Thank you all for your comments on “Plans in Pencil.”  I’ve been thinking about what to do with those embryos a lot lately and along with it has come the return of the old anger and bitterness, some of which you can see in both the piece I wrote for Listen to Your Mother and the recent post on grief.

When I returned to work after the LTYM show,  I found a curious email in my work inbox. It was from a friend of someone who had attended the show, and she asked about adopting our embryos because they are undergoing infertility as well. I guess her friend had told her about my piece and my mention of our embryos, but it appeared the gist of the piece had not been conveyed.

The writer’s pain was obvious in her email. Part of me was floored that she had emailed me, a complete stranger, about our embryos and she had to search a bit to find my email.

Seeing this email two days after the show, I could not respond. I didn’t know how to respond. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally and I had no words other than, “no, you may not have them.”

I still haven’t responded, and that’s cruel of me. I know how she feels. I know how desperate she must feel to email a stranger. I need to respond, but what do I say?  Is it possible to let her down gently? Maybe I am dreading her counter reply of asking me why I can’t donate my embryos to her if I’m not going to use them and accusing me of being selfish.  Are we being selfish by keeping them frozen and neither donating them to research nor placing them for adoption?

Many decisions are selfish, though. Our decision to use surrogacy to have a biological child is often deemed selfish (at least in the media and comment sections). Someone else’s decision to adopt could be selfish depending on motivations. A relative’s decision to have three children could be interpreted as selfish by someone concerned about the impact on the environment and overcrowding.

Sometimes in the realm of infertility, it seems you are always making someone unhappy.


  1. Oh boy.

    We’re in the same boat as you and we’re saving them in case one of the boys need embryonic stem cells later (if, of course, the technology is there and an embryo is a good match). We were ready to do a compassionate transfer but then realized that those embryos are the only DNA that we can ever make, so why not keep them around? With genomics where it is there days, they could be useful for one of the kids later if they’d get sick. So…. They’re our collected DNA in storage.

    If someone asked me for them, I don’t know what I’d say. If we’d die, they are to be donated to couples, but as long as we’re alive, they’re staying frozen.

    I feel for you.

  2. Wow. I can’t imagine being asked that … or asking it. It’s hard on both sides.

    We donated ours to science less than two weeks after our last child was born. My uterus is too damaged to use again after the accreta and I could not bear the thought of a sibling being out in the world and not with us.

    Whatever decision you make is ultimately your own for your own reasons. Simply tell her you’re not ready to donate your embryos and wish her luck. Then filter all further emails to the trash without reading them.

  3. I can’t imagine that she thinks you’ll be all “yay! Now I know what to do with my embryos!” But who knows? I think you can just keep it simple and wish her luck, although I’m sure it’s hard knowing that answer will hurt her.

  4. The only reason to have a child — in any way — is selfish. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I would be skeptical if anyone said they wanted to become a parent to make the world a better place.

  5. I think answering her email to tell her no (so she doesn’t hold on to false hope) is the kind thing to do, but you do not owe her any explanation at all. if she asks, ignore. Not selfish any more than anything else in reproduction, assisted or otherwise, as you point out.

  6. Oh, KeAnne! Not selfish. As the recipient of donor embryos, I’ve never been sure I could have done the same had the situation been reversed. I am eternally grateful for the gift of the embryos I received. For the gift of my daughter. But I totally understand feeling that you can’t do it. Yes, don’t keep her waiting longer for a response, but don’t worry about explaining why. You are just not emotionally comfortable with it. Period. If she has a problem with that, that’s her problem. Wish her the best and let the guilt go.

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