What is Embryo Adoption?

When using a donated embryo for IVF treatment, a woman can carry her adopted child. Here's what you need to know about embryo adoption.

Pregnant Women Holding Ultrasound Image
Photo: Natalia Deriabina/Shutterstock

When undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), most couples store extra embryos for future use. These backups often aren't needed, and the couple may donate the embryos to other people struggling to conceive. This process, called embryo adoption, has accounted for more than 7,000 births so far, according to the Embryo Adoption Awareness Center. Here's all you need to know about the embryo adoption, including the success rates and expected costs.

What is Embryo Adoption?

The Embryo Adoption Awareness Center says there's an estimated surplus of 1,000,000 frozen embryos in America today; most come from people who underwent IVF themselves. The embryos could've been frozen short term (until a couple completed a successful IVF cycle) or long term (until a couple decided they're done having kids). When the embryos are no longer needed, the Embryo Adoption Awareness Center lists four options: keep the embryos frozen, discard them, give them up for scientific research, or donate them. The latter allows an adopting woman to carry her own child.

Here are some reasons why prospective parents choose embryo adoption:

  • A problem with sperm or eggs leads to infertility
  • Attempts at IVF treatment have failed
  • One or both parents has a genetic disorder, which they could pass onto their offspring
  • The parents want to bypass sperm or egg donors
  • The couple wants to adopt a child and experience pregnancy

Once a couple decides on embryo adoption, they must complete an application, match with a donor, and legally adopt the embryo. Then the donor embryo is implanted into the adopted mother's uterus (like in traditional IVF). The probability of implantation, and subsequent pregnancy, is 47.2%. If unsuccessful, the couple can try again with another embryo from the donor couple, if available. Otherwise they'll need to find a new donor embryo.

Working With Embryo Adoption Agencies

With embryo adoption, an agency helps the donors select adopting parents. The agency also handles many of the details and necessary protocols. Adopting parents are encouraged to review information about the donors before choosing an embryo; this usually includes medical records, family history, and more. They must also decide between open and closed adoption.

Open Adoption: The donor and adopting parents maintain some level of communication, whether it's in-person meetings, letters, or phone calls. Open adoption is encouraged when using an agency, since it's beneficial for medical purposes and family history questions. It may also give the adopted child a better sense of identity.

Closed Adoption: The couple isn't informed about the status of their embryo donation; in turn, they won't know if they have other biological children.

Embryo Adoption Cost

The adopting family can expect to pay around $7,500-$19,500. The Embryo Adoption Awareness Center breaks down the cost:

  • Agency Fee: $2,500-$10,000
  • Home Study: $1,500-$3,500
  • Frozen Embryo Transfer: $3,500-$6,000

Egg adoption is typically cheaper than traditional adoption, which costs anywhere from $20,000 - $50,000 when using a private agency. The donor family doesn't receive compensation.

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