pregnancy

Natalie donated her embryo to a stranger, then found a photo that left her feeling "used". 

From the outside, embryos leftover from IVF might resemble a simple bundle of cells. But, for a couple who’s just gone through the torment that is trying to fall pregnant when it doesn’t come naturally, these embryos likely represent something more.

The frozen embryos – also referred to as ‘snowflakes’ – are the product of IVF. They are not just eggs or sperm. Genetically, both the paternal and maternal sides are accounted for and the embryos share the same DNA as any children conceived by the couple who’s completed IVF.

So what should be done with these embryos? Should they be destroyed? Or donated?

One woman, Natalie Parker, made the decision to donate her embryos wearing “rose-coloured glasses”.

The mother told Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes how she’d read a case study about a couple who donated their embryos and stayed in contact with the recipient family. Their children, genetically brothers and sisters, became friends and the parents shared a bond unlike many others.

“We kind of walked in with rose-coloured glasses saying, ‘Ah this will all be great,'” she told Nine reporter Allison Langdon. “Because we had heard the good stories and how great it could be.”

Listen: Megan Malkiewicz shares her embryo donation story on our pregnancy podcast, Hello Bump. Post continues after audio. 

But there were no playdates or friendships or long discussions between parents about the ways of the world and how they came to be connected.

Instead, the recipients of Parker’s embryos told the IVF clinic they’d miscarried and they disappeared. However, when Parker followed up and found the mother on social media, she saw the couple had a baby boy of remarkably similar appearance to her son.

Natalie Parker. Image via 60 minutes.
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According to 60 Minutes, IVF Australia confirmed that the time of the recipient's pregnancy and Parker's donation matched up. But, because the pregnancy was not recorded, there is nothing Parker can do.

Parker believes the boy is the result of her embryo donation. If correct, the only way he will ever know about his genetic origins is if he is told by the recipient family.

"I feel like I've been used," Parker told Channel Nine.

Parker is telling her story because she, alongside many others, want legislation around the rights of a child to know their genetic history.

Currently in Australia, the laws around embryo donation stipulate that it cannot be done for commercial reasons; couples considering donation must undergo counselling on the complexities of the issue; and anonymous donation is prohibited because the child has the right to be informed of their donor origins when they reach the age of 18.

However there is no legislation around the responsibility of embryo recipients to inform the child of their origins. According to a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Fertility & Sterility, these parents are 'encouraged' to disclose to their children that they were donor-conceived, but there is no legislation mandating this.

Perhaps this is why embryo donation in Australia is extremely uncommon. According to the Embryo Donation Network, as reported by News Corp, for every 20 couples hoping for embryos in Australia, only one will actually receive them.

"There is an urgent need for a national system that facilitates accurate and consistent handling of information regarding donor conception," Marieke McPhail, president of the Embryo Donation Network, told News Corp in July last year. "In Australia we have a state-by-state patchwork of laws and regulations around donor conception. There are many inconsistencies and gaps in legislation, which leave those involved vulnerable."

The donation of embryos will always be an emotional one - as one father told Channel Nine's 60 Minutes: "it's like giving someone the most important thing in your life".

But stories like this show there is a need for greater clarity, understanding and protection in the way the situation is handled in Australia.

At the moment, the grey area mean people - like Natalie Parker - walk into situations "wearing rose coloured glasses" and come out the other side feeling dejected and used.