Letting go of my frozen embryo

"For the past six years our single surviving embryo has been in stasis."

"For the past six years our single surviving embryo has been in stasis."

In a few days a big part of our lives will be no more. For the past six years our single surviving embryo has been in stasis; frozen in time. Here, but not here. The promise and whisper of another precious life, yes, but also its spectre.

The paperwork we can no longer ignore tells us that on Thursday, 10 October, its time will be up. And my husband and I must face the final hurdle of our infertility. Letting go.

My head says, yes. My heart’s lost its voice (plaintive bleating aside). Here’s why: this embryo comes from the same ‘batch’ that yielded us two healthy sons. If its brothers are anything to go by, then this frozen pea is one tough nut.

Oh, the power—and predicament—of one. One embryo propels you out of your inertia. It forces action. One says, “Go on. You know you want to.”


Of course, I could have gone through with the transfer and, perhaps, given my boys a welcome sibling, but at 44 it just doesn’t feel right. Because while it most likely wouldn’t have worked, it might have; and there’s nothing salubrious about going through a procedure, while all along hoping that it fails.

It was with no small irony that we were once told that the best-case scenario for couples going through IVF is completing your family and not having a single embryo left in storage.

As I wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald last year, this statement came back to haunt us every three months when another ‘storage bill’ would arrive in the mail. Ruminating on the dilemma of what to do with our embryo, one option we considered was ‘adopting’ it out.

But again the insurmountable challenges (i.e. the blood tests, compulsory counselling, red tape, ongoing ethical and emotional ties etc.) and not to mention the reality of having our sons’ genetic sibling out ‘there’ somewhere proved too much for us.   

And we’re not alone. It’s estimated that about 90 per cent of IVF clients ‘choose’ not to donate their surplus embryos to other couples, while even less donate for research.

Such dire statistics have helped shift the mindset of Sydney journalist Prue Corlette and her partner Aaron Sharp. Corlette and Sharp, who have two-year-old twin boys via IVF and six embryos in storage, told Fairfax earlier this year that when the time feels right they’re hoping to donate their embryos to research.

“If people didn’t donate to research, then they would never discover anything and we would never have had our boys,” Corlette says.

Corlette and Sharp certainly have my admiration. It’s a worthy final act; full of wonderful karmic intention. And yet I simply can’t leave our embryo to science. Of course, I know it’s selfish and churlish, but in my defence once again I present my bloody, obsequious, trembling heart.

This embryo carries every microcosm of our longing.

So when my husband suggests we take the embryo home I feel something close to peace of mind for the first time in a long time. While we aren’t sure if it’s possible, for days afterwards we’re buoyed by the idea of holding in our hands this final link in our family chain.

To their eternal credit, the nurses at the IVF clinic don’t seem to think I’ve lost my mind. Within minutes of shooting off an email, I receive a call from Lee*, who assures me that it won’t be a problem. It seems that while the clinic doesn’t strictly advertise taking home the embryos, several former clients have done just that.

So as we edge ever nearer to that implacable date, I go over and over the scenario of driving to the IVF clinic for the last time (but this time with my three year old in the backseat), and departing with the final paperwork, good wishes and…what? Perhaps a small, indiscreet box?

And on the weekend, we’ll try our best to explain to our boys the significance of that precious cargo. We’ll grapple with questions big and small (and not only from our boys); such as how something so miniscule could have left such a mark on our lives and how they might remember this noteworthy, yet still-to-be-fully-grasped moment of putting to rest a living memory.

And then we’ll search for a nook in the garden that’s bathed in light. 


*Not real name.


27 comments so far

  • We donated our embryos and never regretted it. Of course there are issues with it, but we thought it was the best option given the alternatives. And so many couples are clamouring for embryos - they were very gratefully received. There wasn't that much red tape.

    Date and time
    October 09, 2013, 8:22AM
    • What an interesting article Jen. The unmarried part of me - wishing for my own child, even just one - can't understand the yearning (or internal conflict) that comes with not having a third or fourth baby. I've had female friends anguish over not being able to have more, when so so many women would do anything to even have their first. I've often wondered if it's selfish, insensitive even, to those who would trade places in a heartbeat. That aside, your article sheds some light on how it must feel.

      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 8:32AM
      • You put my own feelings on paper.

        Date and time
        October 09, 2013, 1:13PM
    • Beautifully written, poignant.

      Florence A
      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 8:42AM
      • I second that. We have 2 frozen embryos left and are struggling to make a decision. While I understand the need for donor eggs, and would love to be selfless enough to go down that path, I cannot deal with the idea of 2 embryo's who are a 100% match with my twin sons never knowing my husband and I or their brothers. Perhaps if it was simply a matter of donating unfertilized eggs our decision might be different - I am just not certain. I know, however that donating them will lead to a lifetime of me wondering if they are ok, happy and loved. I can't live with that uncertainty. For that reason, we will go down the same road that the author has chosen - I am so grateful to you for drawing this option to our attention.

        Date and time
        October 09, 2013, 1:59PM
    • My husband and I went through same terrible ordeal of what to do with extra embryos.
      ( to us as all ivf mums know potential babies that are brought about through much anguish, pain, despair , joy., so many tears and ups and downs)
      After having our children we decided to donate our extra embryos to other couples because whilst we could not give them the opportunity of life..
      We very much believed that the chance of life for them far outweighed our own emotions at that point.
      Genetically are children are out there , but they are not our children. It took us a while to understand and detach ..but this is the truth.
      They belong to a mum and dad who like us have gone to hell and back for them...
      That for us was reassurance enough that they would have the best start in life and life what a wonderful experience it is!
      Also helping other infertile couples what a privilege it is.
      Only good has come out of our decision although it took us a while to get there ...
      We have peace that we have done the right thing..

      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 8:47AM
      • You are 44 and blessed with two sons. I am 44 and we are going through IVF at the moment with not much hope. It's looking like the only way that I can get pregnant is to use donor eggs.

        Very few women donate their eggs.

        It's heartbreaking seeing all of these fertile women with lots of eggs to spare and yet, we are unable to use them.

        Please, consider donating your eggs to give couples like us the chance to become loving parents. Enquire at your local Fertility Clinic. Ask if they have a donor egg program or post your details on Egg Donor Angels.

        Date and time
        October 09, 2013, 9:16AM
        • We would need both donor eggs and a surrogate. I'm not going to hold my breath. We will be looking at adoption but even that leaves me conflicted.

          Date and time
          October 09, 2013, 9:47AM
        • Unknown - thank you.

          Unfortunately, adoption in Australia is near impossible. If the IVF path doesn't work out for us, we will look at permanent fostering. Alas, with fostering comes a whole lot of other obstacles, but we are willing and able to do whatever it takes in the hope of holding a dear little baby in our arms and providing the child with all our love. I am crying as I write this.

          My mother had four perfect pregnancies with no miscarriages or complications. Although she can sympathise, she cannot fully understand how devastating it is to not have a child of your own. I am so glad I have the love of my wonderful husband, my parents and family to get us through this traumatic time.

          Please, please consider donating your eggs or spare embyros.

          Date and time
          October 09, 2013, 10:49AM
      • Please, please, please reconsider your decision not to 'adopt' your embryo. There are so many wonderful couples out there who would love to have children but can't become parents. I definitely understand your reluctance to have a lost sibling of your boys somewhere out there, but your "frozen pea" still has a chance at living an amazing life.

        Date and time
        October 09, 2013, 9:29AM

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