What Is Embryo Adoption? How Embryo Adoption Works

Hopeful parents have always had the choice to expand their families via adoption and enjoy all the benefits of parenthood. So, what is embryo adoption?

Embryo adoption is a type of adoption that enables the adoptive mother to carry and give birth to her genetically unrelated child.

Adoptive parents start the adoption process nine months earlier by adopting a frozen embryo that was provided by a couple who had undergone in vitro fertilization.

Pregnant mom holding a small teddy bear.

What is Embryo Adoption?

According to the Embryo Adoption Awareness Center, there are currently 1,000,000 extra frozen embryos in America, the majority of which were created by IVF patients.

Both short-term (until a pair finished a successful IVF cycle) and long-term (until a couple decided they were done having children) freezing options were available for the embryos.

The Embryo Adoption Awareness Center outlines four possibilities when the embryos are no longer required:

  • Retain the embryos frozen
  • Discard the embryos
  • Donate the embryos to hopeful prospective parents
  • Donate to scientific studies

A mother is able to bear her adopted child after she undergoes IVF therapy using a given embryo. What you should know about embryo adoption is provided here.

How Does Embryo Adoption Work?

Embryo adoption works by legally transferring parental rights and duties of an embryo from one parent to another for the purposes of adoption. With a surplus of eggs left over from IVF procedures, parents whose embryos were stored and no longer needed may be donated to those wishing to adopt them.

How to Adopt an Embryo

In the case of embryo adoption, a company aids the donors in choosing the adoptive parents. The agency also manages a lot of the specifics and required procedures.

Before selecting an embryo, adopting parents are advised to research information on the donors; this often includes medical records, family history, and other details.

Additionally, they must choose between open and closed adoption.

Open adoption: The donor and adopting parents continue to communicate in some way, whether it be through face-to-face encounters, letters, or phone conversations.

When working with an agency, open adoption is advised since it is advantageous for medical needs and family history inquiries. Additionally, it could help the adoptive child feel more like themselves.

Closed adoption: The couple isn’t made aware of the outcome of their embryo donation, so they won’t be aware of the existence of any additional biological children.

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How Much Does Embryo Adoption Cost?

The cost of embryo adoption widely ranges from $3,000 to $15,000, depending on the source of the embryo. This cost does not include legal fees, the transporting of an embryo to a local medical facility, medications for the embryo transfer, as well as the medical services to implement the embryo transfer.

Legal fees: The average cost of a legal contract and related procedures is $500, but it may sometimes be as high as $1,000.

Transporting the embryo: The embryos must be shipped to your clinic, which could cost $400 to $500. However, the distance of the trip will also affect the cost.

Medical costs: Most doctors charge a set price that covers all consultations, sonograms, and the transfer of frozen embryos, depending on the clinic (FET). This cost could range from $2,500–3,500. Usually, there is an extra charge for using the facility, embryologist, and lab for embryo transfer.

Medication: This will fluctuate drastically depending on the medication that your doctor chooses to prescribe and your insurance coverage.

Usually, you are instructed to take progesterone (a tablet, suppository, or shot) for a few weeks following the transfer while taking estrogen (a pill, patch, or injection) for two weeks before the transfer.

These fertility medications are often rather affordable, and it’s possible that insurance will pay all or part of the cost.

It’s important to remember that it is against the law for anybody to sell their embryos and that embryos are instead donated. The costs incurred for an embryo adoption stem from the clinics that facilitate the embryo adoption, coordinate the process for the donor and the prospective adoptive parents, as well as the medical costs necessary to transfer the embryo to the adoptive parents.

The average cost of a traditional domestic or international adoption is $20,000, not including the travel expenses if adopting internationally. So adopting an embryo can be much more affordable if not the same in some cases. The added benefit is carrying your baby to term just like a biological mother does.

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Working With Embryo Adoption Agencies

It’s vital to choose the right program that is a good match for you, so do your homework before making this crucial decision.

You have the choice of working with a fertility clinic donation program or a certified adoption agency.  Some programs are run from a central place, so you have to go there to get things done.

Self-matching is the cornerstone of online matching services. You can be in charge of managing clinic and legal correspondence as well as other things. Some households find embryos through a friend or other source.

Embryo Donor Screening

Generally, embryos are often donated by those who have extra embryos left over from going through the IVF process. Therefore, medical screening and evaluations have already been done.

Egg Donation Is Not the Same as Embryo Donation

When you are researching your options, it’s important to understand the difference between egg donation and embryo donation.

Understanding Egg Donation

Many women will volunteer and express their wish to offer another woman the gift of parenting. Usually, this results from their own, fulfilling experiences as mothers.

Donors are added to a donor list, and a thorough examination of their medical and social history is reviewed. Once listed, prospective receivers can go through the donor profiles. Generally, the donors do not actually contribute their eggs until they are matched with a recipient. 

In contrast to embryo donation, egg donation allows for sperm selection. It is the recipient’s option whether it comes from a selected donor or a partner.

Embryos from the Egg Donation cycle that are still viable may be frozen and belong to the receiver, which is another crucial point to remember.

Understanding Embryo Donation

The surviving embryos from previous patients’ IVF treatments are often times donated when the IVF patients have had a successful pregnancy and no longer need their surplus of embryos. They may wish to not have more children, so they donate their remaining embryos.

The donor profiles of both egg and sperm are available many times online and share a comparable medical and social history, similar to the donor egg cycles.

Despite the fact that the recipient cannot select the sperm utilized, this process has several advantages.

The cost and time are significantly reduced because these embryos are easily accessible and have undergone all necessary tests.

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How Successful Is Embryo Donation at Achieving Pregnancy?

Forty percent of pregnancies that use donated embryos succeed, on average. This varies depending on the program and fertility clinic. This figure is somewhat higher than average IVF implantation success rates, typically as a result of preimplantation genetic testing performed on donated or adoptive embryos.

Can a Single Person Adopt an Embryo?

To answer this question, we first need to understand the background of embryo adoption and its religious associations.

An unintended consequence of more optimistic parents undergoing in vitro fertilization to conceive is a rise in the number of frozen embryos being kept permanently.

The prospect of throwing away embryos that intended parents have worked so hard to develop is emotionally challenging for many of them. Furthermore, discarding embryos would be the same as “killing” frozen offspring for a certain group of intended parents.

Leftover embryos have been given to groups with the promise of giving these “snowflake babies” a chance at life with someone else who is eager to become a parent for a variety of reasons.

Consequently, the procedure is commonly referred to as “embryo adoption,” which arouses similar feelings as adopting a child who has already been born.

Adoption of embryo “snowflakes” is more frequently associated with Christian or anti-abortion groups, many of which get federal money.

Whether on purpose or accidentally, several of these groups have established strong ties to “pro-life” activists.

They contend that donated embryos are babies already, not merely cells with the potential to become one.

Embryo Adoption for LGBT and Single Parents

What does this ethical perspective entail for intended parents who want to use a donated embryo in their gestational surrogacy, putting aside the ongoing debate surrounding that stance?

The problem is that organizations that hold to this conception-of-life philosophy frequently have preconceived notions about who belongs in parental roles, notably that only heterosexual couples should seek embryo adoption.

Both Nightlight Christian Adoptions and the National Embryo Donation Center have particular standards for prospective adoptive parents. In the case of NEDC, only a “genetic” man and a female who are married are eligible to adopt, and embryo adoption via gestational surrogacy is not permitted.

Similarly, a mother and father must complete their information on Nightlight’s first application, and among other things, the agency’s general standards include that an adoptive pair have a “spiritual home environment.”

No matter how well-prepared they are to be parents, it is obvious that people who don’t match the married heteronormative norms of these adoption agencies don’t have this option with those agencies.

It’s probable that embryo adoption for your gestational surrogacy won’t be a possibility if you’re a single intended parent or a part of an LGBT couple.

Searching for LGBT-friendly adoption agencies and donation centers is crucial for this reason.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of prejudice towards atypical families, so the process may be a little more difficult than it would be for a straight married couple to welcome a new child.

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Example List of Embryo Adoption Requirements

Below is an example of the strict requirements you may see when researching your embryo adoption options: (This was found on the Internet by an agency promoting embryo adoption.)

  • We put a lot of effort into ensuring that our donors’ embryos are housed in loving, stable homes with caring parents.
  • Couples must consist of a genetic man and a genetic female who have been wed for at least three years.
  • The wife must be under 45 years old.
  • At the time of the frozen embryo transfer, the wife’s body mass index (BMI) must be lower than 38.
  • The applicant couple’s total age cannot be more than 100 years old.
  • A healthy adoptive mother who is able to carry a child to term is required. The pregnancy cannot be carried by surrogates.
  • During the application process, the preparation and procedure for the embryo transfer, and the pregnancy, the wife must abstain from smoking.
  • Before adopting, the husband and wife must be two years sober from alcoholism and other drug use. There could be a need for a letter from an addiction professional.
  • All couples are required to submit to and pass a 10-panel urine drug test as well as a blood test for STDs.
  • Couples must successfully complete and pass either an embryo adoption-specific Snowflakes Family Evaluation in place of a home study, or a thorough family assessment (home study) created by a certified adoption agency in the couple’s state, territory, or province of domicile. For information about adoption agencies, go here.

(They end by noting the following on their website just under the above list of requirements:)

There are no exceptions to these rules that we can provide. If you are qualified, our hardworking team will assist you in getting ready for the exciting trip ahead at every stage.

What Stage of Gestation Is an Adopted Embryo

The gestational stage of an adopted embryo depends on so many things. Let’s first take a look at the frozen embryo and the process of fertilizing the egg.

Any stage following the pronuclear stage (one cell), up to and including the blastocyst stage, can be used to freeze embryos (5-7 days after fertilization). For different phases of embryo development, various cryoprotectants, freezing solutions, and procedures are employed.

That tells us that for a frozen embryo, the gestational stage is only a few days or so.

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How Do I Know I Get Good-Quality Embryos?

During the insemination process, the finest quality eggs are put in a petri dish with the man’s sperm, which is then kept in an environment-controlled space.

The majority of the time, embryos of the highest quality are transferred during the fresh cycle of the IVF procedure, while embryos of a lower quality are kept for a later transfer.

The lower-quality embryos are kept for later use if needed. And if the implantation of the better quality embryos is successful in creating a pregnancy, the lesser quality eggs in surplus may be donated.

This does not necessarily imply that donated embryos are of poor quality.

The longevity of a cryopreserved (frozen) embryo is uncertain from a medical standpoint. Additionally, it is uncertain how the freezing procedure may affect the embryo’s quality if it is carried to term.

IVF babies are twice as likely to be born underweight and with severe birth abnormalities, according to studies. Medical difficulties are made considerably more complicated by the unknown consequences of cryopreservation on embryo development.

What Information Will I Have About the Embryo Donor?

Each embryo adoption clinic is different just as every embryo adoption is unique. Depending on the clinic from which you adopt your embryo, a Family Profile may be provided to the adoptive parents. Along with information on the embryos, you may also get the genetic family’s medical and health history.

You may receive whatever information the genetic parents were given when they made their donor selection if an egg or sperm donor was utilized. This might contain photographs, health data, and autobiographical details.

Do You Have to Be Infertile to Consider Embryo Adoption?

You do not have to be infertile to adopt an embryo. Some couples are only interested in expanding their families through adoption. Additionally, if the woman chooses, she can experience pregnancy once again through embryo adoption.


Trina Greenfield - Adoption Author

About the Author:
Trina Greenfield is passionate about providing information to those considering growing their family. Trina does not run an adoption agency. Her website is strictly information-based, so she is able to provide unbiased, credible information that she hopes will help guide those along their journey.