The Embryo Adoption Process – Everything You Need to Know

/ Commentary

By Megan Johnson

*Note: I use the term “embaby” or “embabies” to refer to embryo(s)

Infertility. A word that catches one’s attention because it is used in quiet, private moments. It was a word I noticed other couples would speak in hushed tones until we, too became that couple. My husband, Ben, and I went from dreaming about our future children to finding out we would never have them.

Intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) were not options for us. Ben has an incredibly rare condition that prevents him from having genetically biological children. This was devastating news to us both. At one of our appointments, though, the infertility doctor in passing mentioned something called a snowflake program. This type of program allows infertile couples to adopt embryos (fertilized eggs) from other couples who have already undergone IVF. Essentially, the adoptive couple gets to experience the pregnancy and birth of their adopted baby. Since my body was healthy, this new information perked our ears up.

Fast forward a year and a half. As I write this article, I’m currently 37 weeks pregnant with our adopted embaby. We are very excited to meet our baby girl soon!

I have found that many are unfamiliar with the process of embryo adoption. Therefore, my goal is to provide practical steps to guide couples through this process.

What is Embryo Adoption?

According to the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program,

“When couples use in vitro fertilization to achieve pregnancy, they will often have embryos remaining after they complete their family. One option available to them is to donate those embryos to another couple. Embryo adoption allows the family with remaining embryos to select a recipient family for their embryo gift. The adopting family can use the donated embryos to achieve a pregnancy and give birth to their adopted child.”

The embaby adoption process involves many steps.

  1. Match with a donor couple.
  2. Complete legal paperwork.
  3. Decide which clinic to do embaby transfer.
  4. Do embaby transfer, get pregnant, give birth, repeat.

(1) Match with a donor couple

There are two main ways an infertile couple is matched with a donor couple: through an agency or privately matching. Popular agencies such as the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program and the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) conduct a profile for you and match you with donor couples in their program. The agency essentially serves as the middleman. They communicate between the couples, conduct legal paperwork, and help coordinate the shipping of embabies to a local clinic. The NEDC takes it one step farther and actually conducts the embaby transfer itself. However, the convenience of having an agency do the matching process comes with a high price tag. The Snowflakes program costs $9,000 just for matching and legal paperwork. The NEDC costs about $7,000, but that includes the matching process and the embaby transfer. Typically, most agencies require a home study which may cost a few hundred as well. There are many national and local agencies out there, so it does involve some research.

Privately matching involves more work on the couple's end, but it is less expensive. Either you know someone personally who is willing to donate to you or you match on a website. There are two popular matching websites: National Registry for Adoption (NRFA) and Miracles Waiting. There is a small fee to put up a profile, but it is incomparable to agency pricing.

My husband and I actually matched on NRFA. We were talking to our donor about a week after we created our profile. Granted, I probably reached out to at least twenty couples in that week. We either never received a response or we were told it was not a good fit. During this meet and greet time, I suggest asking the following questions.

  1. What is the story behind the creation of their embabies?
  2. How many embabies are they donating?
  3. What was the age of the woman (egg) when the IVF cycle was performed? (Apparently, this is a huge indicator of viability)
  4. Has genetic testing been done on their embabies? What are the results?
  5. Where are the embabies currently stored?
  6. Are the embabies frozen separately or together in the same test tube?
  7. Have they donated their embabies to other couples?
  8. If so, did the other couples successfully achieve pregnancy and birth?
  9. What type of relationship would they like to have after birth: closed, semi-open, or open relationship?

I also suggest that you, as a couple, decide in advance what you are looking for in a donor couple. What are you willing to be lenient on and what are you not willing to budge on? Keep in mind that donor couples have all the power in this relationship until legal paperwork is signed. Since those are their embabies, then they may donate them to the couple of their choosing. That is why I recommend you know what you are willing to compromise on and what you are not willing to compromise on from the start.

In most states, adopting embabies is simply a transferring of ownership. Therefore, the paperwork is not even comparable to a foster-to-adopt situation or traditional adoption.

A lawyer or no lawyer? That is the question. Many couples that privately match use lawyers to hash out all the legalese. If you go through an agency, then their lawyers draw up the paperwork for you.

I like to save money, so I found a roundabout way of avoiding lawyer fees. I contacted a local lawyer and he allowed me to ask him quite a few questions for free. Then, two of the women I reached out to sent me the contract that their lawyers drew up. Ironically, our donor is a lawyer himself. So, he had a contract already drafted. I adjusted his contract based on our preferences and compared it to the example contracts. Our donor made some slight adjustments and then we both notarized it. It was a fairly easy process because we all acted like grown-ups.

However, not all situations are like this. Therefore, I do advise you to at least consult with a lawyer regarding your specific situation. If any red flags arise in which you find it necessary to bring a lawyer into the mix, then you are completely within your legal right to do so.

(3) Decide which clinic to do embaby transfer

You typically have two options regarding your choice of clinic. Either you personally travel to the clinic where your embabies are stored or you ship the embabies to your local clinic.

In my research, I found that my uterus is the best transporter. My husband and I knew that we would be heart-broken if shipping our embabies to a local clinic resulted in their destruction. Financially speaking, it would cost us upwards of $1,000 to transport them. Therefore, we were willing to work with the clinic where our embabies were stored. Although, I do know of some couples who actually transport the embabies themselves instead of hiring a specialty driving service.

Questions to ask the clinic:

  1. If planning to travel, how many visits do you have to make?
  2. How many embryos do they transfer at once?
  3. Do they do natural or medicated cycles?
  4. What is the cost of a frozen embryo transfer cycle?
  5. What does each subsequent frozen embryo transfer cost?
  6. Are the medications covered by the clinic? (Typically, the clinic does not cover medication costs. Talk to your insurance as these medications can add up to about $1,000 out-of-pocket per transfer).
  7. What are their embryo storage fees?

If you plan to travel, keep the following in mind. Perhaps your local clinic can step in to help with pre and post-transfer monitoring. This should, in theory, limit your need to travel to the other clinic. Since our clinic agreed to perform our pre and post-transfer monitoring, the only travel required was for the transfer itself. As a result, the other clinic subtracted $1,000 off their frozen embryo transfer price. Just something to consider!

Also, be sure to check out SART for your specific clinic’s success rates. This may help you decide where to conduct your embaby transfer.

(4) Do embaby transfer, get pregnant, give birth, repeat

Now, at this point, you are legally the parents of your embabies, you have established yourself with the clinic(s) and are ready to start your treatment cycle. These cycles look different clinic to clinic, but they typically involve lots of monitoring (i.e. lab work and ultrasounds). Some women do natural cycles and others do artificial cycles. Natural means that the transfer timing is based solely off of your natural ovulation cycle. Artificial cycles use medications to “mimic the body’s cycle and help the endometrium thicken and become receptive.

The transfer itself feels very similar to a pelvic exam. The only uncomfortable thing is the full bladder requirement. My doctor told me that, "I should feel like I would pee in front of the President." That is how full they need your bladder. Apparently, a full bladder tilts the uterus so the physician can visualize where to place the embaby. The procedure itself lasts about fifteen to thirty minutes and does not require anesthetics, meaning you can drive yourself home.

Ideally, the transfer is successful, and you get a positive pregnancy test! You will undergo post-transfer monitoring for about eight weeks. Then, they send you on over to OB/GYN as if you are just part of the regular pregnant crowd. Nine months or so later, ideally, you give birth to a healthy baby. Then, whenever you are ready, you repeat with the process until you no longer have embabies in storage.

Now, an unideal situation is miscarrying your embaby. This could be due to a variety of factors, which your physician will discuss with you. When you get the go-ahead from your physician, I hope that you can try again.

Suggested resource

I found the Facebook group titled “Embryo Adoption and Donation Support Group," to be incredibly helpful. This is where I "met" other women going through the same process. I found that most of these women were very willing to answer my questions, no question seemed off-limits. What I especially appreciated about this group is the first-hand experience. There is only so much information one can acquire from a clinic's website. So, hearing from women who have personally gone through this process was invaluable.

Additionally, this Facebook group does offer a place for you to put up a recipient profile for free! Also, there are donor profiles posted so potential recipients can reach out to them. I highly recommend this resource as it is a great, free place to start.

Although our struggle with infertility was initially met with grief and tears, it remains a gift to me and Ben. It opened our eyes to the world of embryo adoption and gave us a miracle baby girl! We love sharing our story and how the embryo adoption process works. We hope the pro-life movement will utilize this avenue to bring dignity and value to all human life.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.

The Embryo Adoption Process – Everything You Need to Know
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