DEAR ASK A THERAPIST: I’m struggling with embryos that I have in storage. My clinic “loaned” my husband and I anonymously donated embryos, all from the same batch. In 2018, we did a transfer, and I got pregnant on my first try. I gave birth to my sweet boy. Now I have three embryos left in storage. We are paying yearly for the storage. 

A couple of years ago, I expressed my desire to do another transfer. I was preparing myself for it and getting everything ready. I ended up with uterine issues so severe that I needed blood. I can only stop bleeding with heavy progesterone medication. Then I started having cardiac issues and was advised not to get pregnant again. I am now living with a defibrillator/pacemaker. 

All along I have expressed my desire either to destroy those three embryos or donate them back, but I wanted to know who would get them. The clinic told me they couldn’t guarantee that I could know. They would pass my information on, but that is it. I believe that it’s not fair to my son not to know his full genetic siblings. We already don’t know the people who donated these embryos to the clinic, so my son has full genetic siblings somewhere. I have put us on the Donor Sibling Registry, but we have not received a response from the full genetic siblings. I have joined various groups on Facebook and found several families on the sperm donor side. They are located in Denmark, and a couple are located in the US.

The trouble is we signed a contract with the clinic.  In the contract it says that they have first right of refusal.  I may be stuck giving them back to the clinic although the contract doesn’t say I can’t make any suggestions. I need help in how to handle this if I am left with no choices.  — RECIPIENT PARENT

DEAR RECIPIENT PARENT: I can hear the distress in your question, the utter frustration of wanting to do what you believe to be the right thing and feeling restricted to do so. 

I commend you on recognizing the importance of having options for your son. And good for you for doing the hard work to try to make it happen.  You’ve been through so much, first to try to become parents, then to have significant health risks and not be able to continue growing your family.

I understand that there are some clinics who restrict or limit a donor or recipient’s choices about to whom the embryos may go.  The focus is often on pregnancy rates and helping the most patients become parents rather than focusing on what may be the needs of the people born from these arrangements. It sounds like you signed something that is impeding your ability to make decisions you believe will be right for your son and any future children.

I absolutely recommend you seek guidance from an attorney licensed in your state and who specializes in assisted reproductive technology to have them review the documents you signed. They may be able to speak to the clinic on your behalf, or better yet, they may find the document has been misinterpreted. Please seek independent legal advice and do not rely on anyone else’s interpretation of the agreement.

Again, I support your efforts, your registration on the DSR, and your openness to have your child know genetic relatives. Wishing you all the best.


Carole LieberWilkins, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist (CA, NV, ID) in private practice. Her work has always focused on helping people build healthy families. She is a passionate educator, helping intended and recipient parents understand the unique aspects of creating a family with the help of other genetic providers (donors) and helping them to understand how to address the needs of their future children or the children they are already parenting. Carole also works with prospective donors and late-discovery donor conceived people. She is proud to work with USDCC, Donor Conceived Community, and ASRM’s Mental Health Professional Group.

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