Around this time last year, my RE successfully transferred two embryos into my uterus, and those two embryos grew, over 34 weeks, into my delightful Isaac and Carrie. That IVF cycle resulted in more embryos than I’d ever had before, more than I’d ever had last as long as they all lasted–nine of them lasted until day 5, when Isaac and Carrie were transferred, and seven are still frozen, waiting for whatever comes next.
Or, well. They are now. I’m finding myself having to decide about them a lot sooner than I’d wanted to decide.
Kyle and I had been operating under the impression that our seven remaining embryos would be kept frozen by the fertility clinic for two years, covered by our insurance. After those two years, we could decide if we wanted to keep them frozen, paying $85 a month for their storage; if we wanted to donate them to either science or another couple (I’d prefer an LGBT couple if we go that route); or if we wanted the facility to dispose of them (not likely). The $85 isn’t manageable now, since we’re barely making it from paycheck to paycheck while still buying groceries, but in two years, with Sam in school and the twins on cow’s milk? It totally would be.
But. The bill came early.
It came in the mail the other day, a bill for $170 for last month’s storage and this month’s storage, and I was baffled, because I’d thought things would be covered. I only opened the bill in the evening (opening mail when you have a little shadow in the shape of your four-year-old son is very difficult), so I couldn’t call to clear things up that night, and so I immediately guessed that our insurance must have changed policies on embryo storage. Maybe they only covered for one year instead of two now, which left us in an absolutely wretched spot: having to decide immediately to either get me knocked up again (no, or at least not right now) or where to donate our remaining seven embryos.
Kyle, fortunately, cleared things up in the morning: we just have to get authorization from our RE and send that to the insurance company ourselves, and once we do that, they’ll cover an additional two years of storage, giving us more time to decide what we want to do with our seven remaining embryos.
Seven potential lives, at least in theory. We don’t know the health of any of the embryos, since PGS was financially out of reach for us last year (and probably will be for a while yet, since it’s in the neighborhood of $3500). None or all of them could have aneuploidies incompatible with life, as with so many of our other losses. Some looked textbook good; but then, we’ve had perfect embryos before, and those resulted in miscarriages. The only two we know for sure are healthy are currently asleep in their bassinets, one probably flopped on his stomach and the other squashed into her favorite corner.
Whether now or in three years, Kyle and I do have to decide what to do with these seven embryos, which is a weighty task. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I do not want seven more children. I have friends with nine and ten kids, and they are fantastic people and superhuman (how can you not be, when you have that many kids?), but it is not a path I want for myself or my family. I don’t know what number is our path (four is looking likely, one way or another, and I’ll get to that in a minute), but that number is absolutely not 10.
A less ethical fertility clinic might have popped all nine in me at once, and I could’ve attained international fame like Octomom–except doing that is unethical for a reason. The pregnancy would’ve put enormous strain on my body, and the likelihood of even half the babies surviving would be slim. Worse, the ones that didn’t survive could take the others with them, and then we’d have been back to square one again. So no, I’m glad that my clinic is good at risk management, and I’m glad that I’m not suddenly a mom to nonuplets, even if it means I don’t get my very own TLC show.
(that’s probably for the best, honestly)
But that still leaves 7 embryos that we have to figure out what to do with, 7 embryos that we need to decide where they go. Logically, I know that even if we decide to try for one more pregnancy out of this batch (and it would be one more, not more than that, and no more twins), that’s six embryos that still need a place, and it’s just so… weird to decide.
I mean, look. I’m pro-choice as they come. I believe strongly in bodily autonomy and that, whenever life begins, personhood cannot begin at conception because everything that makes a person a person exists in one’s brain, and that doesn’t show up for at least six weeks, probably more (it’s been a while since I watched a baby development video, I’ve been kind of busy). My ethical qualms aren’t so much that I’m thinking of this in the same way as I’d be thinking of giving up my living, born children, but more in the sense that I’m trying to… I guess wrestle with the potential.
Most likely, even if we decide to have one more child from this batch (which wouldn’t be for a while… like, at least three or four years), we’d donate the embryos to other couples struggling with infertility. I’d prefer, as I said before, to donate to LGBT couples, but ultimately, I want to make sure they go somewhere they’d be loved. But then I wrestle with it because it’s like… how do you discuss that with an eventual child? Embryo adoption can be open, as can traditional adoption, but at the same time, just… it’s such a weird thing to try and explain.
“Well, Liam Neeson Smith Jones III, it’s not that we didn’t want you, but it was luck of the draw, and we ended up carrying Isaac and Carrie instead. And we wanted you to be with someone who loved you, and we chose them special for you.” And then silently you think about how it’s hard to look at them and see their father’s eyes and your mother’s smile and hear the same laugh that runs in your dad’s side of the family.
I think it would be an awesome chance, and I’d love to do it, but it’s something I’m wrestling with emotionally. Giving up a child for adoption is hard. Giving up an embryo is slightly less hard, but still weird. Weird is a good word for it.
Scientific donation is on the docket as well, and if we’re able to do PGS on the embryos before sending them anywhere, it’s what we’d both want to do with any embryos not compatible with life. Just the same, if we don’t meet requirements for adoption, it’d be the second best choice, but it seems… wasteful. Not because I feel like it’d be murder for science, but because my god, I put so much WORK into those, and maybe they’ll help scientific advances or just be testing ground for a new resident, but it feels like they should at least become people first?
(I wonder if this is how an oak tree feels if its acorns fall on asphalt, and it’s just like “Motherf– DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH WORK THOSE THINGS WERE???”)
(oak tree when an acorn hits the pavement, played by Kristen Wiig)
That’s also why I’m not keen on the “eh, just trash ‘em” option. Those embryos are a culmination of two years of very hard work and physical and financial sacrifice. They are not going in anyone’s biohazard bag if I can help it.
I guess the hardest decision is whether or not we should reserve one for ourselves before donating the rest. If I were to get pregnant again, I wouldn’t want it to be until the twins are much older, and while your fertility doesn’t immediately bottom out once you hit 35, I’m already in a wonky spot where that’s concerned. If Kyle and I want another biological child, these embryos are our best chance, and I’m having a hard time letting go of that overall.
We also know and have agreed that we want to adopt once our biological kids are older (read: 5+), preferably through the state foster system. So then the question becomes if we want five kids? I don’t think we do, and we both agree that we want to adopt, but
But it’s just very difficult to let that go. The past six years of my life, up until March, I was so focused on getting and staying pregnant, and it just seems… weird and difficult to let it go.
Well. At the very least, I’m getting authorization for insurance to cover the cost of keeping the embryos stored for the next two years (Kyle said it’s my job to do that), because if nothing else, it’ll buy time to let go, to accept and embrace all of this, and to adjust.