The Last Embryo


The Last Embryo | Denver Metro Moms BlogWhen you struggle with infertility, a great deal of time is spent thinking about the immediate next steps you must take to get to your end goal. You are consumed with “if x happens, when will I be able to begin my family?” With so much time spent thinking about building your family, it’s easy to not consider what happens when you’ve decided your family is complete. This is the place I’m at now and I’m struggling…

We have one remaining embryo and I don’t know what to do about it.

Before one begins the IVF process, you have to sign a bunch of documentation. One of those documents asks about what you want to do with any remaining stored embryos in the event you and/or your spouse passes away. There are basically 3 choices: destroy the embryos, give them to research, or donate them to another individual or couple struggling with infertility… I don’t remember what we picked, but I know I didn’t really worry about it too much at the time… again, considering what might happen or where we might be at the “end” of our infertility journey seemed so foreign. It didn’t feel like somewhere we might ever actually be, since we really hadn’t had any successes.

After our third IVF retrieval, we got four embryos. Only four. At the time, four embryos didn’t seem like many – or even enough. Knowing everything we had been through up to this point, our statistics, and other factors working against us, the number sounded low and scary.

During the first transfer, we transferred our “top two” embryos, based on their scores. We hoped that we had a good chance of a healthy pregnancy. We were so fortunate BOTH stuck with us, and we have our twin boys. During our second transfer, we only transferred one embryo. (I LOVE having twins, but I wasn’t about to risk having a second set of twins. Nope. Didn’t seem like a good idea.) This transfer was also successful (much to my surprise) and now, with our new little girl, we are officially a family of 5 and we feel complete.

Except… there’s still this embryo.

I am having this intense debate in my head about what to do and I feel like, no matter what I choose, it’s not going to be the right decision.

Transferring it is scary.

First of all, I never expected that we would be a family of 5! It took us four years to get our boys and I had started to wonder if it was ever going to happen at all. I had definitely wanted more than one and I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to get pregnant a second time, so I was super excited to have twins. When we decided to give it one more go (I was having major baby cravings!), I didn’t expect it would actually work. I was sort of shocked when we found out the transfer was successful. If we transferred this last one and it stuck, we’d be a family of 6! The “only child” in me says that’s crazy! Although, maybe going from 3 kids to 4 wouldn’t feel like that big of a deal, I don’t know? Of course, it’s not just the count, right? It’s everything that goes with it. The financial – now and in the future. Plus, putting 4 kids in college seems like a big deal. There’s the x number more years of having young children and all of their tantrums. The x number of years that we’d have kids at home before shipping them all off to college. That all seems like too much. What if we transferred it and it split!? We’d have 5 children! Someone pass the smelling salts.

Also, transferring it wouldn’t be safe.

I’ve had surgeries to fix issues from endometriosis, which required me to have c-sections with all my babies. I had preeclampsia complications with my first pregnancy, and preeclampsia and bleeding complications with my last pregnancy. When the doctor asked me if we were going to have any more children and I told her that I didn’t think so, the look of relief on her face was palpable. I was strongly encouraged to be done with having babies. Basically, it would be dangerous for me to get pregnant/deliver again. And do I want to potentially leave behind my husband with 3, maybe 4 kids to raise by himself? Would it be fair to risk it? No. We could go surrogacy, but the cost of that is also overwhelming, especially at this stage in the game.

I also don’t want IFV to dictate my family size or dynamic.

If we didn’t have infertility issues, would we have stopped at two? If my whole reproductive system wasn’t damaged goods, would we have tried for 4? Obviously there’s no way for me to know. There’s no way to go back in time, change things that were/are completely out of my control, and change our experiences to have a clearer perspective…

Donating it fills my heart with joy and dread all at the same time.

While I’d love for a family struggling with infertility to have the opportunity to have a child, I’m afraid of the “what if”s.” What happens if the other family doesn’t treat the child like I would want them to be treated? What if an 18-year-old shows up on my doorstep, looking like one of my children and demanding answers to questions like, “why didn’t you want me?” How could I tell my children that they have a sibling out there that they may never know? How could I ever walk through a crowd without looking at the faces of children and scrutinizing them, wondering if they were mine? Thinking about these questions makes me feel queasy. It hurts my soul. I know there are examples out there where the biological parents and the adoptive parents have a relationship, which could help alleviate some of these concerns, but that could open up a whole host of other issues. The logistics of that still makes me nervous.

Destroying it or donating it to research before destroying also feels like an impossible decision.

Occasionally I think about the person that it could be… “We have really cool kids, this kid might be cool, too.” This breaks my heart. But I’m not being fair to myself to think about it that way, because it’s missing a very key component: a uterus. It can’t be anything more than a ball of a few dozen cells without a uterus. And while research would certainly help to learn more about the development of embryos, potential causes of miscarriages, or birth defects, there are moral issues around experimenting with human cells… The questions I have about what kind of research would be conducted can’t be answered and that makes me uncomfortable. There are some internationally agreed upon rules about embryo development, which is good (smarter people then I are thinking about it), but still… there’s that queasy feeling again.

There is also the option of donating it to a stem cell research facility.

Again, while I don’t know exactly what kind of research would be conducted, the idea that the cells of the embryo could “live on” in some way and possibly be used to find cures to diseases or perhaps even help someone walk again feels almost more like I’m honoring the embryo a little. Certainly better than just “throwing it away.”

It’d be one thing if we had something like 14 embryos left (because 17 kids would be ridiculous and I’m not about to go the way of the Octomom!), but we don’t. We have one and I’m heartbroken at the prospect of letting it go.

I’m sad and lost, and I wish there was an easy answer, but there’s just not an easy answer for this. There’s just not.

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Sara is a Denver native – a proud graduate of East High and UC Denver. She used to be in the IT biz, but retired from the office job to stay home when her twin boys were born. In addition to her boys, she just had a baby girl and is surprised about how much easier and harder it is the second (third?) time around, but is doing her best to keep it all together. She is married to Mark – they’ve shared 7 years of wedded bliss but compliment each other so well, you’d think it was many more! Sara has an affinity for the color green, loves music, loves food, loves her fur baby Dash, is great at styling hair with BBQ sauce, and would be a very formidable trivia opponent!


  1. It must be a really tough decision to make. I really enjoyed reading this article. We just had our son via embryo donor on January 24, 2017. We struggled getting pregnant for seven years and without embryo donor couple #319, we would have never had Jasper. I feel your struggle. I love the option of donor embryos. Not only does it make having a family a bit more affordable, but it allows those few cells to become a life that is cherished by parents who desperately wanted a family. Dr. Sweet (with EDI) did a fabulous job making sure we understood all aspects of infertility and all options available to us. He explained the difficulty in all options. I knew embryo donation was the option for me because I thought it was a neat way for a family who also knows the heartache of infertility to help solve our struggle too. I hope my son one day appreciates all we went through to have him and how much love from so many people involved was present at his birth and throughout his entire life. Whatever decision you make/made, I know it was difficult. But thank you for even considering embryo donation from a mom who was lucky enough to have a beautiful baby boy.


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