Monday, September 10, 2007

Embryo Adoption: A Donor's Story

Stephanie M. Caballero
Originally posted by Bonnie J. Bernard M.Ed.

Emily and Tom Walters* knew they wanted children from the beginning. Before the beginning, actually. "My husband and I started trying to conceive four months before our wedding," recalls Emily. "I knew I could still fit into my dress if I got pregnant that first cycle." Neither one expected to be seeking reproductive assistance after two heartbreaking years of infertility. Emily credits their support group for getting them through two more difficult years, three rounds of IVF, and the eventual birth of their first child five years ago.

Both Emily and Tom were surprised when they conceived their 3-year-old twins and 18-month-old toddler naturally. Although the couple felt their family was complete, they still had nine embryos in cryostorage when they came across the concept of embryo adoption on the Internet. Because destruction was not an option for them, they decided to learn more about the possibility of donating their frozen embryos.

That is when they contacted Embryos Alive, an Ohio-based embryo adoption agency that matches donor embryos with adoptive families across the country. Then they began the process of selecting an adoptive couple. They received several dossiers, which are profiles and pictures compiled by the prospective adoptive parents. For Emily and Tom, their choice centered on finding someone who wanted the best for their children and would do anything for them. "I loved looking at all the family pictures and reading about their lives," says Emily. "I loved picturing the potential mothers waddling about in the ninth month of pregnancy so excited."

The Walters originally wanted an open adoption but were willing to accept what the adopting parents wanted. "I had to remember that I was once on their side of the fertility fence. On that side, you are completely broken up; it seems like the world is laughing at you and wants to take advantage of you. On our side of the fence, you realize that fate takes you and you have to just sit back and wait until fate lets you off the ride. When it does, you'll be holding your child. However you managed to find each other, it was meant to be," says Emily.

Working with Bonnie Bernard, Executive Director of Embryos Alive, proved cathartic for Emily and Tom. Because Bonnie suffered years of infertility and is now an adoptive mother, she was able to empathize with the Walters. Bonnie shares the Walters' desire to help couples realize they are not alone with this intensely personal issue. ""I went through four years believing we would have to live childfree," Emily recalls. "I thought I would die. I was so depressed that I cried almost daily. When we found out I was pregnant, I felt on top of the world. Whatever little thing I can do to ease someone else's pain, I would love to do."

They admit they were concerned that the children might wonder why they were given up for adoption. "But it's a very different type of adoption than traditional adoption," explains Emily. "The embryo adopting mother is the real mother through and through." Reflecting on their decision to be embryo donors, Emily says, "I did it because I loved our embryos and they deserved a chance. Of course, now that my son in 18 months old, I would like to have another. But I'm 41 and need way more sleep these days!"

*Names have been changed for privacy.


Mark Diebel said...

Thank you for this story. I'm very interested to learn more about this and am trying to increase awareness in the Episcopal Church. As an adult adoptee in reunion and recognizing the implications in my own life of having a complex birth history, I am trying to consider this from the point of view of the child.

How are you advising parents to tell their children their history?

Stephanie Caballero said...

My clients do not usually ask me for my advice on what to tell their children. Deciding to use a donor, whether sperm or ova, to help create your family is very personal and for most couples, a very private decision. However, during the legal contract review a majority of my clients ask me what my clients have chosen to say and most are opting to tell their children, as they feel the child has a right to know how they were created.