our intentions, have it notarized and mail it to our IVF clinic before a certain date. After they used them they sent us a letter confirming they had been destroyed on such and such a date. From time to time while watching my boys I kind of wonder if we did the right thing. Because those six little cells could have grown into a child if given the proper environment. But I know we did the right thing by helping to educate people who will help others create children they will love like we love our children.

If you discuss any of your in-vitro process with anyone, they will ALL have something to say about this part of the process. Especially if they are religious. But you and your husband are the only two whose opinions really matter. Some people also say it’s beneficial to keep the embryos until your baby turns a certain age, “just in case”. I would recommend talking to your doctor about their thoughts on this and then discuss it at length with your husband. I was six months along with our twins when we made the call and felt comfortable doing so. But everyone has their own feelings on it so be sure to consider it.”

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A couple decided to have their embryos destroyed tells their story…

“On our first round of IVF we conceived twins. We had put in two of our 16 frozen embryos and gotten lucky the first time out. I have PCOS so we were required to do a frozen transfer for safety reasons. With that we had already paid the several hundred dollars to freeze them for one year. When the anniversary came up our babies were only a few months old. They had been 5 weeks premature; and had spent several weeks in the NICU. I was afraid to destroy embryos. What if something happened to the twins? I would be left without the ability to conceive any other children.

When the second anniversary came up; the twins were happy, healthy and thriving. We ran through our options: donate to an infertile couple, donate to science for experimentation, or destroy them. I always thought that it would be the greatest gift to help an infertile couple conceive, and we both believe in furthering scientific research. We are both organ donors and we have elected to donate the rest of our bodies to the local University for scientific research.

However, we decided against giving our embryos to another couple almost right away. I couldn’t get over the idea that my children would have a full blood sibling out there somewhere; that I would have a biological child I didn’t know. Would I see them somewhere and know them? Would my children, thinking that they were anyone else, date them? I couldn’t do it.

When we started thinking about donating them to science; people in labs dissecting them; using their stem cells, manipulating them; we became more, and more uncomfortable with the idea. We ended up destroying them. It was the lesser of three evils to us. It seemed like such a waste to me, especially when most people are not able to retrieve even half that —  sometimes even with multiple retrievals. I felt guilty for a little while. It is interesting how when faced with a real life scenario you end up making totally opposite choices than what you previously believed you would make.”

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And, finally, here is a first-hand account of a couple who received donated embryos and are expecting their first child…

“I’m Liz, a 32 year old wife to my amazing husband, Kevin. We have a dog, Oscar. And two cats, Nadia and Chloe. We live in a suburb of Austin, TX.

Like most people, we dreamed our life would follow a certain path:

Step 1: Get married.
Step 2: Buy a big house.
Step 3: Have children.

We got married in 2009 and bought our home in 2010, however in 2011 we learned that Step 3 would be quite a bit harder than we ever imagined. I was diagnosed with severe Diminished Ovarian Reserve and learned it would be impossible for us to have genetic children of our own. Our altered path has taken us to the darkest depths of pain I could never even imagine we’d be faced with. We went through both IUI and IVF treatments and failed. There is not a word in the English language to describe the level of devastation we felt.

Then we learned about embryo adoption. It was like a warm ray of sunshine was being shined upon us from heaven itself. It was incredible to learn that there was such an amazing (and affordable) option available for couples like us. I could actually experience pregnancy with an adopted child? It almost seemed too good to be true!

We started our search, and after a few false starts with other potential donors, we ended up adopting five frozen embryos in December 2012 from a woman named Vicky. She and her husband had received them as donor embryos themselves. I started blogging shortly after the adoption of our first five embryos was complete.

We had our first frozen embryo transfer in February 2013 and I learned I was pregnant for the first time in my life! But sometime around 8 weeks our baby stopped growing and at 9w1d she was born straight to heaven. And we were devastated because after all of that, we had only one remaining embryo because two died at thaw.

We began looking for new embryos again shortly after the loss of our baby, and were surprised and blessed to have found our second donor, Libby, within weeks of searching. Libby had four embryos to adopt and in June 2013 they officially became ours.

We had our second Frozen Embryo Transfer in September 2013 and I learned I was pregnant again five days later. But sadly, after a few poorly doubling betas, it also ended in an early miscarriage at 5w1d.

We did a unique third FET in November 2013 where we transferred an embryo from both Libby’s and Vicky’s batch. And I learned I was pregnant for the third time on November 23rd, 2013 at only 4dp6dt. The ultrasound a couple weeks later showed one perfect baby! And a few months later, we found out we were having a girl! The big question now is: Is baby girl from Libby’s batch or Vicky’s? We have no way of knowing until birth. Our snowflake baby is due August 7, 2014. We will find out her genetic heritage shortly after birth.

I refer to our frozen embryos as our snowflakes. Each frozen snowflake is precious, unique and beautiful. We love each of our snowflakes with all of ours hearts. And we are overjoyed that we will finally be able to hold our snowflake baby in our arms this Summer.”

(Liz blogs about embryo adoption — find her here!)

Some additional resources and thoughts from our community…

“My husband and I were faced with the same problem. We currently have our embryos available for adoption through Nightlight Christian Adoptions using their Snowflake Embryo Adoption program.”

“Our BB fraternal twins are due via a surrogate any day now. We adopted embryos that were frozen for ten years. The boys are genetic brothers. I thank God daily for the biological parents that allowed us to adopt embryos. You have a unique and amazing opportunity to give a gift to someone else that will change their life forever. Just some food for thought. Whatever your decision, I wish you all the best.”

“We had 8 high quality embryos left over after our twins were born. After our baby surprise was born, we knew we would not be using them. We decided to donate them to another couple who were not able to conceive. It was the best decision I ever made! I remember the sinking feeling that I may never have children. To have the opportunity to give someone the gift of a family is absolutely amazing! Best of luck on your decision!”

“In researching our options, I did find information that makes disposal seem less terrible. I’m not condoning it, because personally we still have no idea what we are going to do. But… When a woman takes birth control, it serves 2 purposes. First, it should prevent ovulation. Secondly, it thins the lining of the uterus so if ovulation does occur, the fertilized egg will not implant and will be naturally disposed of. Women may be fertilizing many many more eggs than they realize, but the birth control prevents implantation so they never know it has happened. With that being said, there isn’t much of a difference between taking birth control and disposing of embryos. My head says ‘Oh that makes sense’, but my heart says, ‘Those could grow into my babies…'”

“We donated our embryos to science after our boys were born. They don’t “grow” them into babies but they do run tests to help further the success of IVF and gather information on infertility. We couldn’t bring ourselves to donate to another couple because it was our DNA and we didn’t feel comfortable with that, but we were happy that we may help couples in the future through study.””After much thought, I personally do not feel comfortable allowing my embryos to be donated to another couple. My current plan is to donate them to science at an appropriate time in the future…of course plans may change . For those of you who are not considering adoption, please consider science vs discarding them. None of this would be possible without science!””I just had my twins 3 months ago and I’m already torn about this. I’m pretty convinced that we are done having kids but when you’ve worked so hard and paid so much to get those embryos it’s hard to make the decision to “discard.” It seems so cruel and unfortunately (or fortunately) not everybody will understand this unless they’ve been through it.”

“We donated ours through the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville. We did an anonymous donation — we may inquire in the future if a live birth occurred with our embryos, but that is all the information we would be allowed to have.”

“We have 2 year old twins conceived after 4 cycles of ICSI. The first 3 cycles we had no spare embryos but after the fourth we had 4 good quality embryos for the freezer. We paid for them to be stored for 2 years but after that amount of time and struggling with postpartum depression, I definitely didn’t want any more children. However I really struggled with the decision of what to do. I had done counseling through the clinic and we decided to donate them to the clinic for research. I would suggest counseling if it’s an option — it really helped me. I knew if I donated them to someone else I’d always wonder what happened. And discarding them felt wrong after all we’d been through to create them. In the end we felt good about helping the clinic, especially as ICSI is not as well researched as IVF. Good luck with your decision.”

“I know that our family is happy and healthy and just right… And all of the things ive discussed with my husband make sense… But a part of me is sad that and worried that 3,4 or 5 years down the road we would have wished to have kept then and had another baby…. So hard…”

“There is another option called compassionate transfer, where the remaining embryos are transferred back into the mother at a time in her cycle when the odds of the embryos implanting are extremely low.”

Did you have to make this difficult decision? How did you decide? Share your thoughts in the comments below…

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