This is Part One of our Embryo Donation story. Read Part Two here

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Back in November, I blogged about the difficult decision of what to do with our embryos. After some soul-searching, we decided we’d donate them to an infertile couple. Yahoo!

The celebration was short-lived; there was more difficulty in the weeks ahead. Before we could even get to the idea of who would receive the embryos, we first needed to decide how.

Embryo donation has two basic options: anonymous donation or known donation.

Anonymous Donation

You give the ‘choosing’ responsibility to another party, usually a fertility clinic or embryo donation/adoption program.

Upsides: Once you sign over your embryos, the stress of the donation process is over. You’re free and clear and the decision of who gets them is off your back. You don’t have to go through the process of choosing from many couples in need, which can induce a lot of guilt. And you can live blissfully unaware of how any surviving embryos-turned-people are being raised.

Downside: Our local embryo donation program provides absolutely no information after you donate. You cannot find out if your embryos ever resulted in a pregnancy or live birth, how many children resulted, who the parents are, where the parents live, or whether the children are male or female. (The chances of Peanut/Squeak accidentally dating a sibling, while miniscule, are an actual possibility here… and as ridiculous as it sounds, it was a concern of ours.) You have control in one way: you can declare a radius around your hometown and no recipient within that radius (say, 100 miles) can receive your embryos. Otherwise, you are in the dark.

Known Recipient Donation

Just like a live adoption, you choose exactly who receives your embryos and any stipulations that go along with the exchange. You could choose someone you already know, or work through an embryo adoption/donation matchmaking service.

Upside: You will know exactly where your embryos go, which means you can select a couple you’re comfortable with. You have all the information you desire about both the recipients and any children born from your embryos. You can stipulate exactly how much or how little information you want, and how often, over time. You will know exactly how many babies result from the embryos, where they live, their names are, and what they look like if you are so inclined.

Downside: You will know exactly where your embryos go. That means you’ll find out about (and be burdened with) anything bad that happens. Divorce, death, drive-the-car-into-the-lake-with-kids-inside, etc. The worst stuff, although unlikely, will come to light if it occurs. Depending on your level of contact, you might know details about how they parent their babies, and may not like their choices. You could potentially find yourself regretting your selection based on information you learn years down the road. You’ll know how your embryos “turn out” if they become adults, provided you live that long. Lawyer, doctor, felon, wife beater… you’ll know. Or at least you’ll be able to find out.

Decisions, Decisions

As you can see, downsides abound for both. Choosing a route among these options was tricky.

I started by fully vetting the anonymous donor program. As soon as I learned that I would never know if my embryos became babies, I threw that option out the window.

I am a big fan of information. Not knowing something drives me crazy, so it’s good I am alive in the Time of Google. Yet if I donated anonymously, I could easily imagine accosting a mother in the grocery store whose child looked just like Peanut, asking if she had ever adopted an embryo. I would see my babies everywhere I went, always wondering, and never getting the answer. It would drive me INSANE.

Anonymous: soooooo not happening. So we moved on to known.

Great… now how do you find someone to give them to?

Back in 2010, when I graduated with my Master’s, I stood in line next to a fella who was very friendly; we became Facebook friends after graduation, even though he had moved to the west coast with his family. I knew he had a child through embryo adoption, and when he saw my post way back in 2011 about what we might do with our leftover embryos, he let me know that his wife, Samantha, connected embryo donors with recipients. I squirreled that information away, thinking I wouldn’t 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 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 the list, clicking website links and looking at their ‘pitch.’ They were trying really hard to get my embryos. I could tell which ones charged the most; their websites were slick and new, their website copy professionally written and salesy. There’s big money in this industry. So if I choose them, they’d make bank. It made me uncomfortable.

Then I came upon Samantha’s little company 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. She responded quickly.

Samantha immediately sent us profiles of four couples she was working with, all hoping to find embryos to adopt. I was nervous as I opened the first one.

It was a Word document containing a few paragraphs and a photograph. Suddenly I felt like I had stumbled into my former single life of online dating, making snap judgments from a photograph. Except this time, it was embryo dating.

What was wrong with me? How did someone’s appearance have anything to do with their ability to love a child? And further, how would these short letters tell me how much they would love their baby?

I closed the email from Samantha without looking at the other profiles. I needed to do some serious thinking before I went further.

What exactly were we looking for? If I didn’t know, how would I recognize it when it came along?

I emailed Nathan that I couldn’t do it. I wanted to go back to anonymous donation, because having photos of these couples made it impossible to avoid judging their appearance, even though I didn’t want to.

I waited a few hours to calm my thoughts and reopened the email to read the other profiles. A husband and wife athletic pair in their 40s, with a five-bedroom house in a gated community. And a couple in their 40s that included a foreign-born dad and the potential for a lifetime of international travel to see family in Europe. My hypocrisy kicked in again, this time with the ages. I was hesitant to choose a couple in their 40s.

Again, why was this an issue? My husband was 42 when Peanut was born, and 44 when Squeak arrived…why was I being such a snob?

Clarity finally arrived thanks to my therapist. “You are obviously looking for people who remind you of YOU,” she said.

Oh yeah. Of course we are.

I felt better. Nathan might be in his 40s, but I am not. I feel like I had my children at a very appropriate time in my life, while I think Nathan wishes he had been younger. I’m old enough to have gotten all my wildness out, but not too old to play catch with Peanut when she’s on her high school softball team.

I knew now what I was looking for: a couple in their 30s who took care of themselves without being Cross-Fit nut jobs, were socially liberal (particularly when it came to gay rights, an issue very near and dear to my heart), smart, creative, athletic, and had a great sense of humor. Religious faith of some kind was fine, so long as it wasn’t the cocky kind that tries to tell everyone else what to believe.

Armed with this, I went back to Samantha with regrets that none of the couples she had sent so far jumped out at us. I was afraid she’d think we were being too picky; instead she was very understanding. “I’ll keep taking applicants until you find someone you like,” she assured me.

I expected to wait a few days to hear from her again. I was surprised to get another email that very night.

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Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Embryo Dating Game: the perfect couple, courting, asking tough questions, and making big decisions.

P.S. – Do you like the Embryo Dating Game image I made? Photoshop is fun. Check out the couple in the upper left, if you can make them out. Tee hee…