This is the third chapter of my Embryo Donation Guide. Read an introduction and get a table of contents, with links, on the Embryo Donation: A Practical Guide page.

Like Finding Nemo, but way less fun.

Once we landed on known donation, we thought the rest would be smooth sailing. There were thousands of couples seeking embryos. Finding and choosing one would be a piece of cake… right?

There’s a theme here, but no, it wasn’t easy-peasy. You can’t find a deserving couple until you choose a route (or routes) through which to locate this couple. And like most of the steps in this process, there are options, each with specific pros and cons that will alternately make you want to cry or punch someone.

Weigh your options, pick the one that sounds most appealing, and move forward. Upside: you can always change your mind if you start down one of these routes and find it isn’t for you.

For me, this part of the decision was pretty easy. My ignorance worked in my favor because I didn’t have to weigh many options at all.

Back in 2010, when I graduated with my Master’s, I stood in line next to a friendly fella named Jordan. We became Facebook friends after graduation, even though he had moved to the west coast with his family. I had heard through the grapevine that he had a child through embryo adoption, and back in 2011, when we had our egg retrieval and fertilized 11 embryos, I blogged about what we might do if we found ourselves with extras.

He saw my post and privately messaged me with information about his wife, Samantha, and her small side business connecting embryo donors with recipients. I squirreled that information away, thinking I wouldn’t likely need it, but here I was, with three frozen embryos and nobody to give them to. I looked up his wife’s website: Blessed with Infertility.

To be honest, the website was a little iffy… not very sophisticated, and it didn’t exactly engender confidence. It made me think of a “small mom and pop” operation. I wasn’t sure she was legit. So I did some Googling to look for other options.

I soon found a list of embryo adoption agencies and began perusing, clicking website links and looking at their ‘pitch.’ These big agencies were trying really hard to get my embryos. I could tell which ones charged the most; their websites were slick and shiny, their website copy professionally written and salesy.

I realized suddenly that there’s big money in this business. If I chose one of these agencies, they’d make bank. That made me uncomfortable.

Then I stumbled upon Samantha’s little agency in the list. I figured if she was up there with the big boys, she must be the real deal. I sent her a short email that explained our situation, and we were off to the races.

If you don’t have a personal connection to an embryo matching agency (and seriously, how many people do?!), and you’re not sure how to begin, here’s what you need to know.

How do we find people looking for embryos?

There are a couple of general buckets of hopeful recipients:

  1. Your own friends or family
  2. Recipients working with an agency
  3. Recipients searching for embryos on the interwebz

Donating to friends or family

This option is really, really tricky, but it may also be the easiest. There would be no vetting of a strange couple, and depending on how well you know them, you might feel 110% comfortable donating your embryos to them, which is far better than most donations.

I don’t recommend putting out a cattle call in your social circle about embryos up for grabs: “Hey all, we’re donating our baby starter kits, anybody want them?” That strategy might work for an unwanted 1989 Oldsmobile, but it’s not the way to go with embryos, for one important reason.

We all have Amazing Friends and Less-Awesome Friends. How would you respond if a hot mess of a friend frantically waved her hand in the air, begging for your embryos? If you wouldn’t trust them to watch your goldfish, you’ll have a hard time explaining why you’re uncomfortable donating to them. After that fun conversation, you may as well kiss your friendship goodbye. If the couple is family, well… let’s just say reunions just got a lot more awkward.

If you know a friend/family member struggling to conceive who would be delighted with the embryos, approach them privately. Give them chances to say ‘no’ and make it very very clear that your feelings won’t be hurt if they do.

Which is a good time to note that this angle requires you to accept that they may say no for very legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with you.

Maybe they don’t want to risk your friendship/great family dynamic. Perhaps they are worried about some shifty genetics or mental illness that runs in your spouse’s family. Maybe they think you’re extremely unattractive and don’t want to doom their kids to a giant nose and eyes that are too close together, a la Colin Kaepernick. It’s possible that they think your kids are heathens and are worried their dispositions are genetic.

Their reasons for declining might be profound or shallow. If they turn down your offer, do not ask why. You can’t unhear their answer.

This route can also work really well if you have a super-solid relationship with the friend/family member. The solid ground isn’t a guarantee that things will be hunky-dory, but it helps. Donating your embryos requires the ability to be very honest without fear of reprisal—not super common in families, and something that can be tricky with even the bestest friends.

Recipients working with an agency

Before we get to which agencies are out there, and how they’re different, first let’s talk about why you’d even want to work with an agency  (it’s not a necessity for donating). The pros and cons from my point of view:

Pros of an agency-facilitated donation

Large and small agencies have one thing in common: they are your guide through completely unfamiliar territory. It’s like having someone hold your hand in a haunted house, or navigating you through a minefield so you don’t blow off a leg. Most do at least some vetting of recipient families, which takes away some of the fear you might have about donating to someone you don’t know. At full-service agencies, the legal paperwork is provided, so you’re not scratching your head wondering, “What do I put in the contract?” And one huge pro: it costs recipients nothing to work with an agency.

The downsides of agencies

You don’t have complete freedom over who you choose; you’re obviously limited to their clientele, and if they restrict certain types of couples (gay, single parents, secular), you’ll have the same limitations. You’ll have to abide by their rules for communication, facilitation, and where transfer can occur. Recipient families must pay to work with agencies, so it can be an additional burden on them at a time when they’re already pinching pennies (more on costs below). Some require costly home studies for recipients that run a few thousand dollars.

Some donors feel confident that they don’t need extra guidance. Others want a hand navigating the craziness that is embryo donation. Whichever way you go, just think long and hard about what’s important to you, and choose accordingly.

How they’re different from one another

Just Google “embryo adoption agency” and you’ll find an overwhelming number of options. There are a few big players that you’ll see mentioned time and again, and a few small players. This list is a nice compare/contrast, but it is missing a few.

Agencies differ on a few key points:

  1. Type of match facilitated. Some agencies will only facilitate anonymous donation, while others have three options: anonymous, open, and semi-open. There isn’t a clear definition of what semi-open means, and it can be highly personal for each donation.
  2. Home study requirement. Does the agency require a home study of its recipient families? These can be costly, and for some donors, they seem like an unnecessary financial burden on a couple that’s probably already strapped for cash.
  3. Cost to recipient couples. Agencies that provide more services (home studies, counseling, etc.) charge recipient families more. You may not be bothered by recipient families paying large sums of money (it can be several thousand dollars, sometimes approaching $10k), but if it’s important to you, ask this question of the agency when you’re vetting them.
  4. Their mission. Some agencies exist help recipients build their families. Others are engaged in a mission to “rescue” frozen embryos from their “icy prisons,” because they believe life begins at conception and IVF families who were irresponsible enough to create more than they needed are horrible people. If it’s not already obvious, I find this ludicrous, but if that’s your thing, more power to ya.
  5. The types of families they’ll work with. Most don’t discriminate on race or ethnicity, but many refuse to work with gay couples or single parents.
  6. Religious ties. Some agencies require recipient couples to be Christian (though I’m not clear on how this is measured).
  7. Age limits on recipients. Some agencies won’t work with female recipients over a certain age, usually somewhere in the mid-40s.
  8. Clinic choice. Some agencies won’t let donors dictate where the transfer will occur. I wanted the transfer to happen at my home clinic, so it was important for me to find an agency that was okay with that.
  9. Counseling. Some agencies require counseling or provide it as a service, while others do not.
  10. Legal paperwork. Some agencies provide the legal paperwork and contracts. Others provide guidance but leave the actual work to the donor/recipient families.
  11. Frozen storage. Some agencies require donors to ship their embryos to the clinic, where they’ll be stored. Usually this is at no cost to donors.

The big agency players

A few agencies come up time and again in my conversations with other donors. Most of the big agencies are what I would call “full service.” They provide legal paperwork, typically a home study, and charge recipient families a pretty sizable fee. Note that this list is not comprehensive.

  1. Snowflakes, aka Nightlight Christian Adoptions. They charge families $8,000, which does not include the embryo transfer procedure or home study.
  2. Embryos Alive. I couldn’t find information about cost on their website, but they’re clearly a Christian-affiliated organization (there’s a Bible verse on the homepage).
  3. NEDC – National Embryo Adoption Center.  Christian-based organization that does not recognize same-sex marriages as marriage. Believes that life begins at conception. Costs to recipients are about $7,500, which includes everything including the transfer, since their procedures all take place at their clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee.
  4. Miracles Waiting. As of today, their website looks like a fifth-grader built it, but perhaps that’s a reflection on how they do business, focused on matching families, not making money. They charge recipient families $150 just to browse potential donor profiles. Donors can browse recipients for free.

One donor mom I spoke to had a bad experience with Miracles Waiting:

“I found this website (which is kind of like Craigslist meets Match.com, but for embryo donation) to be very glitchy. I spent many hours reading and responding to potential recipients there, and never really got any responses. Their customer service and ‘tech support’ was not the greatest; they were slow to respond and not very helpful. In the end, they theorised that recipients were not getting my messages because I had a Yahoo email account. Once I switched to Gmail, it seemed to work better. Overall it was a HUGE waste of time. Proceed with caution.”

Small agency players

I personally don’t know any small agencies except the one we worked with. Small agencies have their pros and cons as well. Most charge families a nominal fee for facilitating a match, which I liked, knowing that most families pursuing EA have already stretched their finances to the hilt.

Small agencies almost never provide the list of services that the big guys do (counseling, storage, legal paperwork). They’re also more likely to work with same-sex, single, and secular families, in my experience. I liked the one-on-one attention I received, and how I felt like I could email or call 24/7 with questions.

I found our recipient family through Blessed with Infertility.  Slightly cheesy name aside, Samantha Fife is the CEO and does everything from A to Z. Donors pay nothing to work with BWI, and recipient families pay about $1,800, which includes facilitating a match and guidance on everything else, like the contract, transporting embryos, and the like. Samantha takes on only a small number of clients, which I appreciated.

Another donor worked with BWI and simultaneously undertook her own search online (covered in the next section).

“I wanted the guidance of an agent, but I also wanted to find the recipients myself, and quickly. (I had 18 embryos to donate, and needed to find three recipient families.) In order to expedite the process, I expanded my search beyond the profiles that Samantha had provided me with.”

There are other small players out there, but I don’t know anything about them, so I’d best not go out on a limb. If you prefer the style of a small agency, go see your friend Google and have at it!

Takin’ your search to the interwebz

Cut out the middleman. You can find your recipients all on your own on the internet. Yay, technology!

There are two major players in the embryo-matching universe: Facebook and NRFA.org.

NRFA.org – The National Registry for Adoption

Essentially “Match.com for embryos,” except only hopeful recipients have to pay a monthly fee. There’s a $50 setup fee(1)Pricing retrieved on September 4, 2016. Subject to change, please refer to NRFA.org for updated pricing. everyone pays, and then you decide between a basic plan or the upgraded package, which puts you at the top of search results for $10 more per month. They’re a Christian organization, but there’s no evidence of discrimination against same-sex couples or single parents. Don’t let the “.org” in the URL fool you; NRFA is a for-profit organization.

Quite a few donor moms I’ve talked with have used NRFA and had a positive experience. They found matches quickly and were happy with the number of profiles they could choose from. Some downsides they reported: some donors felt overwhelmed when they were contacted by a slew of recipient couples right after posting their profile. There’s no middleman to keep the wolves at bay, so to speak, so you will need to deal with the incoming onslaught.

You may also get no messages at all from prospective parents, which is a bit of a drag. Like I said, it’s Match.com. If nobody winks at you, it’s kind of defeating, but if too many people do it, you may just throw up your hands and say ‘screw it.’

NRFA provides a forum for you to find a match, and once you do, they’re ever-so-helpful with resources for the next steps. If you’re a recipient without an infertility clinic, they’ll recommend one that they’re in cahoots with. Need a lawyer? Connect with one of their partner law firms. It’s handy, for sure. I can’t speak to how the expenses compare, but if you go this route, be sure you’re not getting hosed. Price-check their lawyers against local options, or ask other donor moms how much they paid for their lawyers.

You should know that NRFA has a firm policy that you cannot work with them if you are simultaneously working with an agency. Even if you want to expand your search beyond the families your agency has, NRFA isn’t an option. You’d need to sever your agency relationship first.

Searching for recipients on Facebook

There are many groups in Facebookland where hopeful recipients are cruising for donors. Just search “embryo adoption,” “embryo donation,” or “EA/ED” and you’ll find at least a handful. Join up and post your info, then stand back.

In most cases, posting anything about “embryos to donate” in a Facebook group of hopeful recipients is like carrying a juicy steak into a dog park. Suddenly, you’ve got BFFs coming out of the woodwork.

A few moms have told me how overwhelmed they were when their inboxes filled with private messages. These aren’t your typical Match.com messages, with a sly wink and a ‘Hey girl.’ These are couples baring their souls over the internet. Some have reached a point of desperation where their language verges on begging. It’s enough to make you sick to your stomach, and profoundly sad.

Hayley, the California mom, had a taste of this as she looked for recipients:

“I did find (one of) our recipients this through a Facebook group. It’s true that once you put the word out that you are looking to donate, the requests and introductions FLOOD in.  Because I wanted to give everyone a fair chance, I carefully read and considered each one. This proved to be a full time job for a few weeks. It was difficult, tedious and unexpectedly heartbreaking. Because the truth was that I had a finite number of embryos to give. While I found myself wishing I could help everyone, I simply couldn’t. I had to make a weighty decision: to essentially choose someone’s parents. Then I had to break a lot of hearts by saying “Sorry, but no.” Sending those rejection messages (even though I delivered the news as delicately as I could) was the hardest part of the process for me.”

You could go another route: lurk first. Join a group, watch the posts, and see if any of the recipients catch your eye. Then stalk their profile and reach out with a message. You might get lucky and hit it off.

Don’t start looking at families until you do THIS

Before putting out a cattle call for recipients, you need to know one thing: who are we looking for?

Only when you have the answer are you truly ready to review profiles and communicate with hopeful couples. Without that framework, finding a home for your embryos feels a lot like trying to date when the entire world is your “type.”

It’s time to narrow the field.

March on, my friend, to Chapter Four: Match.com for Genetic Material.

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Looking for more?

Check out my blog entries written as we went through the process, including:

Why stop now? Keep reading, friend.

  • Chapter Five—He’s Just Not That Into It: Bringing Your Spouse AlongDecember 1, 2016 Chapter Five—He’s Just Not That Into It: Bringing Your Spouse Along It's hard enough deciding to donate your embryos. Many women—myself included—feel like they're doing this horribly hard job all alone, because their spouse is totally checked out. Here's how to cope.
  • Chapter One—The Biggy: Deciding to DonateDecember 1, 2016 Chapter One—The Biggy: Deciding to Donate The story of how we came to the decision to donate, including how we ended up with leftover embryos. This chapter explores the tough questions of how we knew when our family was complete; why we wanted to donate to an infertile couple; […]
  • Chapter Two—The Alabama Lottery: Known vs. Anonymous DonationDecember 1, 2016 Chapter Two—The Alabama Lottery: Known vs. Anonymous Donation The Alabama Lottery is the irrational fear that our genetic children might meet, hook up, or get married without realizing they were siblings. It’s unlikely as winning the lottery, yes, but that doesn’t make the fear any less real. This […]
  • Chapter Four—Match.com for Genetic MaterialDecember 1, 2016 Chapter Four—Match.com for Genetic Material This is where the process of donating can get unpleasant for donors. What kind of questions should you ask potential recipients? How do you deal with telling couples they're not a good fit? Should you tell them at all, or just cut off communication?
  • The Donation is FinalSeptember 19, 2015 The Donation is Final Five days ago, my husband and I signed the final contract to donate our embryos. The contract was the last and final step in a process we started over 10 months ago; three little embryos in a freezer are officially no longer ours.

References   [ + ]

1. Pricing retrieved on September 4, 2016. Subject to change, please refer to NRFA.org for updated pricing.