Leftover Embryos- The part of IVF I hate talking about


A reader recently emailed me and asked, “What are you going to do with your leftover embryos? We are confused as what to do with ours.”

A. Can I be honest with you all? This is the blog post I have been avoiding writing for over two years.

The short answer to the question is this: We don’t know what we will do with our eight “leftover” embryos.

Some background

Our first two IVF cycles were disasters. Most of our eggs successfully fertilized, but we had problems with the embryos dying off before we could transfer them. We transferred poor quality embryos each time, and they all failed.

So imagine our surprise when we made it to Day 5 of our third IVF cycle with one beautiful, high-quality embryo to transfer and EIGHT more good-to-average quality embryos that froze. This cycle resulted in the birth of our daughter and of course, we were overjoyed.

But the thing I don’t talk about much- because it’s such an emotional, complicated decision- is what to do with those eight embryos.

The plan was to use them to try for Baby #2. Well, it turns out Baby #2 is shockingly and miraculously coming the old-fashioned way for us. My first thought when I saw that positive on the home pregnancy test was, “What about the embryos?”

Honestly, the odds are that we still would have ended up with “leftover” embryos even if we had used some for Baby #2. However, it makes the decision of what to do with them even more intense because of the extra amount we have.

The options are few and they each have their downsides.

1) We could use the embryos to try for Baby #3. This is something we will consider. I am getting my tubes tied when Baby #2 is born to ensure no more “surprises.” But I will be 37 when Baby #2 is born. By the time I recover from that, get pregnant again (maybe), and give birth, I would be at least 39. No, it’s not old, but I’m also not sure that’s for me. And realistically, we would still probably end up with “leftover” embryos. And anything more than three children is definitely off the table.

2) We could discard the leftover embryos. This would be difficult for us. If you had asked me 5 years ago when I believe life begins, I would’ve responded with the standard Evangelical answer:  “At conception.” However, going through IVF has caused me to question that response. We lost over a dozen embryos in the process of IVF- mostly between Days 3 and 5. Do I believe all those embryos were babies and are now waiting to meet me in heaven? If I’m being honest, no. (No disrespect to those of you who DO hold that view).

My IVF experience has shifted my thinking more towards believing that life begins at implantation. Of course, I am not 100% sure… it’s just where I lean. The whole issue is theologically complicated and I’ve read arguments for both views. I am not a theologian.

At the very least, I see un-transferred / un-implanted embryos as POTENTIAL for life and feel they should be treated with utmost respect. And I’m not sure that discarding them allows for that.  (Again, no disrespect or judgment to any of you who have discarded embryos.  My goal here is to share my personal beliefs and values- not condemn the actions of others).

3) We could donate them to science and research. While I see the incredible potential for scientific advancement (and the potential for helping other infertile couples in the process), most of my hesitation about this option has to do with the same reasons I hesitate to discard.

4) We could do nothing and freeze them indefinitely.  I don’t mean put the decision off for a year or two.  I mean never making a decision and leaving it up to my next-of-kin to make the decision after I die. To me, this is extremely irresponsible and borders on unethical.

5) We could donate them to another couple. Embryo donation / adoption is an incredible thing and I know of so many people who have been blessed to receive an embryo. I have nothing but admiration and awe for couples who are donate their embryos to another couple.

But I also have questions and hesitations about the emotional effects on myself, my husband, my existing children, my parents (my children’s grandparents), and any children that may be born as a result of the donation. I have searched the internet far and wide for emotional resources for couples who are contemplating a donation and I have found nothing. I’ve even emailed heads of large embryo donation/adoption organizations asking for resources and no one has responded.

Where that leaves us now…

I only know that I wish I’d had a clearer idea of the life-altering decisions we’d be required to make. It was so easy to get bogged down in JUST GETTING PREGNANT that we didn’t look at the whole picture and think ahead.

Do I regret doing IVF? Not for a second.

Am I trying to scare you from doing it, too? No way.

Do I wish I had thought about all this earlier and perhaps have made different decisions about how many eggs we allowed to be fertilized? Maybe. I don’t know. It’s hard to say something like that when I’m looking at my two-year old IVF miracle in her crib via the baby monitor.

So you can see that this decision is fraught with moral, spiritual, and emotional issues. I plan on writing more about it as we pray, see counsel, do research, and go through the decision-making process in the coming year or two.

My goal is not to get you to think like I do, or make the same decision I do, but to bring readers to an awareness of the questions you will be facing when you do IVF.

I welcome your (respectful) thoughts and comments.

P.S. I realize I am in an EXTREMELY fortunate situation to even be having this dilemma.  So many of you are having trouble getting any embryos at all.  You have my love, my support, my encouragement, and my hope.

Do you have a question you’d like me to answer on the blog?  Feel free to submit your questions (anonymously) here.  I’ll do my best to answer the in upcoming posts.

Photo via Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons license.

  • I have appreciated every word of yours that I’ve ever read on this topic. You approach the subject of IVF embroys with wisdom and thoughtfulness. I personally think you should write a book on it!

    I don’t have any clear answers for you, but I greatly appreciate you sharing this part of your journey toward parenthood. I think that your experience can help others tremendously. I think every couple considering IVF should think through this before quickly jumping in! Once again, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

  • Brandy J Rivera

    I always love your blog and the vulnerability you share with your readers. We have left over embryos and will be facing the same decisions soon! I’m 40 so time is of the essence as we TTC for over 10 years before the birth of our second son via IVF. For us, we are painfully aware that not all fertilized eggs implant, and thus result into successful pregnancies. In our last and only successful IVF, we transferred 2 fertilized eggs, which resulted in only one healthy baby. The left over eggs brings me hope at a 3rd child, but with the reality there very wel could be more disappointments along the way. Thanks again for sharing – blessing over you and your family!

    • Thank you, Brandy. You know I am so appreciate of your family’s support and we are cheering for you, as well.

  • This is definitely a topic I did not want to blog about, so I didn’t BUT I am so glad to see that you did and to read your thoughts on each option. We made our decision but I felt like that was between us, not anyone else and it was very hard! I agree with you, and we were the same way, in not totally thinking about being in this situation when we decided to do IVF in the first place. I guess I just never thought we would have anything leftover.

    • I agree that it’s absolutely a decision between you and your husband. I am writing about how I’m wrestling with the decision, but it is a definite possibility that I may not share what we ultimately end up deciding. It’s a very personal decision, and while I’ve been open about most other things involving IVF, this is definitely the most personal aspect, I think. I also wouldn’t want my decision to make others feel like their decision was wrong or that they should do what we do. I pray you are at peace with whatever you decided and I appreciate you commenting here. Hugs.

  • Haley

    I contemplate this also. We have a 17 mo daughter and 4 frozen embryos. I never knew most ROs do not do natural cycles which I was thinking of doing. Have you considered compassionate transfer?
    You have my love & support, I’ve been following you since I started my infertility journey and enjoy your honestly and insight!