I recently listened to a documentary on the BBC, The New Face of Reproduction and as part of the programme they highlighted a charity organisation that I had not come across; The Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program which is a division of Nightlife Christian Adoptions. I found the idea pretty interesting, so I thought I would share it with you in my blog this week.
What is Embryo Donation?
Embryo donation is when somebody accepts an embryo that has already been generated using someone else’s gametes (sperm and egg). The embryo is then transferred and will hopefully result in a pregnancy and live birth.
Snowflakes is a program which was set up in the US and was established to match unused embryos with an adopted family. The program recruits people who are wanting a child and matches them to an “embryo donor” who has similar desires and values as the “embryo adopter”. It is an open adoption process and the donor and adopters can stay in contact if they wish to throughout the subsequent child’s life.
When a couple have undergone fertility treatment and have surplus embryos, they have a choice of what to do with these unused embryos; they can keep them in storage for future use, but this would incur a yearly storage charge and if they know that they had completed their family, they may not want to do this. This then leads to a few other options; they could have the embryos disposed of, donate them for research or training purposes or donate them to another couple who are unable to generate their own. This is where Snowflakes program comes in.
Donor embryos are available in the UK and Snowflakes now operate in the UK too. Some fertility clinics also have their own programs where they are able to help match you to an embryo already created.
According to their website, Nightlife has been finding families for children for over 50 years and pride themselves in being a child-centered adoption agency who deliver open adoptions which they believe results in children who are secure in their identity.
This point reminded me of a television program I watched some time ago which has always stuck with me, for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called or what channel it was on, but it was about a child who had been born through embryo donation. It has always stayed in my mind as it was quite poignant really, and I think there is a massive difference between adoption and embryo adoption as there is not necessarily a lot of information / widespread knowledge about embryo adoption available.
The child which the program had focussed on was born to a family who did not have the same cultural heritage as her and she very much felt like the “odd one out” in her family and that she did not belong. She was interviewed about her experience as her parents had been open about where she came from, but this was at a time before the anonymity law in the UK had changed so she would never be able to trace her biological parents. She expressed her thoughts surrounding her being an “IVF baby” and how she felt like she had been hard done to, in the fact that she believed she was the surplus embryo rather that the embryo that had ultimately gone on to become her genetic sibling, born to her biological parents. She described how different she thought her life would be if she had been the embryo selected for the transfer, rather than the one left in storage.
Although it was apparently clear how much her parents loved her and how grateful they were to have her, the teenage years seemed even harder to deal with as their daughter was acting out, and not seeing them as her parents. She described what comments had been made to her regarding her family and that people couldn’t believe her mother had given birth to her as she “couldn’t possibly be her child”. I just thought it was heart-breaking and even though her biological parents were giving another couple a wonderful gift by donating their embryo(s), it is difficult to know how that child will feel once / if they come into the world.
I have to admit that this story was from quite a number of years ago as the child would probably be in her twenties now and the process for matching will be completely different now to what it was years ago and also the anonymity law has since come into play so any children born through this method would be able to trace their biological parents.
All in all, I do think that for people to donate embryos, eggs or sperm really is a wonderful thing and it enables many to achieve their dream of parenthood which they might not have been able to do on their own.
Holly Scott, Patient and Clinic Liaison Manager
*subject to acceptance on our plan