Friday, October 05, 2007

playing god

Someone recently asked me my thoughts on dealing with frozen embryos.

Depending upon the situation, this can be a terribly difficult question.

There are so many personal factors that come in to play and with four young children, I can honestly say that I am tremendously thankful that Charlie and I do not have any embryos remaining that we need to think about.

We did have two frozen embryos from our second IVF cycle, but during our third cycle, we transferred those in addition to the fresh embryos from that cycle, so we have nothing left over.

I know a lot of women who became pregnant with triplets, had embryos remaining, and then had to face what to do with all the embryos on ice. Most of these families have donated their embryos for research although I do know of a few people that donated them to other couples for “adoption.”

I also know of two women who became pregnant with triplets following IVF and went back to have the remaining embryos transferred to them, once their triplets were around three years old and successfully potty trained.

In both cases, not all of the embryos survived the thaw, and the embryos that were transferred did not result in successful pregnancies. But, these women felt like they had at least given their embryos a chance and that made it easier for them to sleep at night.

Now, if it was us ... if we had extra embryos remaining, what would we do?

I would call the doctor and schedule a transfer. But not before I ordered an 18-year supply of anti-psychotics, several straight jackets and put padding on all the walls of our home. This might seem absolutely asinine for someone with four young children to even consider, but, if you don't already know, I am asinine.

I am also very spiritual.

I am not a practicing Catholic – but – I do believe that life begins at conception, the soul merges, the Holy Spirit is present, and the embryos growing in a petri dish, or frozen in a vat, have an excellent chance of growing in to a unique and sacred human being in 9-months time (or, in our triplet's case, just over 7-months time).

I would have a very difficult time giving any of my embryos up for adoption, even if I knew that they were going to a wonderful, loving family who would give them an awesome life.

These are my babies. They are a part of me, a part of my family.

They are a part of my husband, a part of his family.

They aren’t a clump of cells that I could donate, like I could one of my kidneys.

I would always wonder what happened to any embryos that I gave up for adoption.

Did they result in a healthy baby?? How is life treating that child?? Do they have any desire to know us, their biological mother and father and siblings?? Would they grow up knowing that they were adopted as embryos – and if so – would they feel abandoned by their parents, their family??

I would equally, if not more so, have a difficult time donating any of my embryos for research. Even though my very own father is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, and I know very well that “the cure” may lie in stem cell research, it would haunt me forever that I may have robbed my child (or children) of a chance at life.

From what I’ve seen, the people who are advocates for stem cell research, are usually not the ones who are pondering if their embryo could grow in to a son or daughter. Sadly, it is the very people who are suffering from infertility that carry the burden of responsibility for solving the world's health crises by donating their potential children for stem cell research.

This is what I believe.

But, herein also lies the ongoing cruelty of infertility.

A lot of people don't understand and cannot fathom the desperation to which a person struggling with infertility suffers. It is the absolute worst feeling of hopelessness and anguish I've ever experienced.

It’s not bad enough that so many people in this world cannot get pregnant without medical intervention, specifically IVF. Most of these people want a baby so badly, they will fork over tens of thousands of dollars. I know of people who have spent in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in their quest to become parents. They have mortgaged their home to the brink and maxed out all of their credit cards.

Then, they got new credit cards and maxed those out, too.

Can you imagine wanting or needing something so badly?

I can.

If it would have helped, I would have given a limb. Or years off my life.

For those people who are successful in starting their family with the assistance of reproductive technology, they might then, be faced with the moral dilemma of what to do with any remaining embryos. I doubt very few people in the world want to start their own colony and have as many children as the Duggar family.

So very often, people that started out just wanting a baby of their own - discover they have infertility issues and ultimately, find themselves in a position to potentially have a family that warrants vehicular travel in a 15-passenger van.

What if they only wanted one child and they have five embryos remaining?

Or, what if they wanted two children and they had twins and ten embryos remaining?

What if there were complications with the pregnancy - and becoming pregnant again is not advisable? Or possible?

Or, what if genetic testing indicated that there was a problem with the embryos - how would they be handled?

These are just some of the questions that people need to think about before they venture in to the world of assisted reproductive technologies. But so often, their overwhelming desire to have a baby completely overshadows any of the moral or ethical questions that might come up, after the fact.

It has been debated that once you venture in to the field of assisted reproductive technology, you are playing God. Perhaps I was too blind by my desire to have a baby that I didn't care. Or perhaps I didn't believe that life could be created without God having some kind of hand in it.

Clearly, our ability to jump start fertilization in a petri dish certainly poses some difficult questions. In nature, it would never happen that a female homosapien, will shoot out 10 or more eggs a month. Nor, in nature, is it possible to genetically test embryos before they are transferred to a woman for chromosomal defects or gender preference.

When I look in to the beautiful faces of our three children that were conceived in a laboratory, there is no doubt that although a team of scientists and medical professionals helped in the process, God ultimately brought them to us.

They absolutely, positively would not be here. If not for Him.

Even though I love our children and one day might have another ... I am thanking God, profusely right now, that I don't have 20 potential children, temporarily stalled in a deep freeze, that might one day find glee pooping in our tub.


  1. I also know what it is like to want so badly for a child. To yearn for something, someone with the entirety of my being. It is something that a fertile person can never know. And I have been blessed with two beautiful twin daughters. I have been blessed and still I would love to be blessed again. I *think* I would love to have embryos in storage, to have the chance to have another child or children. But I don't, so all I can do is pray for a *miracle* because that is my only chance at having another child. I would love to have the *choice* of whether or not to have more children. Infertility took away my choices, my chances but it can never take away my hope to one day have another child.


    **Jen, you have such a way with words & I love reading your blog!

  2. very interesting post.

    it is hared to say what you would do unless you are actually in the position. but if i had extra embryos I think I would want to donate them to another infertile couple. because now i know what that longing to have a child feels like. with our fourth on the way we are complete. as hard as it would be to let another family carry and raise your child. at least that being has the opportunity of life.

    i wish now that as a young college student i had donated some eggs.

    the one thing that makes it more complicated in my mind is that you could potentially run into issue where your own child meets his or her sibling later in life and god forbid fall in love.

  3. KarenMoeller10/5/07, 4:27 PM

    Ah, but this study says about 50% of couples with frozen embryos would donate to stem cell research:
    (tiny url to Science Magazine)

    A tough decision...

    KarenM in NC

  4. I have embryos left over and am in constant question as to what I should do with them. I'm not willing to donate them for research, nor for adoption, for all the reasons that you stated.

    Problem is, I can't imagine another, or two more, or three more children in my family either.

  5. I didn't have any frozen embies either. THANK GOD!!!! Seriously, getting pregnant again on my own 7 months later and having frozen embies would have sent me right over the edge into the abyss. I am sooooooooooooooo glad I don't have to worry about that. I'm certain we would have donated them to science or had them destroyed. We wouldn't have kept paying storage on them year after year, knowing we were done.

    It's a cruel part of infertility though, just as you said. I feel bad for people that have the burden.

  6. This hits home. BAD! We have twins and we have 5 frozen embies. I cannot give them up for adoption for the very same reasons you mentioned. I cannot give them up for research... I just can't. I also don't think that I could just destroy them because they are my children. But I also don't want my twins to have five siblings. What will we do? We simply don't know. We have so far paid for storage every year and will continue to pay until we will make a decision... Thanks for this post, Jen.

  7. This is a great post Jen and something Brian and I struggle with almost every day. We have 8 "snow babies" and I honestly don't know what to do with them. In the meantime, we pay rent to keep them frozen and thank god we don't have to make the decision today. Who knows - I might be one of those moms who does want more children after the trio is potty trained (and in school!).


  8. Can you gals explain why it would be so bad to let your embryos become beings by another couple?

    Versus not ever living?

    Just want to understand. Jen had some great points, but Jen would you rather them not live than potential feel 'abandoned' because they were adopted as embryos.

  9. That's a good point about destroying them - versus - being adopted by another family and having a chance at life.

    For me, I absolutely would want my embryos to have a chance at life. If there was NO way for me to carry them, I'm not sure what I would do. But, I know I wouldn't want to have them destroyed. But, I also wouldn't want to give them away and have no knowledge / contact / control with my (potential) biological children. Maybe I'd try to solicit a friend or two, OR, one of my four sisters, to be surrogate mothers?

    Doesn't that sound extreme?!

    Although 50% of infertile couples may ultimately choose to donate their embryos to research, that doesn't mean it's an easy decision, or something they would do, if they didn't have to. What I mean by that is... I don't think very many people are creating embryos for the sole purpose of research. The pool of embryos that are used in stem cell research, typically come from the infertile (IVF) community.

    The people that I do know who have donated their embryos to research feel that it would be easier for them to sleep at night knowing that their "potential child" helped to cure a disease and better humanity ... as opposed to never knowing what happened to that child if they were adopted out.

    Bottom line: it's a highly personal choice and a VERY difficult one for a lot of people to make. If I had frozen embryos - I'd definitely transfer them back to me and give them a shot at life. BUT ONLY AFTER OUR TRIPLETS ARE POTTY TRAINED!!!

  10. I'm so glad you don't have embryos left over. That would be a terrible weight on your heart.

    I don't know what I would do, I never have had to struggle with fertility. But I also believe life starts at conception, and that every life is sacred so it would be a hard dilema.

    Cute tub picture BTW!

  11. We didn't have any embryos left to freeze. Five went in and three came out. I think I would have a harder time with giving my embryos to another couple than giving them to research. Because they are a "whole". I could easily donate just my eggs-20 years ago-because those potential children only have a 50% chance of looking like me or my family. But the embryos would be totally my husband and I. That's just a little too freaky for me. It's lika a Dean Koontz book or something. Somewhere out there, there might be a kid that looks just like my kids.

  12. This really hits home. I have 1 yo twins, and 2 in the freezer. I don't know if I really want more, or just feel compelled to "see it through". Having them (or trying to) makes me more comfortable than other options. Morally, I am most comfortable with donating to another couple, but it is HARD to think about. Especially when I look in the faces of my beautiful babies. Those would be a brother or sister.

    Also, when I was a teenager, I got pregnant and had an abortion. Which always fills me with regret. At first I thought my infertility was a cruel joke/punishment, but now I see it as the path God chose for me. I feel like God brought me two babies to give me another chance with that first. I know it sounds stupid, maybe that is how I accept my choice then. But I also feel like I have another chance with the choice I am making with my frozens.

  13. Very good post. I tried to write out a similar post this week - but just couldn't find all the words like you have. For me the crux of it is - you want children SOOOO badyly - that you say you will accept any risk, and you do - and you don't realize what that risk is until you are paying the price - you've emptied your savings, and your retirement accounts, and are now carrying debt when you don't believe in debt, you are carrying 3 or maybe more babies at once, losing your premie, having a handicapped child due to premie issues, the financial COST of raising multiples, the impact on your other children, the moral dilemna about remaining embryos . . . and it goes on. And these aren't reversible circumstances once we get there . . .but for me, I swear I never really saw the situations coming until they hit me square in the stomach . . .even if someone really had laid it all out for me, I would have shaken them off and proceeded . . .

    For us, after 2 unsuccessful years of IF, we ultimately chose adoption, and in hind site, I do think that made our choices simpler.

    I just feel like I wasn't looking for all these big life questions and serious, lasting consequences and moral decisions, I was just trying to have a family.

    Thanks for the post.

  14. Just a quick question... and of course I will ask the fertility clinic this myself, but I'm just wondering if anyone has tried this...we already have twins, but would like more kids (one or two)...isn't it possible that once the eggs are harvested, and there are say, more than 5 or so, that only a certain number (determined by my husband and me)are actually fertilized? If we could limit the number of embryos being created, then there wouldn't be such a high chance of having leftover embryos in the freezer. I realize that there's less of a chance of any babies at all. Has anyone asked their doctor/clinic about this before?

  15. We had twins and 3 embryos left over. It's always hung over our heads what we will do with these 3. What's ironic is when I found out that *only 3* made it to blast I was scared to death and disappointed. I didn't know if the cycle had worked and it was going to be our only fresh cycle and I was scared that we would only have 3 more chances (and I wanted 3 kids).

    Now I am incredibly blessed to be pregnant with a singleton (one of the frozens) after thinking I wouldn't be able to get pregnant again (new fertility issues cropped up since our twins were been born). If I can carry this baby it will be a miracle and may make it dangerous for us to try again with our remaining blasts. We have agreed to table the discussion until we have a healthy baby in our arms. At times 2 leftover blasts seeme like so few and at times it seems like so many.

    For the poster that asked: we will not donate to another couple. I don't know what we will do, but that is the one thing that is not an option. Maybe it's selfish or controlling but I wouldn't give up one of our children for adoption and to me it is the same thing. I couldn't handle wondering if I had a child out there. What if something tragic happened to the other parents? What if my baby needed me and I never knew it? If anybody is going to raise our children, it will be us. It's not a judgement against other couples, I certainly know the pain of wanting a child at all costs, it's just my personal conscience and feeling. You can criticize it all day, I know it sounds weak, but I just couldn't live with myself knowing that I could have children out there who act, think and look like me and my husband that we don't know.

  16. I too could never give up our frozen embies. Most days I cannot imagine having more children, so for now they will remain in the freezer. We have a 5 year old (IVF #3 fresh), a 3 yr old (surprise) and 14 month old triplets (FET). We have 7 left in the freezer. They are who they are already, it isn`t my decision which or whether any should make it to a full term baby, that`s in God`s hands. IVF isn`t playing God. Drs. assist in making embryos, they can`t make babies - Jen your babies are all from God and so are mine ... and if He has more in mind for me, then He`ll just have to give the strength and grace to do a good job with them. I do beleive He has a plan, I`m just still non the wiser as to what :)