Donor Embryos - Our Experience

We participated in adopting embryos from two different families through Nightlight's Snowflakes Program.

In our experience, one family wanted a more closed "adoption" (that's how Nightlight views the process), the other wanted an open adoption, and we were comfortable with both.

Embryo donation and embryo adoption are terms that some people use interchangeably.  These terms however can imply a different relationship between the donor family and the recipient couple.   For example, an couple wishing to adopt embryos may need to go through a home study and process similar to a traditional adoption, as is the case with Nightlight.   Embryo donation is often done through a clinic and there is no adoption process required.

Openness in embryo adoption and donation is on a spectrum.  You may receive only basic information and medical history on one end of the spectrum.  On the other, you may negotiate to have a relationship with the family including whatever you both feel comfortable with.

These are our pros and cons from our open and mostly closed embryo adoption experiences.  We adopted eight embryos in total, but unfortunately did not have a baby.


1.  It's a beautiful way to give life to an embryo that would otherwise get destroyed or donated to science.
2.  For some people, religion and spirituality play a big role in adopting embryos.
3.  Compared to traditional adoption, in an open relationship you may have the opportunity to be more picky about the couple on the other end.   The couples may be stable than some traditional adoption birth parents.  Of course,  I completely acknowledge that this statement is a huge generalization and stereotype, but I think there is some truth in it.
4.  You already know how many embryos you will get, compared to trying to make embryos in other ways.
5.  The relationship you develop with the donor family and genetic siblings can be a beautiful thing.  We are still friends with one of our donor families, even though we didn't have a baby from their embryos.   It has become one of our most cherished friendships.
6. The couple on the other end has shared the infertility experience.
7.  Babies can be a reality for many couples.  Why did I wait until #7 to write this? I don't know, but lots of babies have come from from embryo adoption.
8.  For some couples, it can be a helpful that neither couple will be genetically related to the child, as opposed using donor egg or donor sperm.


1.  It can cost be expensive, and you may not end up with a baby after all of your bills.
2. Donor embryos are often a lower quality than donor egg embryos.  They were created from people with fertility problems.  Some agencies and clinics may not emphasize how this may affect your chances of having a healthy baby.  This is a tremendously important factor that is overlooked by many couples.

Other thoughts:

  • Embryo adoption and donation agencies are usually able to offer much more information on the genetic family.  This option is more expensive usually, because it can involve the completion of a home study.  It may also take more time than getting embryos from a fertility clinic, depending on your clinic's waiting list.  
  • I would suggest getting detailed information about the couple's infertility history.  Was it male factor or female factor infertility (or both?) What are the ratings of the embryos? What day were they frozen on?  If the biological "parents" have other biological children, what is their health status?  How many miscarriages did the couple have before fertility treatments and during?  These are important things to know.  What was the age of the female partner when the embryos were made?  
  • Remember that infertility patients will often use their best rated embryos first.  The remaining embryos will usually be of lower quality.  
  • How were the embryos frozen? Are there several in one straw? This could mean that you would have to thaw them all at the same time, even if you wanted to only use one at a time.  Embryos can be refrozen, but there is a risk of doing this. 
  • As mentioned before, when working with a third party agency, the donor family may be screened differently than getting donated embryos from a fertility clinic.  As a result, you may receive different information about the donor family.  At Nightlight, we received a scrapbook type package of information that the donor couple made up about themselves including pictures and descriptions of themselves and their children.
  • Ask about the clinic or agency's rematching process.   What is the cost and process if a pregnancy results but ends in miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death?  It's sad to think about but it's easier to ask the questions before this happens.  I know couples who have had these scenarios happen.
  • What if any relationship do you want to have with the genetic family?  What about genetic siblings? What access will you have to medical or other information?

Did you or someone you know have an experience with donated or adopted embryos? What were their experiences like?  Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences, I'd like to hear about them.

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