Embryo Adoption Guide

An introduction to embryo adoption.

Karla Ehlers March 29, 2016

There are different ways to adopt children. You can adopt locally or internationally. You can go through an agency or through foster care. You can even adopt teenagers. But, have you considered adopting embryos?

Embryo adoption is another way to grow a family. This guide has been created to help you better understand the process of embryo adoption, and to help you decide if it is right for you.


Please note:
1. Please note:

Although care has been taken to ensure the accuracy, completeness, and reliability of the information provided in this slideshow guide, you should not rely on it to make decisions. Instead, you should rely on licensed professionals in making decisions relative to adoption. The information in this guide is subject to change without notice. Adoption.com is not responsible for the consequences of relying on this information. In no event shall Adoption.com be liable for any direct, indirect, special, or incidental damage resulting from, arising out of, or in connection with the use of this information.

What is embryo adoption?
2. What is embryo adoption?

When couples who undergo IVF decide their family is complete, they commonly have unused embryos. Couples are then faced with the decision of what to do with them. Options include storing them indefinitely, destroying them, donating them for scientific research, and donating them for use by other couples. This last option is what makes the miracle of embryo adoption possible.

How does it work? Step One: Receiving Embryos
3. How does it work? Step One: Receiving Embryos

The first step is receiving embryos. Couples are matched with embryos in a variety of ways:

Donation/adoption through fertility clinic
Many fertility clinics work with couples to match them with donated embryos the clinics receive from other IVF patients. Clinic procedures differ on how that match happens: some clinics allow recipients to choose from a list of available embryos, others have recipients fill out a preference sheet which is used for matching by the clinic staff, etc. Clinics also differ in how the identity of donating and receiving couples is treated: some facilitate situations where the identities of donating and receiving couples is shared while other clinics facilitate anonymous donations.

Private donation
Some couples receive embryos from individuals they know personally. Others use websites/agencies that put potential donors in contact with potential recipients. They facilitate connections but then leave it to the two parties to negotiate the details and logistics of making the donation/adoption happen.

Adoption coordinated by an adoption agency
There are a number of adoption agencies that specifically do embryo adoptions. They are similar to traditional adoption agencies that work individually with donating and adopting couples to help the "right" match happen. A potential benefit of using an agency is the added support and training to help you feel prepared to adopt and parent.

How does it work? Step Two: Implanting Embryos
4. How does it work? Step Two: Implanting Embryos

After a couple has been matched with a set of embryos, they work with a fertility specialist to to undergo a frozen embryo transfer (FET). The prospective mother undergoes hormone treatments to prepare her body to accept the embryo(s), after which they are transferred into her uterus. It is identical to the FET process for those using biological embryos - the only difference is that the embryos are donated.

Am I a good candidate for embryo adoption?
5. Am I a good candidate for embryo adoption?

The best person to answer this question, from a medical standpoint, is a fertility specialist that knows your medical history. But a good place to start in determining this is to examine the health of the prospective mother: Are you in good health? Do you have significant medical issues that would make it difficult to become pregnant and/or carry a baby to term?

Couples should also discuss some important issues together: Are we financially able to pay for fertility treatments? Are we prepared for the emotions that come with undergoing fertility treatments? Are we financially able to pay for the costs of pregnancy and delivery? Are we comfortable having a child that is not biologically related to us?

Keep in mind that not having concrete answers to these questions right now doesn't mean you are not a good candidate. They are just a place to start to see if the path of embryo adoption might be right for your family.

Why would I choose embryo adoption over traditional adoption?
6. Why would I choose embryo adoption over traditional adoption?

One of the greatest benefits of embryo adoption is the experience of pregnancy and childbirth for the mother. While it certainly comes with challenges, benefits like bonding with your child before birth and controlling the prenatal environment make it a unique adoption option.

Another aspect of embryo adoption couples find attractive is that once the possession of embryos is legally moved from donor to recipient the action is final and non-reversible. Where traditional adoptions can take months and months to become final, embryo adoptions are complete even before a child is born.

For some couples, embryo adoption may be a more affordable option then traditional adoption. This is particularly true for anonymous embryo adoptions that are handled through fertility clinics, which do not require a home study, agency fee, etc.

Why would I choose traditional adoption over embryo adoption?
7. Why would I choose traditional adoption over embryo adoption?

Not all infertile couples are good candidates for embryo adoption. The success of the FET depends greatly on the fertility of the prospective mother, so couples where the wife has severe fertility challenges may not be good candidates for embryo adoption.

Some couples also struggle with the idea of paying thousands and thousands in fertility treatments with no guarantee of a child. Although those who go through traditional adoption may not pay the bulk of fees until the adoption is finalized, couples who undergo multiple FETs with adopted embryos may pay thousands of dollars up front and still have no child in the end.

The personal/religious beliefs of some may prevent them from pursuing embryo adoption, as well. Those who are morally opposed to reproductive technology methods, such as IVF, may not feel comfortable growing their family in this way.

What are the chances that an adoption will result in a viable pregnancy?
9. What are the chances that an adoption will result in a viable pregnancy?

According to the CDC's most current report, 37% of donor embryo transfers in 2012 resulted in a live birth. However, when predicting your personal success rate, it is best to talk to a fertility specialist that knows your current medical condition and history. Things that will impact the chances of becoming pregnant include the health of the adopting female, age of the donating female, quality of the embryos/time of freezing and practices/procedures of the clinic performing the FET.

Because FET success rates very from clinic to clinic, it is beneficial to look up success rates for specific clinics. Click below to find a listing of fertility clinics in the US; you can sort it by year and even see success rates for specific procedures, age groups, etc. In addition to looking up the most current information, you may also want to see what the success rates were for FETs the year your embryos were frozen.


How much does it cost?
10. How much does it cost?

$2,500 - $5,000 is the general range per FET. If you are working through an adoption agency, agency fees can vary greatly--between $2,500 and $12,000. In addition to an agency fee, you may need to pay for a home study, which varies in cost from state to state but could be as much as $2,500.

Other relatively minimal fees that may be involved including transportation fees to move embryos to your fertility clinic (if needed), psychological counseling fee (some clinics require this before performing transfers using donated embryos), reimbursement to the donor couple for embryo storage and communicable disease testing. Check with your fertility clinic and/or adoption agency to see which of these costs, if any, you will be responsible for.

What are some moral/ethical issues I should consider?
11. What are some moral/ethical issues I should consider?

The moral and ethical issues involved in embryo adoption are quite similar to those in a traditional adoption.

Couples should first examine their own readiness to grow their family in this way by discussing their feelings about the issues that are at the heart of embryo adoption:

-Have we come to terms with the circumstances that led us to embryo adoption? Are we prepared to move on?
-Are we comfortable with the reproductive technology methods that were used to create this embryo? Do they conflict with our personal/religious beliefs?
-Are we comfortable with the idea of raising a child that is not our biological child?
-How open do we want our embryo adoption to be?
-How will we tell our child about their embryo adoption?
-How will we tell others (family, friends, co-workings, strangers in the grocery store)?
-What will we do with unused embryos, if we have any?

In addition to discussing these issues as a couple, you may want to consider discussing them with their adoption agency, fertility specialist, a counselor (preferably one that specializes adoption and/or counseling to those using donor gametes) or religious leaders.

Will I know my child's medical history?
12. Will I know my child's medical history?

It depends. Some clinics/agencies provide medical histories to couples considering embryo adoption to help them make a decision, which are theirs to keep. Other clinics/agencies provide little to no medical histories. In open embryo adoptions receiving couples often have not only medical histories, but also the option to contact the donating couple indefinitely whenever medical questions come up.

The bottom line is that you need to ask the clinic and/or agency what their policies are regarding medical histories.

Is open adoption an option?
13. Is open adoption an option?

Yes, there are agencies that specialize specifically in embryo adoption, as well as clinics that offer open or semi-open adoptions to their patients. You can also use a matching website that helps donating and receiving couples connect, which gives the two parties the ability to negotiate how open they would like the relationship to be after the donation/adoption.

How do I get started?
14. How do I get started?

A good place to start is with a discussion with a fertility specialist. They can tell you whether or not the prospective mother is a good candidate for the procedure and has a good chance of being able to carry and deliver a baby. They can also give you specifics on the cost and details of the FET.

The next step is to find your embryos. With all the options out there (matching with your local fertility clinic, private donation, open adoptions) you should explore them all to see what feels most comfortable for you. Once you have decided this, you can choose a path and start the process of finding your embryos.

What should I expect?
15. What should I expect?

As with most adoptions, you can expect this process to take some time. Finding the "right" embryos may happen quickly, but it may not. If you choose to work through a clinic, be aware that many have waiting lists. If you opt to work through a matching website or an embryo adoption agency, it may simply take some time to be connected with right embryos since you and another couple must mutually agree upon the adoption.

How do I find an agency that provides embryo adoption?
16. How do I find an agency that provides embryo adoption?

A great place to start is your local fertility clinic. They can tell you what they offer, as well as direct you to other local resources that may be of help.

Another place to look is Embryoadoption.org which has a list of clinics nationwide that offer embryo adoption, as well as adoption agencies that specialize in embryo adoption.

How do I tell my child about his/her embryo adoption?
17. How do I tell my child about his/her embryo adoption?

As with traditional adoption, it is recommended you have a plan for telling your child about how they came into your family. Children do best being reared in an environment of love and trust. One way you can build this environment for your child is to tell them about their embryo adoption from the beginning, ensuring there is never a time they didn't know where they came from.

Some parents worry this means they need to start talking about reproductive science to their babies and toddlers. However, simple terms and even analogies can be used for younger children to help them grasp what it means to be adopted. For example, parents can begin by talking about how Mom and Dad wanted to have a baby but couldn't have one on their own, so they needed help from another mom and dad. Mom and Dad received a teeny, tiny baby from this nice couple, which grew in Mom's tummy until they were born. Some parents even choose to put the story in a personalized book to better illustrate this process.

The goal is to help children understand how they came into your family - not the finer points of sex education. As children get older and learn more about reproductive science, the actual details of the procedure can be filled in so they have a more complete understanding of how they came into your family.

In whatever method you find best to educate your child on how they came into your family, remember that your attitudes and feelings towards embryo adoption will likely be recognized and accepted by your child. If you are fearful and secretive about where they came from, your child may think they need to be ashamed of their story. Conversely, by confidently and freely explaining their embryo adoption, you will let your child know they can be proud of where they came from and be grateful, as you are, for the miracle that brought them into your family.

For more ideas on how to tell your children about their embryo adoption, consult with your adoption agency and/or fertility clinic.

What legal issues are involved?
18. What legal issues are involved?

Although embryo adoption includes many components of traditional adoption, it differs greatly from a legal standpoint. Because courts have not yet recognized embryos as people, the moving of embryos from one couple to another is considered, in legal terms, a transfer of property.

The benefit of this is that this transfer is considered a relatively simple one. Fertility clinics and adoption agencies have paperwork and contracts for both receiving and donating couples to facilitate this transfer of ownership. When done correctly, these contracts ensure the adopting couple will be recognized as the legal parents of the child/children born from the donated embryos.

As always, specific questions about these contracts should be directed to a legal professional, which we are not. Make sure you get the facts before you sign.

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Karla Ehlers

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