Donating My Embryos After IVF Was The Hardest Decision I've Ever Made
Making the decision to donate our frozen embryos to science was the hardest thing I have had to do in my life so far. Even starting to write this is something I originally put off, as it makes me feel numb and sad and I have been trying to protect my heart.
The day after my son turned five, I headed to my fertility clinic to make a video with them talking about the decision we made to donate our remaining embryos to science. I spoke to the counselor who helped us with the decision and the Director of Science about what would actually happen to our precious embryos. What I am about to write might well trigger you, so please don’t read on if you are feeling vulnerable about where you are at on your journey.
The thing is, I know in my heart that I wanted to have more than one more child; however, the reality is it didn’t happen that way for us. We had a successful IVF cycle in 2015 which led to our son Phoenix, who is now five. Phoenix has been an incredible influence on our lives. He was the motivation for me to create The Fertility Podcast which I launched when I was successfully pregnant after ICSI.
Over the last two years, I have been struggling with the decision of what to do with our three frozen embryos whilst being immersed in the TTC community both on and offline. Creating The Fertility Podcast has in some ways been my therapy, as I have been lucky to speak to a lot of people about the different issues we have to face along the way in terms of infertility. And yet, it has also been a challenge for me to remain in this community through this decision. I have watched people share about having frozen embryo transfers and becoming pregnant, and I have also talked a lot about how it feels to be open about my secondary infertility.
So what did I do to cope? Well, I had to seek out professional help to deal with this decision and it’s something I highly recommend if you are struggling with any of your fertility-related decisions, but especially this one.
You see, my husband and I are both siblings, and the guilt I have around our son not having a brother or a sister is immense. It manifests itself in different ways and in the conversations I have with other moms and dads at my son’s school. The other day, I watched a storyline on TV where two sisters in their 40’s were mourning the loss of their mother—together—and I was instantly struck with sadness that Phoenix won’t have that support when the inevitable happens to myself or my husband.
I went to further counseling to work through the process of donating our embryos to science after I had spoken to a fertility counselor for about six months. She told me it was something my clinic should offer me for free, so I contacted them and they said they would support me. I know every clinic is different, but they should all offer you a level of support for every decision you have to make throughout this process. My husband didn’t really want to talk about anything. This has since changed, ironically. I think something has lifted with him as a result of our decision.
I don’t want to go into the reasons why we choose not to have further treatment, as they are personal, but it was predominantly financial and that really does make me sad. A friend said to me, “What if you just fell pregnant naturally? You would cope, right? And the answer is yes, of course, but that wasn’t the hand we were dealt.
Get the best content from Rescripted, aka what we should have learned in Sex Ed, tailored to your experience.
Our best videos for you
Science-backed product recs
In making the decision to donate your embryos to science, you will have to accept that there is grief involved. You will feel sad, and you will cry. You will still get triggered by things you see on social media, pregnant tummies that you thought didn’t bother you anymore will once again be everywhere.
But knowing that you are doing something that could help someone else is the one saving grace in this difficult and almost impossible decision. Someone told me I needed to be 100% before I did it, yet after two years of thinking about it, I still wasn’t. I was nearly there, but when you tell your clinic this is what you want to do, there is paperwork then more paperwork to make sure you are really ‘sure.’ It breaks your heart all over again.
When we finally sent our consent letter back to the clinic, I wanted to mark the occasion with my husband. We went to the beach and cast three white roses out to sea. Of course, they came back to us, floating on a wave to say, “Hang on, we’re still here.”
So I set them in the sand and walked away with the tears once again rolling. As I turned to look back, I saw a lady with her family stop and crouch down. She was taking pictures of the flowers. Like the embryos going to science to help others, I knew that beautiful image of the roses on the sand was going to give her joy as it probably made a lovely Instagram shot. It certainly did on my feed.
Fast forward to the pandemic, and I've had even more conversations with people feeling like this decision is even more significant, with it feeling like time has stood still for so many of us. My advice would be to make sure you talk it through for as long as you feel you need to and don't rush the decision.
I know that I myself have had strong pangs of guilt during this time, as my son has been restricted and at times we have had to have the difficult conversation about how he doesn't have any other kids in the house to play with. That hurts. It makes me very sad, but then he quite quickly moves on to tell me that babies are annoying, once I've explained to him that Mummy isn't having another. The decision is one that will stay with you forever, but you can navigate your way through it, I promise.
If you want to talk more about the decision of whether or not to donate your embryos to science, please do seek out support from a counselor, and of course, you can get in touch with me on Instagram @fertilitypoddy. Visit www.thefertilitypodcast.com to subscribe or you can listen wherever you get your podcasts. To read more about how to let go of your frozen embryos, click here.
Natalie Silverman is an infertility advocate and the host of The Fertility Podcast. She is also a Co-Founder of Fertility Matters At Work. Her mission is to offer support and share evidence-based information for those who are trying to start or complete their family. You can follow Natalie on Instagram at @thefertilitypoddy.