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, 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.

Maya’s Infertility Story

Each week I interview someone who has experienced infertility firsthand.  This week, I’m so happy to be chatting with Maya from Don’t Count Your Eggs.  She was a fellow nominee for last year’s Hope Award for Best Blog, and I’ve been following her story since.  I know you’ll enjoy getting to know her a little more today.

infertility story

Q. Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 34. I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (psychotherapist) living and working in Los Angeles with my husband Noah who is a TV producer. We met in college at UC Berkeley about 15 years ago and spent many years trying NOT to make a baby. We really had no idea that creating a family was going to be so hard. Noah and I have been documenting our journey to parenthood on film, and are currently in the process of making a feature-length documentary, called One More Shot, about our own journey and about making modern families. We feel strongly about sharing our story in hopes of increasing understanding and awareness about infertility and decreasing shame and stigma. I am also working on a book about our journey to parenthood.

Q. How long did you try to conceive and what issues were you facing?

Noah and I started trying to conceive the old-fashioned way when I turned 30 in 2010. We spent the better part of a year trying and essentially failing. I went to my OBGYN and asked what might be going on and like many other women under 35, was told to “just relax,” and keep trying. Eventually, in 2012, we saw a reproductive endocrinologist and I was diagnosed with diminished ovarian reserve. This was the beginning of our rapid descent into the world of ART. We did IVF in late 2012, where our three beautifully fertilized good quality eggs mysteriously fell apart in the dish, leaving us with nothing to transfer. We spent the beginning of 2013 doing heavily medicated IUIs to no avail. Then as we began looking more seriously into adoption, my younger sister generously offered to donate her eggs. We did a cycle with her in the summer of 2013 and though we got to our first transfer day, nothing took. The end of 2013 felt like rock bottom. After spending so much time and effort and money trying to create a family we both felt really broken (and broke). We weren’t sure what to do next and felt really defeated. That’s when we found embryo donation.  Continue reading “Maya’s Infertility Story”

Why I Chose Embryo Adoption {Guest Post}

Today’s post is a guest post from Samantha.  She’s an embryo donation / adoption consultant and she blogs at BlessedWithInfertility.  Enjoy her post!

embryo adoption


Hi, I’m Samantha! I am mother to three beautiful daughters, all who came to me through a less conventional method: adoption. Two of my daughters are from a traditional, open adoption, but my last one is the child whose story I am here to share today.   She was added to our family in an even less conventional method:  embryo adoption! My goal is to leave you with some information that will either make you feel comfortable with donating your sweet embryos to a family who would like to give them a chance at life, or inform you on this wonderful, but lesser-known route to build your family!!


What is embryo adoption?

It’s exactly what it sounds like! A couple essentially “adopts” embryos either from their clinic, an agency, or a private couple and uses them in basically an IVF cycle to get pregnant. You are pregnant with your adopted child!

Who is eligible?

Medically speaking, if your RE says that you (or your partner) can carry a pregnancy, than it’s worth looking into! Male-factor infertility, for example, doesn’t affect the female, and can be a good solution for couples who would prefer not to use donor sperm.

What are the costs involved?

Obviously, it varies, but it can be cheaper than traditional adoption or IVF. You’ll have your frozen embryo transfer (FET) costs, the medicine, and the
miscellaneous charges involved with agency fees, shipping costs, attorney fees, etc.  All in all, I did it for less than $7,000, but have seen it done for even less!

Why choose embryo adoption?

There are a lot of reasons, and I will describe my personal journey below, but the basic pros are:

  • You get to control the prenatal environment
  • There is no risk of a failed adoption
  • It’s usually less costly
  • You get to experience pregnancy and childbirth (one of the biggest benefits) when otherwise impossible


My story

So now that you have the basics, let me tell you how my husband and I decided on embryo adoption for our third (and hopefully fourth) child.

My oldest daughter’s adoption was very, VERY costly.  Don’t get me wrong- it was worth it.   We love and cherish her and would not trade her for anything in this world! We found out we were infertile on a Wednesday and by Monday were signed up with a very large adoption agency.   We never questioned the path we were on, nor did we need time to grieve biological children. (Some people really need time to adjust to the idea of not having biological children, and I support and honor them 100%.  It can be a very big emotional trauma to overcome!)

Within six weeks, we had our phone call that a baby girl was due and we had been chosen! Just like that – we were parents! The only struggle we had with this situation was the cost. We took out a major loan to cover the expense of this adoption and because our baby came so fast, we didn’t have the luxury of having two incomes to pay it off, since we had decided that I would stay at home with our children.  Please know that we have no regrets!

Our second daughter came to us after two years of emotional turmoil! My husband was in graduate school, so we had much less funds than the first time around.   I did a lot of our own advertising and used a few parent profile websites, but with that came the emotional stress and drama of six failed adoptions.

SIX. FAILED. ADOPTIONS. Can you even imagine? I have never cried so many real, honest-to-goodness, broken-hearted tears in my life as I did over the course of that two year period. We knew that we wanted more children and knew we were willing to do whatever it took to get there, but it was a difficult time!! When we met our second baby though, there was no doubt that she was the one we had been waiting for.   How we love her so!

All this to let you know why we chose an embryo adoption the third time… We knew that we wanted a large family but I could not imagine going through the experiences of failed adoptions again, much less putting my two girls through that.  My oldest was five at this point so I knew I couldn’t tell her one day she was getting another sibling, and the next day she wasn’t. We had also just purchased a house and could not afford a large agency like we did the first time. But again, we knew there was someone missing from the dinner table!

I actually have no idea what I searched to stumble across embryo adoption – honest! I just saw it, and was curious enough to click the link. As I read, I got goosebumps, and felt confirmation that this was how we would be adding to our family. It made perfect sense for us!

I signed up with a matching website, and within 24 hours I met our donor! It’s honestly a huge miracle- from how the pieces fell into place for us, and how easy things were from the first day. My donor and I have so much in common,  so she fits right into our family as our other two girls genetic families do.


For our family, embryo adoption was the perfect solution to completing our family. I would love to be able to share more with you as I complete my last cycle to attempt to add to our family one last time! Find me at Blessedwithinfertility.com where you can catch up on past journal entries and follow this new adventure! Lots of Love!