This is the fourth 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.
It all happened so fast.
Within a few days, I had researched options and decided to work with Samantha Fife at Blessed with Infertility, a small agency that would help us find a deserving home for our three embryos.
I sent Samantha a short email that explained our situation. She responded quickly and 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.
I saw couples in their late 40s. They’d probably drop dead before the kid graduated high school, I thought. One mentioned their home’s location in a “gated community and how their child would be blessed with lots of international travel. Snobs and one percenters, surely. And the seriously overweight folks just made me wonder if they put any value on physical health.
I closed my laptop, my thoughts swirling.
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 couldn’t look at the profiles anymore. 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 toyed with the idea of going back to anonymous donation for a while. Having photos of these couples made it impossible to avoid judging their appearance, even though I didn’t really want to.
I waited a few hours to calm my thoughts and reopened the email to read the other profiles. All of them were up there in age, and once again, I felt like a huge hypocrite. 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. I sat in her office, pouring out the whole mess, tears streaming down my face.
She looked at me kindly. “You aren’t judging these couples. You’re looking for people who remind you of you,” she said.
It was like a ray of sunshine. Oh yeah. Of course we are.
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.
Start with a wish list
Remember back when you were a swinging single? Imagine trying to find “the one” if you don’t know what kind of partner you’re looking for. The same goes for embryo recipients. If you have no idea who you’re looking for, or who you’re open to, you won’t recognize them when they knock on your door.
Make a wish list of what you want in a recipient family. For me, the list included:
- At least one partner in their 30s, neither over 45
- Physically fit without being Crossfit nutjobs (bonus for being into sports/athletic)
- Socially and politically liberal
- Pro-gay rights, an issue near and dear to my heart
- Smart, whether formally educated or not
- A great sense of humor
- Religion: a casual subscription to organized religion is fine, so long as it isn’t the cocky kind that tries to tell everyone else what to believe
- Orientation: gay, straight, or lesbian… so long as we have a connection, it’s all on the table
This was my starting point. Because I was going through an agency, I had someone to facilitate questions if I couldn’t get the information I wanted from the profile. If you decide to pursue recipients on your own via social media, you need to be able to ask the hard questions yourself.
Donor mom Hayley really knocked this part out of the park. Since she was pursuing recipients through Facebook groups (in addition to Blessed with Infertility), recipients were approaching her, which meant she had to be much more organized.
“We started the process by essentially creating a “wish list” of what we were looking for in a recipient. Then, in turn we took each of those qualities and characteristics and generated a list of “interview” type questions. I sent the questions and a little information about us to everyone we were considering.
“Your questions might look very different, but to give you a place to start and some ideas, here is our list:
- When do you envision the transfer taking place? Or, how soon can you be ready?
- Do either of you have any criminal history or record?
- How old are you (both)?
- Will you share photos of yourselves, your family and your home with us?
- What kind of relationship do you hope to have with the donor family (if any)?
- How would you react if one of your children told you he/she was gay?
- How/ why did you chose your current areas of employment?
- Where would you want the actual embryo transplant to take place?
- What are your highest levels of education?
- How far apart (in age/ years) would you like your children to be?
- Would you prefer a “medicated” or “natural” cycle before the embryo transfer?
- Do you own guns, and/ or keep guns in your home?
- Are you financially stable, and do you have “good” credit?
- Do you have savings?
- Where do you live?
- Do you have life insurance policies?
- If something were to happen to you, who would care for your children?
- Do you travel? If so, where have you been or go regularly?
- Where have you not been yet, but want to go?
- Can/ will you provide a letter from a doctor/RE stating that you will be physically able to carry a pregnancy to full term?
- How would you describe your parenting style? Your discipline style?
- It is likely that we will be giving embryos to multiple families. Therefore, how do you feel about the possibility of there being as many as 3 or even 4 other families with biological children related to yours?
- What relationship (if any) would you want with these families?
- What kind of relationship (if any) would you like to have with our family?
- How is your overall health? Do you have any medical conditions, chronic illnesses, or conditions?
- Have you ever struggled with addiction?
- How do you envision raising your child(ren) spiritually?
- Are you also pursuing traditional adoption as a way to grow your family? What about IVF? Why or why not?
- Are you pro-life or pro-choice?
- Are you currently considering any other specific donors?
- Do you own your home or rent?
- Will you work with an agent/agency?
- Will you vaccinate your children?
- Do you have questions for us?
See what I mean? This gal was thorough.
You might be thinking that some of these questions seem invasive or too personal. Some recipient families did decline to answer some questions, and a couple declined to answer at all after receiving the list of questions. In Hayley’s view, that was a blessing. It helped her suss out a bad match right out of the gate.
Put your crazy out there early
I met a few donors who had a rather invasive deal-breaker: selective reduction. These women wanted anyone who received their embryos to agree they would not selectively reduce if they became pregnant with multiples.
My husband and I were committed to single embryo transfers, and even after our first cycle failed, we still transferred just one embryo at a time. I am terrified of the NICU stays and potential life-long health issues for both mom and baby that come with multiples, so I hoped I could encourage our recipient to do single embryo transfers, too. It wasn’t a requirement though.
If you’ve got a deal-breaker like this, one that affects their future pregnancy or birth, you need to put it out there early. Don’t go more than a few steps down the path without revealing this.
You didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you my thoughts on this anyway. 🙂
I feel that telling someone else what they can and cannot do with their own pregnancy is as bad as a group of rich old white men in Congress trying to tell every woman in the country what she can and cannot do with her own uterus. Not cool.
Sometimes selective reduction is medically necessary to save the life of the other babies or of the mother. Further, no woman in her right mind would take selective reduction lightly, especially one who’s gone through hell and back to have a baby.
I don’t think a “selective reduction” clause is necessary. Just talk to your recipient about this fear early on, and ensure they work with their doctor to transfer responsibly.
Nobody likes being dumped
Chances are good that at some point in this journey, you’ll start a conversation with a potential recipient only to realize that it’s not going to work.
Whatever the reason, breaking the news that you’re not going to move forward with them is a lot like breaking up with a guy/gal you’ve been dating, but in this case, the stakes are arguably higher (and emotions are at a fever pitch).
Morally and ethically, it’s a dick move to go radio silent. If you’ve concluded that a recipient couple isn’t your cup of tea, you need to tell them so. Don’t leave a stranger hanging. It’s cruel.
Telling them why you didn’t choose them is your call. If they ask, I feel like you should seriously consider telling them. Having the balls to ask for information that’s likely to hurt you takes a lot of guts. I personally would admire that kind of bravery and feel like the least I can do is be honest. (Within reason; if the reason you didn’t choose them is because the husband has a Toucan-Sam-style nose, just keep your mouth shut.)
If they don’t ask, you’re not obligated to spill the beans. Some folks just don’t want to know something that they can’t un-know. So leave them in the dark, if that’s what they prefer.
Meeting our match
I had told Samantha that none of her profiles tripped our trigger, and I expected to wait days or weeks to hear back from her with more. I was laying in bed late that night, scrolling through my Facebook feed, when my email pinged with a new message:
“Lydia, I have a new applicant that I wanted to share with you. Let me know what you think. She is pulling together photos and I will have those tomorrow. Happy reading! –Samantha”
I opened the attachment.
And fell in love.
Okay, not really. But I will admit that the more I read about Lauren and Jesse, the more excited I got.
A couple in their 30s – check. Midwesterners like us – check.
Lauren mentioned bike rides around the lake near their house (we ride bikes too!), and the fact that her husband played on a summer slowpitch softball league every year (I play slowpitch all summer too! OK, played, before kids).
They were new homeowners of a fixer-upper. No five-bedroom estate in a gated community for them. It reminded me of our home, which is a fairly modest house in an affordable neighborhood.
Lauren had an Etsy shop where she sold hand-made products to raise money for their many infertility treatments (something I would totally do, if I could actually sew). I love that she put her creativity to work that way. Lauren and Jesse had met online (I also owe the internet for helping me meet my husband).
The letter was genuine, well-written (which set my mind at ease about their intelligence level…or maybe just their editing skills, lol), and with a bit of humor. She talked about her fertility struggles and all they’d gone through to try for a baby, something I could relate to well. (Surprisingly, few of the profiles I read went into that detail, but it was something I wanted to know about anyone we were considering to receive our embryos. I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m just snoopy.)
I especially liked that Lauren didn’t spend a lot of time trying to convince me that they were going to give the baby everything it ever wanted. They were a couple of modest means, like us. But their love and desire for a baby practically oozed from the screen.
“We truly cannot wait to be parents,” she said at the close of her letter. And I believed her.
The next morning, Samantha emailed me a few photos. They were a nice-looking couple. Not beauty queens. Not freakishly short, tall, tiny, or large. Nice and normal. Midwestern nice!
We peppered them with questions, even though I felt silly asking some of them (more on this in the next section). Including this doozy: “What are your thoughts on gay rights, and particularly gay marriage?”
Lauren answered the question with another photograph: three women standing at an altar, in the midst of a wedding ceremony. Officiating the ceremony was Lauren, laughing heartily, while the brides smiled at each other. In that case, a picture was worth a thousand words.
Our next task was to write up a bio about ourselves to share with Lauren and Jesse. In it, I mentioned that we love to write, and both of us have a blog. I sent it to Samantha. She wrote back a few hours later: “They loved your bio. A lot. PS – She is also a blogger, with quite a few followers!”
A blog?!?! My friend Google and I were on the case. I took what I knew about her and quickly found her blog (because Google bends to my will, mwa-ha-ha-ha!). It was an infertility blog, just like mine! I was delighted… and a little scared. Would I learn something in the blog that would change my mind about them?
As I read through several years of blog posts, my anxiety disappeared. She was funny. Like really funny—I found myself laughing out loud over and over. She was smart. Creative. And most importantly, very open and honest. Just like me.
Lauren and Jesse asked us questions in return, too. What were we like as children? Did we have any crazy allergies, or chronic conditions? What were our children like? Were we [shudder!] Chicago Bears fans? (Thankfully we are Packer fans, because it was going to be a deal-breaker for them.)
I answered the questions happily. It was like a really fun job interview, except via email.
Asking hard questions
When we were in the question-asking, “Getting to know you” stage of our donation, I was embarrassed to ask the more personal questions. I wouldn’t walk up to a stranger on the street and ask them why they didn’t finish college. Understandably, posing this question to a recipient couple felt weird.
Suck it up, sister. This is the only time you get to ask these questions. If you don’t, and later find out a truth you dislike immensely, you’re stuck trying to do a take-back on your donation. Not cool.
Even if it’s embarrassing, ask anyway. Who cares if they think you’re a nutter? If they’re offended by the question and exit stage right, good! It wouldn’t have worked out anyway. If they smile and respond with exactly the answer you were hoping for, you’ll feel even more secure in your decision.
Remember what you’re doing here: evaluating a couple that will receive your embryos, with the very good chance that they will result in a child. That ties your life to theirs, and their child’s, forever. Pretend you’re interviewing a new lifelong best friend. This relationship needs to have staying power to last that long on solid footing.
Don’t worry about what the hopeful recipients think. Don’t concern yourself with them liking or not liking you. That’s for them to worry about. Your job is to gather information. The part where you become BFFs happens later.
For me, getting over the “What will they think of me if I ask this?” was difficult. I needed to ask about gay rights and gay marriage, because I couldn’t live with myself if our embryos went to a family who wasn’t 110% accepting of all sexual orientations. It was hard, but I posed the question. I mentioned that the issue was near and dear to our hearts because of a loved one who was gay, and I cringed as I hit SEND.
The very first couple I posed this question to answered the question happily. The hopeful recipient mom answered the question not with words, but with a photograph of herself officiating the wedding of two lesbian friends. ‘Nuff said.
I Choo-choo-choose you
Let’s say you’ve met the perfect-for-you recipient(s). You live far enough apart that meeting in person isn’t really feasible, and you’ve exhausted your list of questions. You’ve asked everything you wanted to ask and even more that you didn’t think of until the last minute.
What now? When should you pull the trigger and say the Most Important Words: “We’d like to gift our embryos to you.”
Kind of like getting married, where saying “I do” just once is the ultimate goal, the same is true for embryo donation. Endeavor to say this once and only once for each batch of embryos you have to give.
That means waiting until you’re sure. Really sure, deep-down-in-the-corners-of-your-heart sure. Reneging on a promise to donate embryos to someone is serious business. It can shatter people, and is not something to be taken lightly.
For us (me, my husband, Lauren, and Jesse), it took only a few days of feverish emailing to exhaust all of our questions. I wanted a few days to think it over, and to talk to my therapist.
It had all happened so fast. Less than a week had gone by since I first emailed Samantha.
I met with my therapist, but even she could tell that I wasn’t the least bit conflicted. My mind was made up. We had found our couple. (I learned later that it was the fastest match Samantha had ever facilitated. Most take months or even years!)
I told Samantha the good news the day before Thanksgiving, and she called to tell Lauren, sharing my contact information with her at the same time. That started a texting frenzy that lasted for about five days straight.
It was almost scary how well Lauren and I connected, and how similarly we thought about many things. We talked family, infertility treatments, and about 94,337 other topics. Nathan kept telling me to put the phone down and just marry her already.
Our connection wasn’t a complete coincidence. Samantha somehow knew that Lauren and I would get along like peas and carrots. While I was reviewing the first set of profiles and feeling unmoved, Samantha was convincing Lauren to write an introduction letter.
Samantha and Lauren had talked for over an hour several weeks earlier; an introductory phone call as Lauren dipped her toe in the idea of embryo adoption. When I emailed Samantha saying I had embryos to donate, she immediately knew it was a good fit.
I’ve never met Samantha, and aside from what her husband had told her about me, we were near strangers. But somehow, Samantha knew. Bravo.
Now, just because we were Speedy Gonzalez with our match doesn’t mean you have to be, too. I do everything fast (some say too fast!). Most matches take a really, really long time. Do what feels comfortable for you. Listen to your gut, and invite your spouse to weigh in (more on getting a reluctant spouse involved in chapter five, He’s Just Not That Into It).
If you’re lucky enough to live near your potential recipients, you might be wondering if you should meet in person before you seal the deal.
By all means, yes! Do it, do it, do it.
Before the get-together, it will probably be nerve-wracking and cause some worry. Rest assured your hopeful recipients are as, if not more, stressed than you are, and are probably worried that something will happen to cause you to change your mind about them. (“Hmm, did she just pick her nose? Well, I can’t give my embryos to a nose-picker! THE DEAL IS OFF!”)
Hopefully though the actual face-to-face meeting feels more like meeting an old friend than meeting a stranger for the first time.
We had already decided on Lauren and Jesse when we had an opportunity to meet a few months later. Lauren was traveling to a city near me for a wedding shower, and we decided to meet up.
At first, Lauren tried to cancel when Jesse couldn’t come with her. But once she realized that I was as excited for the meetup as she was, she decided to come anyway. Her mother would come with her instead, which worked out well, since my own mother was going to be at my house that weekend while Nathan was out of town.
It was truly just like I described above—like catching up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. At that point we’d been texting daily for six months. We knew a lot about each other’s daily life and had no shortage of things to talk about.
Hello? Is anyone there?
As I talk about this process of deciding to donate, choosing a method, finding an agency, looking at profiles, etc., you’ll notice the use of “I” more than “we.” That’s because I did most of this on my own, without my husband’s involvement.
He wasn’t against it. But he was almost completely uninterested.
It was hard to swallow. How could he not care as much as me? Did he not see how important this was?!
It’s pretty common for husbands to be checked out of the embryo donation process. Here are some tips for getting through it, and getting his buy-in and participation at all the important parts.
Read Chapter Five—He’s Just Not That Into It: Bringing Your Spouse Along.
Looking for more?
Check out my blog entries written as we went through the process, including:
- Spare Babies: Written right after our first embryo retrieval and almost a year before Peanut was born, when I first broached the idea of what to do with extra embryos.
- Giving Up Our Embryos: Coming to terms with the donation decision, soon after Squeak was born.
- The Embryo Donation Dating Game, Part 1 and Part 2: Finding a couple to receive our embryos.
- 6 Questions for my Embryo Recipient: A Mother’s Day bit of fun, getting to know the mom half of the couple who would receive our embryos.
- The Donation is Final: When we signed the contract and it was final—those three embryos were no longer ours—it was an odd feeling.
- What To Expect When Someone Else is Pregnant with Your Genetic Child: Getting the news that Lauren was pregnant. Spoiler alert: it was not what I expected.
- What to Expect When the Woman Pregnant with Your Genetic Child Suddenly…Isn’t: The miscarriage. The guilt. Good lord, the guilt.
- Donated Embryo Transfer #2: If at first you don’t succeed, give it another go. And they did.
- Embryo Donation: Whose Kid Is It, Anyway?: Some donor moms can’t quite let go.
- My Embryo Donation Failure: The shitty feeling of knowing that you tried to give someone the gift of a lifetime, and you failed at it.