Inheriting IVF embryos
May 8, 2017 8:21 PM   Subscribe

We successfully underwent IVF last year, during which we signed some papers saying that if one of us died, the other would inherit the unused embryos. This has happened. I have very mixed feelings about what I should do.

I never thought I would find myself in such a sci-fi scenario, but here I am. The bill just came to store them for another year and I paid it because I'm not ready to decide; the embryos will be chromosamally the age I was when we conceived them but I'm 39, so I probably only have a few more years where my body could realistically handle a pregnancy. I am not emotionally or financially ready to do so now. But given my age, these may represent my only option for ever having a second child. So my mind has been going to the place of 'if money were no object (lottery, inheritance etc.) and I could do it on my own, would it be right to use these embryos to have a second child?'

Some relevant details...

- The infertility was male factor; my stuff was all better than fine, and our son was the result of our first try. Given that and given how many embryos we have, I'm confident it would work if I wanted to do it.

- My husband was opposed to us undergoing IVF again. He was going around telling people that was it and we were done, and I was ambivalent about that. Where we had left it was that we would let nature close the door. We would not do IVF again but if it happened naturally, so be it. Of course, we had not anticipated nature giving him cancer...

- His reasons for being done were all about things which are no longer relevant, such as the juggle of the family he has now with his job and with the demands of his health condition. If I were doing this on my own and not considering money, this would not be a factor so I'm not sure his 'wishes' on it factor in.

- That said, it does feel deeply squicky to me to bring a child of his into the world without his permission and consent. The forms do say I own the embryos now and I did sign them as did he, but that was theoretical. We never actually considered a scenario where he died and I had to consider actually creating a child without him.

- On the other hand, I really love being a mom and this might be my only chance to do it again. I'm very reluctant to close the door on that chance. But I do also feel like if I 'met' him again in the other side, would he be like 'WTF did you do?'

Ugh. Losing him has of course brought bigger grief and complication than this one thing. But here it is, one more awful detail to think about. How do I make a decision?
posted by ficbot to Science & Nature (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Obviously this is terribly crowded by grief, but assuming there is an "other side", would he not have a greater understanding of all the factors and circumstances than he had in life, in which he was not exactly appreciative that you might have feelings of your own about this?

And, in another hypothetical: what if you'd found out you were pregnant after he died? Do you really think he'd criticize you for following through?

You're alive, and you have a short amount of time probably to make this decision. Certainly put it off at least 4-6 months if you think a crisis course of therapy and thinking will help you, but it is totally within your rights and understandable if you choose to have another baby from the existing embryos.

There will never not be mixed feelings. There would be mixed feelings if he was alive, in all likelihood, and that's not the same as being wrong or a bad idea.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:31 PM on May 8 [18 favorites]


The way I see it, you loved your husband and you love his memory and you love his existing kid and you'd love his potential kid, and bringing his kid into the world would be an enormous tribute to him and to your family together. The fact that he felt, some years ago, that he was too tired and overworked to consider having another kid at that time isn't relevant to your decision. Even if it had been an ideological issue I wouldn't think you'd be bound by it; but it wasn't -- he was just tired and overworked. (Plus, if he were with you now and wasn't tired and overworked, who's to say he wouldn't have changed his mind, anyway? Heck, I remember crying to my husband to go get his tubes tied when our second was newborn because new parenthood was so hard for me; now, years later, I wish I could have another.)

It ought to be about whether you have the resources to raise another kid now. If you do, I can't think of a reason that your husband's memory should be a barrier. It should be a blessing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:33 PM on May 8 [18 favorites]


I think if you're not ready now there's no point worrying about it. Wait til you feel ready then re-assess.
posted by bleep at 8:44 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


I have half a dozen embryos on ice. We created them in a rush when my wife was about to start cancer treatment as the chemotherapy was expected to damage her fertility. As it turned out we didn't need them and got pregnant naturally in a window of good health between relapses. But as a result of this, and as a result of her ongoing health problems I've had to contend with the likelihood of a similar scenario over the last few years.

I think you should feel entirely free and happy to use the embryos to have another baby if that's what you want.

Destroying the embryos, which would follow from your husbands wishes, should be your last choice. His wishes are of course worth consideration, but as a dead person they are not equal to your wish as an alive person to have another child - and this is the only way to have a child who is a full sibling of your existing child.

If the regulatory regime in your area allows donation, then I suggest that could perhaps be your middle-ground option (I think this is what we'll end up doing with our now surplus embryos).

The embryos are yours to do with exactly as you wish.
posted by The Monkey at 8:46 PM on May 8 [16 favorites]


If you believe in afterlife and you have a particular faith, talk to someone in that religious faith for some clarity. A unitarian minister could help if you just have general spiritual beliefs, because that can help you clarify the "what do I say to him afterwards?"

I would also gently encourage you to set aside the question of your husband's wishes which seems to be a fresh way to grieve what is still an enormous loss, and think instead of you and your child as a family unit, and what it would be to be a family of you and two children, for your child to have a little brother or sister. Does that thought bring you comfort and joy, or is it something you see as not particularly necessary? Does your child already have cousins and close friends, other relatives? Do you want a sibling for your child?

And this is all stuff to definitely talk through with a therapist with experience in grief and IVF/infertility. It's a big decision, but no-one will be able to make it but you - not your husband, not his family or yours, not even your child. Only you.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:50 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


Respectfully, I would worry less about his consent. He gave it. You didn't talk about it as much as you would have liked and you're concerned that he didn't really mean his consent, but he had the opportunity to insist that the embryos be destroyed in the event of his death and instead allowed them to pass to you so that you could decide.

I am sorry to talk like this, but I would worry more about material circumstances and what that might lead to. You're concerned about money already, and I would think have a good handle on how much more financial stress a new child would add (particularly if the child has any special needs). It also strikes me -- no kids -- that your support system probably has taken a big knock. If it was you and your husband last time, this time it'll be all on you, 100\%, 24/7. Likewise, if you enlist the kids' grandparents, you're still going to be the only parent, at least initially. I recognize that if your husband had longer-term health issues that he might not have been able to help with your first child very much, so in that respect losing him might not represent much loss of support. But this just... Obviously nobody would do this on purpose, or anything like that, but it seems terribly straining and like a recipe for resenting a child. Especially one where it was your active decision to have the child instead of it just being a largely random event, and where the child might sometimes be an unwelcome reminder of your husband and his loss. My father was killed before I was born -- USAF aircraft crash -- and I picked up on flashes of this throughout my childhood; never anything really severe but still there.

Anyway, this seems like much bigger juju than an askme and the only real advice I can give is, if you're not already, make whatever use of grief counselors, whatever support groups exist for survivors with embryos, and/or elders who you can trust to be supportive but frank, and especially elders who have raised "pre-orphaned" children, that are available to you and (for stuff that costs) within your means.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:12 PM on May 8 [18 favorites]


I do also feel like if I 'met' him again in the other side, would he be like 'WTF did you do?'

Are you sure? I mean, he may not have wanted one for himself, but if you decided that this is what you want for your future, would he begrudge it to you? I think that if there is an "other side," it's one where we have easier access to selfless, compassionate love such that if you came to truly want a second child, others would understand and want it for you. Would he feel happy that he was able to give you this gift?

Your future is your own decision, but I can understand your wanting to make peace between your current desires and your jointly-held plans of before. Have you found anything that gives you the sense that you're communicating with / to him? (For me, letters helped; I've known others who go on walks or spend time at the cemetery.) Maybe you can find peace around this question that way. I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by salvia at 9:19 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I am so sorry for your loss.

Your husband gave you permission to use the embryos, and I think you should take that as given. You are the best person to judge if another child will add to your material happiness, as well as if gaining a sibling would add to the happiness of your existing child.

As I understand it the hard limits on female fertility are (mostly) to do with egg quality, not the age of the uterus. Just adding this to gently suggest that you probably have much more time than you think to make this decision, so maybe give yourself some breathing room. It is not one that I would want to make from a place of grief.
posted by arha at 9:19 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


Your husband did not want to go through IVF again, he was open to having another child. IVF is terribly, awfully draining and horrible and he had his own health issues and emotional life to deal with. He made a decision about how he wanted to spend his remaining time that seems very sensible and valid to me. But he was open to having another child, just not to putting you and him, as a couple, through IVF again. I think you'd be within his wishes to have another child in the future honestly using the embryos. That seems like it's entirely your decision at this point.
posted by fshgrl at 9:51 PM on May 8 [21 favorites]


ITA with fshgrl. I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:57 PM on May 8


You have a lot of time - I have a friend who conceived at 44 using embryos she froze 5 years earlier. The grief and loss are very new. You are doing exactly the right thing by continuing to pay for storage and giving yourself time to decide how best to honor your preferences and those of your husband. I'm so sorry for your loss. And I strongly believe that in a year or two or three you will be in a great place to make a decision about having another child.
posted by yogalemon at 11:24 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


Your husband decided that he couldn't cope with another child. Then he allowed you to have the embryos so you could make your own choice, one that doesn't affect him anymore. I would say you're ethically free and clear to make the best decision for your remaining family. I wouldn't jump into anything yet though, give yourself time.
posted by Jubey at 11:50 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]


Succinctly, I think your husband would want you to be happy, so if having a second child by him would make you happy, I think you should do so. Personally, I'd be honored if a partner did so.
posted by Candleman at 12:50 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]


I am a one and done. Yet, if we had embryos (and an artificial uterus) and I was dead, I would be looking on with happiness I think. My partner loves children, would love the family he created no matter how it got created.

I would pay for another year then see.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:59 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry for your loss.

The thing about his having passed away is that he also no longer gets to change his mind...meaning for a lot of parents, that overwhelmed feeling about family and job also eases up and people reconsider as the early years end or the freshness of memory about IVF (or other things) fades.

I deeply believe life is for the living, and that is just one reason...but there it is, too. He might have seen the desire in you and said okay, let's do this again.

I would wait 6 months and then see where you are at.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:23 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


This is sad and I'm so sorry for your loss. I can tell from reading your question how heavily you are feeling the loss of your husband, who is so present in your mind that you are having conversations with him. I think this is terribly sad and normal and I think the grief is too intense for you to make decisions about childbirth and family planning.
When I read the beginning of your post, I thought your question would be about finances and logistics of being a single parent. About the morality of if it's ok to have a baby with one parent, etc. But you're not asking about that, which I think is indicative that you're not actually considering a baby. You're actually asking about what your husband would think, which illustrates how fresh his absence must feel to you.
I think you need time to grieve and to be with your child. And I'm sure you know that and I'm sure it's scary to think about the eggs getting older, but you're not ready for a baby now (and no one would expect you to be).
Again, I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by areaperson at 5:54 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]


He would want you to be happy.
posted by mpbx at 6:04 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


The person left to be happy and to have the fullest life you can dream for yourself is you.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:38 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry for your loss.

We are also IVF veterans, as are many of our friends (are you a member of RESOLVE? Try to get into a local support group).

First of all, with any grief, the counseling is generally to give it a year before making any big, life-changing decisions.

Second, you do have time, especially as the factor was not on your side, and as you have had a healthy pregnancy and live birth.

Once you've had some time to grieve and you've had some time to be a parent, you may decide that your attachment to your child is so strong that you don't care to add another child into the mix. On the other hand, you may come to feel that a larger family is just the thing for you and your child. But it's tough to know when your emotions are all over the place.

Speaking practically, I'll share what my favorite uncle told me: "It takes one and half adults to take care of one child. By the time you have two, you're outnumbered". Now having two, his statement really does hold true at our household. So if you do end up contemplating having another child, consider with a very critical eye what your support network looks like.
posted by vignettist at 8:58 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I am so sorry for the loss suffered by you and your son.
This is a time of change and readjustment for both of you, and for your extended family. Also, one year is not enough time for your own health to stabilize back to normal. For now, no permanent decision is the best decision.

Give yourself time to grieve and move into a new relationship with your child and a new perspective of your place in the world. Be kind to yourself. It's okay to feel whatever you feel, even the confusing parts. Don't be afraid to reach out to others, including those who can give you professional guidance. This is a lot to absorb at one time.

Later, when you have some space to breathe, take another look at the physical, emotional, mental and financial space that you have made for your family. Is adding another child in that picture? You are the adult with the majority vote. Your child also has a stake in this. All others are a distance third, since they will have little or no responsibility in the outcome.

Ultimately, you can only make decisions based on the information that you currently have. Trust that you will make the decisions that are right for you and your son. There will be regret, no matter what. But have faith that your best guess will be the one that fits.
Good luck.
posted by TrishaU at 9:01 AM on May 9


You may have more than a few more years -- maybe consult with the doctor and find out? The fertility-age issue is frequently egg quality. You do not have that issue with these embryos. You can have a sonogram and whatever exam is needed to see if your body is otherwise good to go (no polyps, cysts, etc.) for another IVF cycle in the future if and when you are ready. You may not be under as much pressure time-wise to decide as you feel you are.

You've been through a lot. Give yourself space to defer a decision until you are ready.

I don't know your husband, but I'd like to believe he'd want you to do what would make you happy, squickiness be damned.
posted by *s at 1:06 PM on May 9


Warriorqueen is right; a lot of people say "I couldn't handle another kid!" and then change their mind when their current child is a bit older. You yourself said that his illness was part of his equation. And sometimes people change their minds once they understand how important something is to their partner. Things change, and his opinion might've changed, so allow yourself to be flexible and do what's best for you and your family.
posted by salvia at 11:01 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


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