Things we never expected from IVF

As I’ve mentioned before, my eldest son Tristan was conceived via in vitro fertilization (IVF) and my youngest son Simon was a blissful surprise. I used to be a quite vocal advocate of IVF causes, but have been lucky enough to be too burdened with parenting to do much work on that front lately.

Just before we did our first (and thankfully, only) cycle of IVF, Beloved and I were interviewed on CBC about the ethics of IVF. In particular, they were interested in embryos created but not implanted, and what you do with “leftover” embryos when your family is complete. It’s a part of IVF that, when facing our first transfer, we really didn’t lose a lot of sleep over. By the time I had come to terms with the more immediate hurdles of the $7,000 to $9,000 out-of-pocket cost for a single cycle, the paltry 35 to 40% chance of success, and the fact that I would have to do my own injections, we were willing to sign off on just about anything to get our kick at the can. Leftover embryos? Sure, (touch wood) if we are ever so lucky (touch wood) we’d be happy to donate them, maybe to science or maybe to another infertile couple, sure, where do I sign, just please can we get on with it?

Our clinic requires you to sign off on the “disposal” of excess embryos before you do your cycle. (Note: I’m having a very hard time writing this post and using words like excess, leftover and dispose when I know I’m talking about little frozen babies-to-be. I’m not at all rabid about abortion or right to life or anything, but it seems so cavalier to be using these words and I thought in the interest of disclosure you should know.)

In the end, I think we agreed to donate excess embryos to science, but not to go so far as to donate them to an infertile couple. At the time, I admired the nobility of the idea of donating embryos to an infertile couple, but Beloved had strong reservations and we compromised. For now, our lone frosty waits in cryogenic slumber and we pay $400 a year for the luxury of not having to think about it yet.

And now, I am finally getting to my point today. A friend of mine has both an older child and twins conceived through IVF. When she and her husband knew their family was complete, they made the selfless, courageous and heroic decision to donate their embryos for adoption. Imagine their surprise, shock and dismay to recently open an e-mail from our mutual clinic to find a forwarded e-mail from the family who adopted one of the embryos – with a photograph of their newborn child. The clinic, showing in my opinion an appalling lack of consideration, had forwarded the birth announcement back to the donating biological parents.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like for them to open that e-mail. My friend said she and her husband couldn’t help but scan the baby’s features, looking for similarities to their own – their other? – three children. I have to wonder what on god’s green earth the reproductive endocrinologist who forwarded that e-mail was thinking. He has made a career dealing with infertility and its intricacies, and I cannot fathom what would justify his actions.

Perhaps a note to the donating family, advising them that the donated embryo had – again, I am struggling for the right phrasing – come to fruition would have been marginally acceptable. That would have been more than enough for me. But to forward a photograph? I am simply flummoxed that the clinic would do this.

As if this weren’t burden enough, my friends now wrestle with further dilemmas. Their son, conceived at the same time as the donated embryo, has a serious nut allergy. They now wonder whether they are obliged to relay that information back to the adoptive family, via the clinic.

Nothing concrete changed when my friends looked at that photograph. It didn’t change the decisions they had made, and I’m sure on some level they knew that of course there was a good chance that someday, somewhere, a baby would be born from the embryo they conceived. I know enough families who have suffered through infertility to know that that baby has been born into a family that went to the ends of the earth and back to bring him or her into the world, and that there is a very good chance he or she will lead a wonderful and priviledged life. But, I do think that it would be better for everyone if that baby’s face remained unknown to my friends, because it was not their choice to know.

When we committed ourselves to the idea of using IVF to complete our family, there were a lot of things we agonized over. The cost, the physical challenges, the fear of failure were all huge obstacles to overcome. We worried about long-term health implications for me, for the children conceived through reproductive technologies. And yes, we worried about what to do with any leftover embryos, should we be so lucky to face that choice.

The jury is still out on what we’ll do with our lone little frosty, but I think we’re leaning toward giving it a try. I never expected to have three kids, don’t have a whole lot of room for three kids in our house nor our budget, but I think we have more than enough love to go around and with that as a foundation we can make anything work. Maybe in a year or two.

Before I wrote this, I asked my friend if it would be okay if I told you her story, and she said she’d be interested in hearing feedback from others. I know a lot of you have struggled with infertility, and have used reproductive technologies. We’d both like to hear your thoughts, whether you have wandered down that road or not.