For many couples, pregnancy seems to come with little effort. Still there are countless others who have attempted to expand their families naturally for years with no success. Each year is met with frustration and disappointment, as the outlook for once-hopeful couples grows dim. Traditional adoption and in-vitro fertilization have long been sought as methods to help these couples fulfill their dreams of parenthood. But now, couples have another option to consider-embryo adoption.
What becomes of embryos that are no longer needed? Until recently, once couples were successful in having a child or children through IVF, the embryos would either be donated for medical research, anonymously donated to a waiting family who could not produce viable eggs of their own or destroyed. Realizing that there is life (even if dormant) in those tiny embryos that might never have a chance to reach their fullest potential, an organization called Snowflakes™ Embryo Adoption Agency has been on the forefront of embryo adoptions to help change that. If fully utilized, embryo adoptions could allow the more than 400,000 frozen eggs that have been harvested from couples during the in-vitro fertilization process to actually be adopted. Charting new territory, this organization has brought the full adoption process to in-vitro fertilization, resulting in a glorious new option for infertile couples.
Many of you might be wondering, "Embryo donations have been around for years, so what's so different about embryo adoptions?" According to Snowflakes™, the process "goes beyond the embryo donation provided by fertility clinics by offering the safeguards and education available in a traditional adoption. A home study is prepared on the adopting family that includes screening and education. The donating family is responsible for selecting a family to raise their genetic child (as opposed to the doctor in a clinic making the selection of a family,) and they will know if a child is born from the adopted embryos. Our program recognizes the importance of counseling all parties involved. Most importantly, we recognize the personhood of embryos, and we treat them as precious pre-born children." As with traditional adoptions, the donor family must relinquish their right and legal claim to the embryos before transfer and thawing of embryos can be done.
While embryo adoptions maintain the look and feel of traditional adoptions, there are some distinct differences. There are no specific laws regarding the adoption of embryos. Most organizations operate under a broad use of existing adoption laws, which they then apply to the embryos as if they were children (albeit "pre-born" children.) As you would imagine, embryo adoptions are not without their limitations. While only two-thirds of the frozen embryos will survive the thawing stage, the ones that do survive are then implanted into the adoptive mother's womb just like another other IVF procedure with only a 20-25% success rate. There are other drawbacks as well. First, because multiple embryos are implanted simultaneously, expectant mothers could end up with twins or even triplets. Secondly, there are no guarantees regarding the genetic makeup of the child. A baby cannot be refused or "returned" if it is born with birth defects or other abnormalities. And then there's always the issue of whether to tell the child of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding its birth. Finally, embryo adoptions can also be more stressful than normal adoptions because implantation does not always result in pregnancy. As with any other IVF procedure, it may take several implants before a baby is conceived.
All that aside, many couples believe that the benefits of embryo adoptions outweigh the risk and the effort. The most obvious benefit is that the adoptive mother has an opportunity to participate in the pregnancy process. Although the child is not "genetically" hers, she can now experience the joys of motherhood, right along with the pains. It's the experience of a lifetime! The National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) at Knoxville's Baptist Hospital for Women has matched nearly 100 genetic families through its non-profit organization, whose mission is to "protect the lives and dignity of human embryos by promoting, facilitating and educating about embryo donation and adoption."