After Your Family is Complete, What Do you Do with the Remaining Embryos?


When families realize that they are having trouble conceiving and carrying a child to term, they begin to consider their options for have a child. Most enlist the services of a reproductive endocrinologist to assess what the problem is and learn what options are available to them.
One option that is often considered and used is in vitro fertilization. In vitro fertilization is a procedure where the joining of egg and sperm takes place outside of the woman’s body. Typically the woman may be given fertility drugs before this procedure so that multiple eggs mature in the ovaries simultaneously. The eggs are retrieved from the ovaries and then mixed with the sperm in a laboratory dish or test tube. The eggs are monitored for several days. Once there is evidence that fertilization has occurred and the cells begin to divide, the fertilized eggs are then returned to the woman’s uterus or frozen to be used at a later date.
Once they have completed their family with the created embryos, they are faced with the decision of what to do with the remaining embryos. Some families report that they do not think about these embryos that remain in cryo storage until they receive the annual storage bill from the clinic that is care-taking their embryos.
Very often families who have embryos in storage desire to donate their embryos to another family. Many donors have reported to me that they “wished someone had offered our family embryos as we probably would not have created our own.” Repeatedly I have witnessed families who have embryos to donate express a deep understanding of the feelings and emotions of the families who would like to receive donated embryos.
While knowing that they are making a good decision for their embryos, a family who is making this decision may find that they have mixed emotions about this process. Releasing their embryos marks the end of their family building. Also, by donating their embryos they are separating themselves from their embryos and this usually involves a grieving process. For some families this may be a brief process, but for others it may be more lengthy and involved. There are times when one spouse is more ready to release the embryo than the other. Some individuals may find comfort in talking with a counselor, not only to explore their options, but to support them as they grieve and express their sadness. It is important to remember that grief and sadness is normal and it is helpful to acknowledge and process these very important feelings. Each person will move through these emotions in their own way and there is no “right or wrong” way to grieve.
As families explore their feelings, they will want to examine all the options that they have for their embryos remaining in frozen storage. Speaking with a counselor who is familiar with all the options and the process involved with each option empowers the family to make the best decision for their family. We would hope that individuals who have embryos remaining in storage, would seek to resolve their ambivalence about releasing their embryos, take steps to become united and determined to donate their embryos to another family.

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