Leftover Embryos- The part of IVF I hate talking about

leftover-embryos

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.

How I Feel About My Upcoming FET

It’s a weird thing to think about trying for a second baby when you’ve already had one as a result of doing IVF. On one hand, I’m no longer an IVF newbie. I know what to expect from it. I know what it takes. And I know that when it works it’s absolutely worth every penny, every tear, and every injection.

I also know that when it fails, it feels like your whole world is over.

Except this time around, as we are gearing up to try for baby #2, I no longer feel that pressure or the sense that I may never recover if it fails.

I am well aware that I’m one of lucky ones. We have multiple frozen embryos. The odds are in our favor. And I have a beautiful, healthy daughter, so even if I don’t get pregnant, I am beyond blessed. I would be sad, yes, but still immensely grateful that we were able to have a child at all.

Also, I feel like I’m just now getting back to being myself after having our daughter. I struggled with some mild postpartum depression, and our family has been through some major changes and transitions since she was born. My husband changed jobs twice (both were promotions, so it was a good change, but it still was stressful), we sold our house and are currently living with our in-laws until our new house is completed in October, I’ve struggled with balancing self-care and childcare, and we had to euthanize our beloved cat, Hemingway. Oh yeah, and we also endured an extremely stressful cross-country trip that involved everyone getting a stomach virus, missed flights, traffic tickets, torn ligaments, bladder infections, and puking on the airplane. (We keep telling ourselves it will make a hilarious family story in ten years).

So the thought of doing another IVF anytime soon just makes me want to say “No thanks!” But I’m 36 and I really don’t want to be 50 years old with children in elementary school, so we need to get moving. Honestly, if we didn’t have the frozen embryos, we probably wouldn’t be doing this again. I don’t want to take the drugs again. I don’t want to do the monitoring again.

On yeah, and I’m terrified to do it all again while caring for a toddler full-time.

But we are / I am doing it nonetheless.

All this to say that I’m feeling really neutral about it this time around. Almost ambivalent.

Again, I’m well aware that ambivalent is a very fortunate place to be. I remember the not-so-ambivalent feelings I had while trying to conceive my daughter. I know that so many of you reading this probably want to kick me right now. You’d give anything to do IVF without feeling pressure or without feeling like your world will fall apart if it fails. Oh, how I remember, dear friend.

I guess I’m just trying to say that I’m tired of infertility. I’m tired of it for all of us. For those of us trying to conceive baby #1, and for those of trying to conceive subsequent babies.

Thanks for reading this far! I that the Lord would comfort and sustain you wherever you are in your journey.

P.S. Some of you may remember a recent post where I talked about possibly doing a natural FET at Stanford.  Despite my numerous attempts to contact them, they never returned my calls.  Other clinics in the area offer natural cycles, but none that would do long-distance monitoring or would let me become a patient without re-doing certain tests.  So, we are staying with our previous RE (whom we adore, but he doesn’t do natural cycles).  His office is less than 15 minutes away and we feel we can be successful there again.


If you’re looking for more encouragement during infertility, be sure to check out my book, 31 Days of Prayer During Infertility.

Courtney’s IVF Story

Today’s post is a guest post from Courtney.  I decided to share it because I know that a lot of you struggle with whether or not you should pursue IVF.  I think that’s a very valid struggle (and IVF is not for everyone).  I thought it might be helpful and encouraging to any of you in the same situation.  


My name is Courtney and my husband is JJ. We are parents to a 6-month-old named Noah who we conceived via IVF after almost two years of infertility. We were married in 2013 and started trying to conceive about nine months later.

ivf story

After a year of not getting pregnant, I went to my doctor and he agreed something was wrong. He ran some tests on both my husband and I, and started me on Clomid. My lab work came back extremely abnormal, I had some issues on Clomid, and shortly after we were referred to a local reproductive endocrinologist. We tried five total medicated cycles with both oral and injectable medications and a medicated IUI before our RE sat us down and told us our only option was IVF.

We had always talked about the possibility of doing IVF but I never thought it would actually come to that. We had been somewhat private about our struggles with infertility and had spent too much time looking for support in the wrong places and validation in choosing infertility treatment from people who didn’t understand it. Before making a decision about what to do, we prayed and talked about it with some of our best friends. Doors we thought were previously closed opened and we decided to proceed.

ivf story

In February 2016, I had 33 eggs retrieved, most of which fertilized, and three survived to Day 5 embryos. We did a fresh transfer and found out two weeks later we were pregnant. Noah was born in October 2016.

Infertility was the darkest and most isolating road I have ever walked. I was in such a bad and dissociative state of mind I can barely remember parts of our journey except how much they hurt. My husband is seven years older than me and most of our friends had kids. I’m a pediatric nurse and we were the only couple at the time at our church without kids. At the time, I knew very few people who had gone through it and couldn’t relate well to anyone. Our infertility was solely female factor and I had (and sometimes still have) a very hard time with that and the shame and guilt was all consuming.

ivf story

My lowest of lows came when our last medicated cycle failed. Everything had looked perfect and I had been so sure it had worked, I was such a mess I could barely get out the door and go to work. I called someone to talk about it and the conversation made them so uncomfortable they basically hung up on me.

Over a year later and I am very open about our struggle through infertility and IVF. It took a long time to get to the point of sharing our story but it has been a wonderful blessing for us. I have met and been connected to some incredible people who have been down the same road and have been a resource for people who are just beginning their journey. I know now that taking a leap of faith and pursuing IVF was part of God’s plan for us to be Noah’s parents.

Many thanks to Courtney for sharing her IVF story.  Please leave her a comment to let her know you appreciate her!


If you’re looking for more encouragement during infertility, be sure to check out my book, 31 Days of Prayer During Infertility.