Someone else will be raising my biological children.
You’ve probably read in the papers that Sofia Vergara’s ex wants the frozen embryos they created before they spilt up, to raise as children on his own. Presumably he will borrow a uterus to do so. He even took out a page in the NY Times to plead his case. Thus:
“A woman is entitled to bring a pregnancy to term, even if the man objects. Shouldn’t a man who is willing to take on all parental responsibilities be similarly entitled to bring his embryos to term, even if the woman objects?”
Sofia feels differently. She says they always agreed what would happen to the embryos if they split, and that, in her opinion, children need two loving parents who don’t “hate each other”.
There is no doubt that while technological changes in medicine have enabled so many couples and singles to have children, it has also created a whole new ball game in terms of rights and responsibilities. And there are some lawyers getting very rich off it.
What happens to embryos is of particular interest to me as I spent last December choosing parents for mine. It is an odd way to spend time. But like many women who have done IVF, I have finished having my family and have leftover embryos (or ‘lovedovers’ as one friend suggested). The ‘what to do with the leftovers’ dilemma is something many of my friends face. Or, in many of their cases, don’t face. They just do what I did for four years, which is keep paying the $600 a year in storage, not being quite ready to make a decision, but also knowing full well you don’t want more kids (hell, there are days I can barely cope with the ones I already have!). I think emotionally there is more connection with an IVF embryo than, say, an unwanted pregnancy because an IVF embryo has been created for the purposes of life. There’s nothing accidental about them, and when you have spent literally years trying to get those embryos, the decision about what to do with any leftovers can be a very emotional one.
The options are thus. You can keep paying the storage for 10 years – after which they are deemed unviable anyway. You can choose not to store them and they will be destroyed. You can donate to science but only if your clinic has a research facility attached. You can have what is deemed a ‘compassionate transfer’ where they are implanted in you at a time when you are unlikely to achieve a pregnancy (i.e. just after your period). Or you can adopt them out.
We chose this last option – to which people say ‘isn’t it a weird feeling to know that someone out there will be raising you and your husband’s full biological children?’ Umm… yes.
But ultimately we felt that that wasn’t reason enough not to do it. The ‘I can’t adopt out my embryos because I can’t bear for someone to raise my child’ reason did not fit comfortably with us. For many of my friends, this is exactly the choice they made and it is a choice I fully understand and respect. I wish I didn’t have to make a choice at all. I wish I didn’t have leftovers. And it is a largely selfcreated problem. I did a fresh IVF cycle at 37 when I already had two embryos in the freezer as I knew I would want another child.
I also knew that trying to fall pregnant again at close to 40 with only one embryo in the freezer may mean having to do a another full IVF cycle (and 40-year-old eggs are nowhere near as good as 37- year-old ones). All I was thinking about was giving myself the best odds to get my third child. So I was thinking ahead. Just not this far ahead.
When you struggle with fertility (and 11 pregnancies for three babies puts me firmly in this category), it is impossible to consider issues that may arise after you finish having children. All your focus is on getting and staying pregnant – a complete family is the Holy Grail. But here I am. I have my Holy Grail – two boys and a girl. And four embryos in the freezer who needed a home. When you choose to adopt out embryos, there is quite an involved counselling process and the adoption can be as open or closed as you want (but any children that are born from the embryos have a legal right to contact you when they are 18).
We chose a closed adoption, but specified that if children wanted earlier contact that was okay, although not something we would initiate. But we did want to know if and when babies were born. The idea of not knowing isn’t something I could deal with. And even though it was a closed adoption, we could be very specific in the type of people we choose. Most couples looking to adopt embryos are heterosexual. With two women there’s a very low chance both of them could be infertile (so they simply need donor sperm) and with two blokes, they need a surrogate anyway and chances are one of them would have viable sperm so they usually just need a donor egg. And a borrowed uterus. We specified that we wanted the woman to be under 40. Because that way she would be more likely to go on and hopefully have a second child from the embryos. (Because the embryos are blastocysts, that is embryos grown for five days instead of just three, they have a very high implantation rate – over 50 per cent. Which means it is likely there will be two live births from them.)
We also stipulated that the woman have a tertiary degree because statistically, when a woman is educated, the children are more likely to get a good education. Some of my friends thought this was a bit judgemental, but I don’t care. I couldn’t give the embryos a home but I could do my best to give them a full sibling and a home where education is valued.
And then you get sent application forms from prospective parents, each with a heartbreaking story of infertility and the overwhelming desire for children. Reading the application forms is weird. You find yourself judging people on every response. Trying to get a sense from a few words of what sort of parents these people will make. There was one form where the husband had just left vast sections of his form blank, and had put one word answers where something more indepth was required. Did I judge his commitment to the adoption? Hell yes.
We read through quite a few and none felt quite right until I was starting to wonder if I was putting up my own emotional roadblocks. But then one day an application form arrived in my inbox and I knew as soon as I started reading that we had found them. And we signed the forms and adopted out our embryos. I am absolutely sure that when I hear that a baby has been born I will curl up on the floor and cry for a very long time. And I am also equally sure that, for us, it was the right decision.
But I am also sure that Sofia is entirely within her rights, both morally and legally to refuse her ex’s request. Legally, because when they created the embryos, Loeb and Vergara signed a contract stating that “any embryos created through the process could be brought to term only with both parties’ consent.”
And morally because, as Sofia Vergara says “A child needs a loving relationship of parents who get along. Who don’t hate each other, I wouldn’t imagine (bringing kids into the world) who are already set up [with] everything wrong for them. It would be so selfish.”
Have you have to make a decision about unborn embryos?
A version of this essay appears in Mothermorphosis, edited by Monica Dux, published by MUP. Available now. RRP $27.99, eBook $14.99. You can purchase it by clicking here.