After many years spent trying to conceive, IVF proved successful for Mia McGregor and her husband. When a second child came along, the family felt complete; now, with four remaining frozen embryos in storage awaiting their fate, the couple had a very important decision to make. Mia shares her family’s incredible journey.
By Eden Cox
With just one round of IVF, the couple’s dream of becoming parents was fulfilled. ‘Five embryos resulted, one was implanted, and, lo and behold, there was our incredible son,’ says Mia. A couple of years later, Mia conceived again naturally, ‘now we have a second beautiful son and our hearts are full,’ she says. Their success with IVF means there are still four embryos in storage at the fertility clinic.
Mia says she is very conscious of her remaining embryos, ‘I cannot think of them as simply cells and tissue,’ she says, and neither does she consider them to be her babies; rather, she likes to think of embryos as ‘baby seeds’ that have the potential to grow into human beings. ‘How that potential is realised depends upon opportunity, luck and the in-utero environment.’
As part of the IVF process, the clinic asked Mia and her husband to consider what they would choose to do with any embryos that were not used. The options were donation, destruction or allowing the embryos to expire for use in scientific testing. Mia says her husband did not hesitate for a moment before saying they would donate the embryos, to give another couple the opportunity to have a family.
Mia says a number of factors played into her own decision, including the heartache of infertility. ‘I found infertility absolutely heartbreaking and hugely challenging. Conversely, the gift of a child has been indescribably wonderful and life changing. It is better than I could have even imagined. I want that for anyone who desires it.
‘In addition, I looked at my smart, gorgeous, loving, curious big boy, and can imagine how these four embryos – his genetic siblings – have the potential to grow into incredible little people like him. It seems tragic to snuff out their possibility.’
A ‘miniscule’ factor in her decision, says Mia, was the fact that the couple had spent tens of thousands of dollars on assisted reproductive technology: ‘we’ll be damned if it’s wasted!’ she adds.
So, Mia and her husband made the decision to donate the four embryos to another couple wishing to be parents. Unsure about the idea at first, Mia says she imagined an anonymous match-up system, and being contacted out-of-the-blue by potentially four children in 18 years time. She wondered what the ramifications would be for her family, and whether it would be an unnecessary complication in their lives.
‘However, it did not take my husband long to convince me that donating was really the only option, knowing, as we do, how utterly agonising infertility can be,’ she says.
As it turned out, some genetic conditions that presented themselves in the couple’s combined DNA meant their embryos were not eligible for the anonymous donor bank. Mia tells us that conditions are very strict, with any known genetic condition ruling the embryos out; ‘The clinic told us about an embryo that had a four per cent chance of cleft palate, with no associated conditions, and the clinic had to reject it.’
‘Known’ embryo donation was their only option, which Mia says was a challenging concept, because it was up to her and her husband to find, assess and then choose a donor.
‘From a huge pool of women and couples looking for embryos, how would we decide who would be “worthy”? Did we want someone located near or far to us? How much contact would we have with the recipient and their potential children down the track? What relationship would these known children have with ours? There were so many questions!’
But known donation also has benefits for the potential children, as well as the donor’s children; in a practical sense, the communication between the families can prove life-saving in the event of future medical problems.
Furthermore, after meeting other happy embryo donors and recipients, Mia found the community to be warm, positive and supportive. She says she hopes to keep in contact with the recipient family as the child grows up, for the benefit of the child, and her own family. ‘I can now see how it will enrich our lives in an immediate and ongoing way if a child is born out of these embryos,’ she says.
So, how does one go about selecting an embryo recipient? Somehow unsurprisingly, there are several Facebook groups established for the purpose of connecting donors with couples seeking embryos.
‘The first time that I posted on a embryo donation Facebook group, a potential recipient messaged me directly,’ says Mia. ‘She lives in a different state and has been through 17 cycles of IVF so far!’ Mia and her husband spent many months getting to know the woman, and, while they felt compelled to help her, they realised it wasn’t a good match: ‘Known embryo donation can mean a relationship for life, and we decided not to go ahead with it.’
Mia and her husband have since been in discussions with a friend of a friend who is looking for donor embryos, and with a local woman who already has one child, but is hoping for another.
‘Considering secondary infertility is something new for us, but we can see the positives in selecting a family that already has children.’
With many potential embryo recipients to consider, Mia and her husband have another challenging decision to make. What is clear is that they are giving an immeasurable gift – a dream come true.
‘They are the baby seeds that we created, and can now send off into the world.’