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, seek 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.

leftover embryos extra embryos

Photo via Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons license.

A Post I Never Thought I’d Write

I’ve written over 500 posts on this blog, but this one is definitely the one I’ve put the most thought into and it has been the most difficult to press “publish.”

As you may remember, we have been planning to do a frozen embryo transfer this coming January.  We had the appointment on our calendar and were making plans around it.

However, a few days after I wrote my last post about crying in church when the children were blessed, (and the night before we moved to a new house), I discovered that I was pregnant naturally- without any treatment.

Needless to say, we were shocked.  I almost passed out when I took the home test.  The only reason I even took one was so I could stop thinking that maybe I was pregnant.  Because after all, I’d never seen a positive home test so why would this one be any different if we weren’t even trying?  My husband didn’t believe it and made me take four different tests.

I will save you the details, but two betas later that week confirmed the pregnancy and I am now currently almost 10 weeks.

Honestly, one of the first thoughts that came to mind was, “How will I tell those who are still waiting?”  Because it doesn’t seem fair.  So many times I was on the other side the screen reading words like I’m writing.  Just wondering when it would be my turn.  Rolling my eyes at people who “weren’t even trying.”  And yet here I am.

We are overjoyed and thrilled, of course.  Yet there is also an awkwardness.  A feeling of survivor’s guilt, almost.  I have talked to some other women who have found themselves in similar situations and they experienced similar feelings.  (I’m not asking for sympathy, of course, but just trying to be honest about the mix of emotions that pregnancy after infertility brings).

I set private messages to many of you over the past few days, giving you a heads-up so this blog post wasn’t a complete surprise.  If you feel like you should’ve received one of those private messages from me but didn’t, please accept my apologies.  You weren’t left out intentionally.

As it was with my IVF pregnancy, this won’t change anything about my blog.  This will not become a mom blog.  I will not post bump pictures or ultrasound pictures.  I may post brief updates occasionally, but I’ll always give a warning at the beginning of the post.  This will remain a space whose main purpose is to encourage women who are waiting.

Much love and hugs to those of you who are still waiting.  I understand if you need to move on from this blog, but I pray those of who stay will continue to find hope and encouragement.

Triggers: And I Don’t Mean HCG Shots

This morning we went to a different church in order to support a friend on staff there.

The pastor came onstage after the worship music ended. He started talking about how children are a special part of the church family. He asked the congregation to stand as the children were dismissed to Sunday School and to read aloud special blessing for them. The blessing emphasized that children are welcome in the church, their specialness, and the church is happy they are there.

My husband leaned over and whispered to me, “Can you imagine how painful this would’ve been for us 3 years ago?

Before I even realized what was happening, my eyes filled with tears. I’m pretty sure I swore under my breath (which I rarely do— especially in church!!!) and pushed my husband out of the way as I practically ran outside. A kind lady tried to stop me and ask if I was okay, but all I could do was say, “I’m fine, thanks,” and keep running.

I ended up walking around the block 3 times to calm down.

Most of you know that I had a daughter after my 3rd round of IVF. Her birth healed me of so much of the pain and sadness that I struggled with when it came to church and kids. I knew I was still a little sensitive to it, but until today I didn’t realize how much it still affects me.

Here’s the thing: There’s nothing wrong with welcoming children in church and saying a blessing for them. In fact, it’s a beautiful and good thing. After all, Jesus Himself talked about the importance of welcoming and caring for children and even gave them a special blessing, too.

“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them”. – Mark 10:13-16

I definitely think the church needs to be more aware and sensitive to infertility in their congregation. Some churches have a tendency to glorify family and parenthood and exclude people without children. But, I don’t think it’s appropriate to expect or ask the church to stop acknowledging or celebrating children. The Bible reminds us to weep with those who weep AND celebrate with those who celebrate (Romans 12:15).

So how should we respond when we find ourselves in a triggering situation like the one I was in this morning? I honestly don’t know. Maybe it depends on where each of us are in our walk with the Lord and where we are in our infertility story. Sometimes I might need to remove myself from the situation and compose myself, like I did this morning. But sometimes I might need to take a deep breath, maybe say a prayer for strength, and put on my big girl panties.

How do you all handle triggering situations like this? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


Looking for more encouragement during infertility?  Check out my book, 31 Days of Prayer During Infertility.