Embryo Adoption: An Adoptive Child in the Womb

It's been called the best of both worlds, but that doesn't make it easy.

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What exactly does it mean when we say that we adopted embryos? We “adopted” one batch of embryos directly from the genetic parents back in 2011. We transferred two of them into my uterus at a time, but both attempts failed. I mourned the loss of those little ones as though they had lived in my home before passing on. I made a special tribute for them, named them, and collected little mementos to remember them by. At the time, I remember thinking that they may have been as close as I’ll ever get to being a mother, so it was important for me to have something tangible to remind me of this fact.

Then, at the start of this year, we were ready to try again. This time, we “adopted” a batch of embryos from the clinic, which already had full legal rights to them. The arrangement is completely anonymous, and while I never thought I’d feel comfortable with such an arrangement, I do. However, with the memory of loss, however early on it was, I was unable to go through this transfer with the same level of hope and enthusiasm.

Guarding my heart yielded to disbelief as each new step revealed that we had a strong little baby growing inside of me. Since the dreaded nausea set in last week, I’ve been so mentally and physically exhausted that I haven’t been able to think lucidly or reasonably. I started doubting if we made the right decision. I started worrying about how we would explain embryo adoption to the baby. I started questioning if I could possibly handle the idea of having 5 children in heaven now that we were going to hopefully have one on Earth.

And then it hit me; I am grieving the genetic loss to my child. I never once thought this was something that mattered to me. Sure, it would’ve been neat to have this or that feature to compare, but it was nothing worth losing sleep over. Until now. Now, I worry that I’m not bonding with my baby because we are not genetically related to each other.

I’ve thought of all the other things we get to share by virtue of my carrying and giving birth to this baby, not to mention the ongoing parenting relationship we will develop after birth. Yet right now, I feel like a surrogate. Even though I know that no one else in the world can claim this baby–something I worried about in the back of my mind with open adoption–I still cannot deny the fact that there’s a family out there with three children who are this baby’s full genetic siblings.

I’m upset that I won’t be able to provide that genetic link for the baby. I’m concerned that the baby will have identity issues or concerns over the way she or he came to our family via an anonymous donation and eight years in the freezer!

I suppose, like any adoptive mother, I’m worried about all the ways I might fall short in the eyes of my child, all the things I am unable to provide for her or him because of the adoption factor. I’m worried about proudly proclaiming having adopted this baby only to have to try to explain to people how it was that I also carried and birthed her or him.

I worry about having to hear the phrase “real parents,” either from my child or from others. Perhaps I can get away with it if a person assumes the biological mother to be the “real” mother, since that I am. But what about my husband?

One of the reasons we chose to adopt rather than use a single gamete donor is to have an equal relationship to our child. Yet now I realize that the pregnancy will give me an advantage no matter what. My husband gets to live and love the birth mother of his child without having to worry about her changing her mind and him losing the chance to parent this baby. But he remains an adoptive dad. Perhaps once the baby is born, it won’t matter anyway.

For now, though, I’m questioning what I’ve been told about embryo adoption. It has been called the best of both worlds, yet I see it more like the worst of both worlds. On one hand, I have to deal with all the negative symptoms of pregnancy and later the labor pains, while at the same time I have to deal with the fact that neither I nor my husband are genetically linked to our child. It just doesn’t seem fair to have to go through both.

The only thing I have to cling to is that we went into this transfer, this embryo adoption, having discerned God’s will. We prayed not for our desire to be fulfilled, but for His will to be done. Granted, I don’t know what I’d be doing with my life if I weren’t en route to motherhood, but in the end, this is unfolding precisely as the Lord would have it. I just need to trust that something life-affirming will come out of these conflicting emotions I’m having.