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Building a Family Through Embryo Adoption

Building a Family Through Embryo Adoption

Pregnant couple - Achieving pregnancy through embryo adoptionMost little girls grow up playing house. It is a game that often involves them doing things they have witnessed their own mothers doing; cooking in the kitchen, tending to skinned knees, and even stuffing a shirt with pillows and then pretending to be pregnant. It is already ingrained in us, even then, that pregnancy will one day be our path to family building.

So for those little girls who grow up and go on to experience infertility, letting go of that pregnancy dream can seem near impossible. It is a desire borne within us from childhood to care and nurture for our children from conception. True, not all women have this same desire, but for those who do – giving up on pregnancy is a painful prospect.

But what if there was one last hope? What if, after all the heartbreak, failed cycles and negative news you have received along the way, there was still a chance? A way to achieve those pregnancy dreams? There is…

Achieving Pregnancy Through Embryo Adoption

There are two options for couples considering embryo adoption. With the first option, embryos are donated to infertile couples from couples who have frozen embryos left over from previous rounds of IVF. The second option, sometimes referred to as “double donor” embryo adoption, is facilitated by fertility clinics and utilizes embryos created from two separate anonymous donors; one sperm donor and one egg donor.

Option 1 – Embryo Donation with Surplus Embryos

When couples go through the process of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), there are generally several embryos which are created. While one or two may be transferred, the rest are frozen for later use. Sometimes, a couple will decide for a variety of reasons that they do not want to make any further pregnancy attempts. When this happens, a choice presents itself: to destroy the remaining embryos, or to donate them to another infertile woman or couple.

Embryo donation takes place when embryos that would otherwise be discarded are gifted to a family that cannot produce quality embryos themselves. Any baby born from donated embryos is legally considered the child of the birthing parents, unless surrogacy is also involved – in which case, surrogacy contracts come into play.

Known Donation
Embryo donation can occur with any level of openness, with some couples choosing to donate to friends and family, and others selecting recipient parents from an online database. When known donation takes place, there may be communication which continues for years down the line, often mimicking the relationships found in open adoptions.

Anonymous Donation
Anonymous donations are typically facilitated directly by clinics. In these cases, a family will choose to donate their remaining eggs to the clinic they first pursued IVF through, and the clinic then turns to a wait list of women and couples hoping to receive donated embryos. When anonymous donations occur, no identifying information is given to either party.

Option 2 – Embryo Adoption Through Separate Sperm and Egg Donors

Not as well-known as the first type of embryo adoption discussed, this type of adoption allows infertile couples to choose an embryo created from two separate, anonymous donors. Couples can specify specific criteria for their choice of donors, such as age, ethnicity, religion, physical description, health history, and geography. This type of embryo adoption is much easier and requires less wait time finding a match.

Who Could Benefit from Embryo Adoption?

The best candidates for adopted embryos are typically those women and couples who are otherwise capable of carrying and maintaining a pregnancy, but who are lacking quality sperm or eggs to create viable embryos themselves.


Embryo adoption can provide a woman or couple with the opportunity to experience pregnancy, nurturing and caring for a baby from the point of conception. For those who have fears surrounding traditional adoption, this can be a “safer” option in terms of parental rights as well. Unlike traditional adoptions, there is no timeline during which the donor/s can change their minds and take a resulting infant back. From the point of conception, that child is recognized by law as being related only to the recipient parents.


For women and couples who yearn to have a genetic connection with their child, embryo donation will not be able to fill that void. There are also all the same risks involved in embryo adoption as there are with IVF, and there are no guarantees that an adopted embryo will result in pregnancy.

The Cost

    Option 1
    Unlike sperm and egg donation, it is illegal to charge any kind of fee for the donation of embryos. As such, the costs involved with embryo donation are identical to those required by traditional IVF. There is typically a wait list for those wishing to receive donated embryos. It takes anywhere from 6 months to a year to find a potential match.

    Option 2
    Couples who decide to adopt an embryo created from an egg and sperm donor should expect the cost to be significantly more than embryo donation. This is because the cost typically will include payment for the egg donation, sperm donation, and clinic fees for IVF. Couples should also talk with their fertility clinic about any additional fees that may be incurred. Fees vary from clinic to clinic and their staff should be able to help answer any of your questions. Wait time for a match for this type of embryo adoption is typically quicker than embryo donation and the process can begin right away to find a suitable match.

Knowing if Embryo Adoption is Right for You

Start by talking to your doctor about whether or not embryo adoption could be a viable option for you. If there are underlying causes behind your inability to conceive, beyond low quality eggs or sperm, or if you have been prone to miscarriages in the past due to uterine health issues or hormone imbalances – embryo adoption may not be the only option to consider. For those dealing with low quality eggs or sperm, embryo adoption may be able to provide a viable option to achieving the pregnancy and baby you have always dreamed of.


Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN
Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN

Dr. Traxler is a University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist, working with patients in Minnesota for over 20 years. She is a professional medical writer; having authored multiple books on pregnancy and childbirth; textbooks and coursework for medical students and other healthcare providers; and has written over 1000 articles on medical, health, and wellness topics.  Dr. Traxler attended the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences and University of Minnesota Medical School,  earning a degree in biochemistry with summa cum laude honors in 1981,  and receiving her Medical Doctorate degree (MD) in 1986.

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