WHAT IS EMBRYO ADOPTION AND DONATION
By Bonnie J. Bernard
Embryo Adoption: A Creative Alternative to Family Building
Many Intended Parents, struggling with infertility, find they have exhausted the options previously available. The exorbitant financial expenses, the inordinate time investments, the mediocre success rates and the immense emotional tolls can be overwhelming, for sure. Embryo adoption is the most recent and innovative alternative solution for those having difficulty conceiving and hopefully offers a less expensive shortcut to finally having a child.
What is embryo adoption? It can be called embryo adoption or embryo donation – and most of the confusion can come from how clinics refer to patients or how agencies refer to them. Most of the time, the two mean the same thing – with the ‘donor’ being the person with the leftover embryos and the ‘adoptors’ being the recipients of those embryos. For the purpose of this article, we will refer to the process as embryo adoption.
Embryo adoption captures the best components of the adoption and the IVF methods while eliminating the most problematic of them. The unique difference of embryo adoption, as compared with these other methods, is that the embryos have already been produced and are available for adoption momentarily, greatly reducing the time and cost traditionally involved with a fresh IVF or donor egg cycle. The existing embryos are ‘matched’ to the potential parent(s) according to the various donor/recipient prerequisites (as with adoption) and are implanted into the intended mother or a surrogate (as with IVF).
Embryo adoption makes it possible for the recipient mother to either have a surrogate birth or to personally experience the loving process of prenatal care and childbirth. Interestingly enough, it has been recently noted there is an epigenetic influence upon embryos—“enduring change in the pattern of gene activity during development and beyond, but without altering the DNA sequence.” What this means is that when a woman carries a baby – even one that is not genetically related to her at all – there is a school of thought that says that her body will help determine which genes are ‘turned on.’
Embryo adoption involves a matching process and most often occurs with the assistance of a reputable agency or sometimes in-house clinic coordinators. It is important to balance the stipulations of the donors (yes, the donors can specify what type of family they would like to donate their embryos to) and the Intended Parents. When a ‘match’ is made, there are legal clearances that typically need to be secured as well.
What are the options available with embryo adoption? Just as with regular adoption, embryo adoption offers many scenarios.
Foremost, the recipient mother can choose a surrogate or to give birth to the baby herself. The degree of anonymity is also an open option. The recipient has the option to choose a known or unidentified donor as well as the level of transparency between the two.
Embryo recipients are able to be choose potential embryos whose donors have certain traits or characteristics that might be important to them such as race, ethnicity, eye and hair color or levels of education. Likewise, the donor is able to make the final decision on the best family placement for their extra embryos.
Some agencies allow the recipient to choose the clinic that is used to implant the embryo based on the factors most important to them, such as the locality, reputation or an existing working relationship. But other agencies or clinics will keep the embryos in-house or refer only to contracted clinics. This is an important element to keep in mind when looking for an agency or embryos.
A good embryo adoption agency should guide and facilitate the matching process between donors and adoptors in a timely and financially sound manner, from obtaining the embryos to making them available to the expectant parents. While there are some embryo adoption agencies that adhere to strict religious specifications, there are others that are best suited for Intended Parents who don’t want restrictions placed on them regarding the outcome of the embryos or what can or cannot be done during the course of a pregnancy. If you’re thinking of embryo adoption, it’s best to find an agency that offers options: in other words, the intended parent should be able to choose to apply for certain embryos; the intended parent should be able to choose surrogacy or pregnancy; and the intended parents should be able to chooses their own IVF clinic.
What is the process of embryo adoption? Embryo adoption is quickly coming into the forefront of fertility options. People who donate embryos are usually Intended Parents who had to use IVF whether with their own eggs and sperm or with donor eggs and/or sperm, who feel like their families are complete but have leftover frozen embryos and would rather donate them to another struggling Intended Parent than destroy or keep them frozen endlessly, knowing they will never be used. Most of the donor Parents know what it’s like to suffer infertility and loss and want very much to help other families through this process. In some cases of embryo adoption (where there were no egg donors or sperm donors used for the initial IVF), there may be additional FDA screenings needed for the donor Parents – this will be at the expense of the Intended Parents. Oftentimes if the frozen embryos were created with egg and/or sperm donors, much of the FDA testing and psychologically testing will already be current. Many agencies require that the adoptive parents have background checks done including criminal histories, driving records, etc. and that they have the appropriate legal papers, such as a will, in place but many do NOT require a home study (which is required for a regular adoption.) Often times this screening is done mainly for the benefit of the embryo donor – so that they can feel comfortable about where there embryos are going. Once a ‘match’ is made, legal agreements and relinquishments are procured, and the embryos become the ‘property’ of the Intended Parents. The donors give up all of their legal rights to the embryos.
One of the important things to remember is that embryos are always needed. The only way embryo adoption can continue to be available as an option for struggling Intended Parents is if successful former patients, who are finished creating their families, are willing to donate their remaining frozen embryos. This is a great way of ‘giving back’ and helping others who may be facing the same struggles that you once faced. Even today only 2% of people with embryos are donating them – just think how many infertile people could be helped if all the leftover frozen embryos were donated!
What are the benefits of embryo adoption? Aside from the already apparent benefits of using embryo adoption to conceive a child, the main advantages to hopeful parents, are the timeliness of the process accompanied by the lower financial burden when compared to other traditional alternatives.
Because the embryos already exist and their backgrounds are already available, the time and expense that is involved with the production of an embryo is completed. The once invariable disappointment of a pending fresh egg cycle is eliminated, as is the amount of time involved in an IVF cycle and the expense. The only remaining pertinent factor becomes making the qualified match between donor and intended parent, based on the individual preferences.
Often times an embryo adoption agency has an expected waiting period from acceptance into the program to embryo transfer. Sometimes the process can happen quickly - in only two months – and other times it can take up to a year. Much of this is dependent upon how flexible the ‘adoptors’ are – would they take embryos with an open relationship arrangement, would they adopt embryos from donors over age 35, etc. However, it is pretty clear that there are incredible advantages to embryo adoption. Clearly, the financial strain is much lower than with traditional adoption and IVF cycles. Plus embryo adoption allows the Intended Parents to maintain a substantial level of involvement – from choosing the embryos to taking part in the prenatal care (through a gestational carrier) or carrying the baby herself. It’s a great alternative if you feel like you are running out of options but you still don’t have a baby.
About the Author:
Bonnie (Founder/Executive Director)
Bonnie J. Bernard M.Ed. has been the executive director and founder of several adoption-related agencies: Embryos Alive, Care To Adopt and Ohio Homestudy.
But Bernard didn’t start out in the adoption business. Bernard’s professional work experience includes a long career in working on behalf of children, first as a private tutor and home instructor in 1985, next under the Consultant for the Department of Children Services as a behavior modification trainer in 1992 and later as a school-based child therapist for Clermont County Schools in 2000.
Eventually, Bernard’s own personal struggle with infertility led her to a career in adoption. Marrying late in life and waiting to start a family, Bernard thought it would all fall into place. But reality soon set in. For five long years, as the biological clock ticked, Bernard and her husband Gary underwent many expensive and exhaustive fertility treatments – without success.Finally, her husband, who was orphaned along with his identical twin brother at the age of two, posed the resolution: “If we don’t get pregnant in a year, we could adopt.” Coincidentally a couple from their church was adopting from Romania and brought home the sweetest, brightest, cutest, little boy. were so well behaved.
They soon called an adoption agency to begin the international adoption process and are not the proud parents of a little boy they adopted from Bulgaria.The founding of Embryos Alive is a result of experiencing the heartache of infertility. That’s why Bernard is committed to helping others find the joy of parenting.
Embryos Alive is a pioneer agency specializing in embryo adoption that facilitates the match of donors with recipients and simplifying the process between an embryo’s acceptance and its transfer for IVF. Embryos Alive has been connecting viable embryos with devoted parents internationally since 2003.