What is Embryo Adoption?

Adoption has long been an option for hopeful parents to grow their families and experience all of the joys of raising a child of their own. Now, thanks to advances in reproductive medicine and technology, the newest form of adoption also allows adoptive parents to experience the joys and challenges of pregnancy and labor.

Embryo adoption is a form of adoption that allows the adoptive mother to carry her genetically unrelated child and experience pregnancy and delivery. Rather than adopting an infant that is already born, adoptive parents begin the process nine months earlier by adopting a frozen embryo donated by a couple who has been through in vitro fertilization.

This emerging form of adoption is another option for prospective adoptive parents to consider with its own processes, benefits and challenges. This article provides more information about what frozen embryo adoption is, how it works, who it benefits and considerations for couples and individuals who are interested in adopting an embryo.

How Embryo Adoption Works

Adoption is the process of legally transferring parental rights and responsibilities from one parent to another. The same is true in embryo adoption, with a few key differences. The following explanation provides a basic overview of the embryo adoption process and highlights some of the key differences between embryo adoption and infant adoption.

How to Adopt an Embryo

The embryo adoption process may vary slightly depending on the agency embryo donors and adoptive parents choose to work with. In general, all embryo adoptions will include the following steps:

  1. Embryo Donation – The embryo adoption process begins when a couple chooses to donate viable, healthy embryos to another couple or individual who is struggling to grow their family on their own. Embryo donors are parents who have completed their families through in vitro fertilization (IVF) and have unused, frozen embryos left over. These embryos may be kept frozen in storage, discarded, donated for scientific research or donated to another person or couple who is interested in embryo adoption. Those who choose embryo donation are then matched with adopting parents through a fertility clinic or embryo adoption agency, or the donors may pursue an independent adoption with already-identified parents they’d like to donate to directly. Embryo donors also have the option of making their donation anonymously, meaning they are generally not involved in choosing the adoptive family they are matched with and do not meet or exchange identifying information with the adoptive family.
  2. Agency Selection – Adopting parents will apply to work with the embryo adoption agency. These agencies facilitate the embryo adoption, coordinating legal, medical, matching and counseling services and mediating contact for the donating and adopting families. The agency a family chooses to work with can impact the embryo adoption process, costs, eligibility requirements, available services and more. It is important for adoptive families to do careful research and select the embryo adoption agency that will best meet their needs.
  3. Home Study – Just like in any other adoption, adopting parents will need to complete an adoptive home study, which evaluates their family’s readiness to raise an adopted child and helps provide further education about parenting adopted children.
  4. Matching – When they are ready to begin the adoption process, prospective parents will be asked to provide information about themselves and the types of donated families they are interested in. Donors will similarly provide information about themselves, including their medical history, and the types of adopting families they desire for their embryos. Age, race, income, religion, existing children and desire for future contact are some of the factors parents might consider when selecting the types of families they’d like to be matched with. Families who match each other’s criteria will then receive profiles from matching donor/adopting families that they can choose from. If the families select each other and both agree to the match, they will move forward with the process together.
  5. Legal Contracts – The adoptive and donating parents will then complete legal contracts to transfer custody of the embryos. The donating parents will relinquish all rights to the embryos prior to the embryo transfer, and the contracts will give adoptive parents complete control over the pregnancy and parental rights when the child is born.
  6. Embryo Transfer – Once contracts are signed, the medical procedures may begin. The adoptive mother will likely receive fertility treatments to prepare her for the frozen embryo transfer (FET), which is a procedure very similar to IVF.

After the embryos are transferred, a pregnancy will hopefully be confirmed, and the adoptive mother will begin receiving prenatal care as she would for any other pregnancy.

The entire embryo adoption process typically takes at least a year to complete. The exact length of time will vary based on many factors, including the adoption agency the family chooses to work with, the requirements they specified for the donor parents, the quality of embryos they require, and more. Families interested in embryo adoption should contact different embryo adoption agencies and fertility clinic to learn more about estimated wait times for their specific circumstances.

Just as in infant adoption, embryo adoption does not end with the placement or birth of the baby. Adoption is a lifelong process that presents unique benefits and challenges for adopted children and their parents long after their family is formed.

Embryo Adoption vs. Infant Adoption

While the embryo adoption process involves many of the same steps as infant adoption — such as the matching process and adoption home study — there are some differences adoptive parents should take into account when deciding which form of adoption is right for them.

The biggest difference between adopting an embryo and adopting an infant is the pregnancy experience. Parents who choose embryo adoption carry and deliver their adopted child themselves, whereas parents pursuing traditional domestic infant adoption rely on the baby’s birth mother to carry and deliver the baby before she relinquishes her parental rights.

Because the adoptive mother carries the child herself, adoptive parents often feel a greater sense of control in embryo adoption. One of the benefits of this form of adoption is the peace of mind parents have knowing their child received proper prenatal care. In addition, adopting parents have legal rights and responsibility for the embryos prior to birth, eliminating the chance that the birth mother could change her mind and decide to parent her child.

While there are some definite advantages of embryo adoption, there are still some associated challenges that adoptive parents should consider. There is no guarantee that the frozen embryo adoption will result in a live birth — in fact, there is a 35 percent chance of success in a frozen embryo adoption. This could mean that adoptive parents may have to attempt embryo adoption more than once, sometimes with different embryo donors. Depending on the agency the adoptive family is working with, they may be charged additional fees for multiple matches and attempts.

In addition, embryo adoption involves medical procedures and fertility treatments for the adoptive mother. Many parents choose adoption as an alternative to these procedures after they have already been subjected to multiple unsuccessful attempts at these types of fertility treatments.

These are just some of the general embryo adoption pros and cons as they compare to infant adoption. It is up to each individual to decide what is best for them and their family when they make the decision to adopt.

How Much Does Embryo Adoption Cost?

There are many options available to hopeful parents seeking to grow their families. For these parents, one major consideration when choosing their path to parenthood is cost.

The cost of embryo adoption varies greatly depending on the adoptive family’s specific circumstances and the agency they work with. On average, embryo adoption costs between $10,000 and $15,000. This covers all costs associated with the adoption, including:

  • Agency fees
  • Legal fees
  • Embryo shipping
  • Matching services
  • Medical screening
  • Counseling
  • Home study fees
  • Frozen embryo transfer

The cost of embryo adoption is generally less than the expenses associated with international adoption and domestic infant adoption because birth parent living expenses and travel costs are not involved. However, these costs can quickly increase if multiple treatments are required.

To get a more accurate estimate of the costs for your embryo adoption, contact the embryo adoption agencies you are considering working with to discuss your specific needs and circumstances.

Final Thoughts

Embryo adoption is fairly new, and embryo adoption law is still fairly unsettled. Just as other forms of adoption have changed drastically over time, embryo adoption is expected to continue to grow and evolve as reproductive medicine and laws continue to change. Adoptive parents should weigh all of their options and do careful research before deciding how they want to grow their families.
If you are struggling to decide between embryo adoption and domestic infant adoption, our adoption specialists are always available to speak with you one-on-one and answer your adoption questions.