When you conceive using in-vitro- often times, there are a number of frozen embryos left over. Year after year, you receive a bill to store them, which can range from $200-400 dollars.
There are typically four options:
1) Keep paying to store them as they have a shelf life of up to 15 years.
2) Donate them to a couple in need.
3) Donate them to science.
4) Destroy them.
There is a fifth option, which is doing nothing but that very quickly becomes option number four by default. Most clinics, if they are not being paid or signed off on what to do, will destroy them. This is what they say, but the truth is, they also do nothing as they may be facing a potential lawsuit if the owner suddenly contacts them.
This may not seem like a difficult decision, but after you finally conceived, the resolution isn’t so easy. In fact, the longer you wait the harder it becomes. Hence mental paralysis.
At present, no one can get an exact number of stored embryos but it’s approximately 400,000, this same figure was arrived at by the rand consulting group hired to do a head count.
Though I had one child from a brief marriage, and quite enjoyed being a single working mother, I met a man in my mid 30’s. I had no intention of having more children, nor did he. Until he fell in love with both me, and my son.
Up until then my husband had no interest in having kids, and it only made logical sense to him that if he ever did, he would adopt. However, being a step- father proved a joy he had not known. Though he and my son shared a great deal of father-son moments; my son has a biological father, and M would never want to impose on that, thus his desire to have one of his own.
So, after much discussion, I agreed to have a baby. Little did I know the difficulty we would soon be facing. After much trying, we eventually resorted to in- vitro.
I have always been driven and goal oriented. You might say, a triple-A type personality. So, once I was on the infertility wagon, there was no getting off. I met many women at the fertility clinic who felt the same way. After investing a great deal of time, money and emotional upheaval, you simply refuse to get off the carousel until you are securely with child. Even if your initial enthusiasm begins to wane.
My first attempt resulted in ten solid embryos. They implanted three, with no success. I was told that we should try again, but using fresh embryos as opposed to frozen ones, as the chances of getting pregnant would be much higher. This theory would later be debunked.
So, I did three more grueling rounds. All resulting in failure. It is impossible to explain the grief that occurs when you spend three months jacked up on hormones, mixing powders and liquids like a chemist, giving yourself twice-daily shots, bruising every part of your body, eating a strict diet, and trying to act “normal” despite the hormonal hell.
The initial hormones thrust you into instant menopause. No one actually warns you at the clinic just exactly what this means. But it means this: inexplicable rage, horrific mood swings, night sweats, fatigue, memory lapse, confusion, lack of focus, depression, anxiety, panic, irritability, dry skin and thinning hair, weight gain and, oh rage.
After two years, we finally gave up. I had had it. I was done. I was now nearing 40. My son was entering his teen years. He needed me more than ever and I wanted my old life back.
My doctor asked if I would use the frozen embryos. Technically I owned them, it was worth a shot and now given the new research, it turns out that frozen embryos result in a higher pregnancy rate. Not to mention the new, high, fancy, 4-D ultrasound machine, which no longer provides just Rorschach fuzzy images but images of great clarity as though your uterus had been lifted up and put on an observation table.
My doctor, whom I had grown to love and is very highly respected, said, "I know your uterus like the back of my hand. This time will work."
He was a very gentle and kind man and never once made me feel “too old to have children” which many fertility doctors do. They will come right out and say it. “You are too old to get pregnant. Move on with your life. You barren failure.”
The reason they do this is for their own statistical progress. The higher percentage of women they get pregnant the better it reflects on their clinic. My doctor did not care. He would tell me stories of women aged 44, 45, and 46 becoming pregnant.
So we went forward with the frozen embryos. The little "totsicles" were taken out of the deep freeze, and three were implanted. This time, it indeed felt different. The room was unusually full; nurses, technicians, one of my doctor's partner's, complete strangers.
The 4-D device was showing me exactly what he was doing on a simulated TV set. Cameras were involved. I had a tipped uterus or crooked or cranked, or something. Also I didn’t have to take any hormones as this is done on a natural cycle, so that stress was eliminated. They gave me something to relax, so I was chatty, even happy. I liked being the center of attention, even if it was just my uterus everyone was here to see.
I didn’t think it would work despite all the clinical enthusiasm, so we had planned a trip to Maui, a pleasant environment to be in when the dreaded “no baby for you” news would come crashing down.
However, six days into our vacation, while my husband and son were scuba diving, I knew I was pregnant. Lying beneath a giant umbrella on the sand, looking into the ocean waves, I just knew. I went to our room, grabbed my purse and rooted around for an old pregnancy stick. By now, I had been carrying them around like lipstick or breath mints. After a quick wait, three lines came up. I had no idea what that meant because I didn’t have the “early pregnancy” kit box instruction guide.
I drove to a drugstore and found the brand and read the back. I was pregnant. I sighed, because I didn’t believe it.
I didn’t tell my husband either because it’s possible it was wrong or a false positive.
Returning home for the routine blood test after 12 days since implantation the number was an impossible 620. A typical beta test for a normal baby is around 80.
One week later, still not sure if this would be a viable pregnancy, they did an ultrasound.
“You are having twins. We have two solid heartbeats.”
I was shocked. My husband, bless his heart, was so excited, he ran into the lobby and announced this to all the depressed and possibly suicidal women, who were struggling just to see if they were even in the running to conceive. Oh boy.
Cut to: Eight years later. I still have seven in the freezer. Like so many women, every year we face the dilemma of what to do. Like me, they play out the four options.
Though I have talked to a number of families that have an alternative option because they are pro-life, and believe the embryos are essentially souls on ice.
One mother of triplets said, “We have it written in our will the embryos will be buried with us.”
I’m pro-choice and to me that seems extreme. But, as time goes on, not so much.
I had always thought we would donate given what we went through and the empathy I feel toward aspiring hopefuls with fertility issues. But what if said couple mistreated the baby? What if said baby was an identical twin to one of mine? What if said couple died and said baby was sent to an orphanage? This was simply no longer up for debate.
Destroy? No chance. This becomes impossible when looking into the beautiful faces of your children.
Donate to science? Maybe. Stem cell research is so very important but I’m not ready.
Knowing frozen embryos are viable up to 15 years, I have a good sevenyears to keep from making any decision.
My husband feels the same way. Although he actually believes one day I will carry those embryos. Not likely. But he is an eternal optimist.
I know I’m not alone. With the continual rise of infertility and the increasing number of embryos on ice, at some point more women will have to come forward. Decisions will have to be made.
There are no easy answers. And it’s also something no one talks about.
This issue remains a hidden secret with parents. Some will never admit they even had in-vitro, let alone talk about their frozen embryos. Of course it is a private decision, but one that needs to come out into the light.
I notice on the bill that arrives year after year, there is a new tone to the letter indicating they would like me to make a decision since they are running out of storage space. At some point, I will. At some point all of us will.
For more information on options, this is a helpful website with a list of helpful websites and resources.