Causes & Treatment

The torturous decision of what to do with remaining embryos

Eloise, in partnership with Natalie Silverman  |   5 Jul 2020


One subject you don’t hear talked about much in the TTC Community is the heartache of what to do with remaining embryos. When do you decide you’ve completed your family? With the financial clock ticking on frozen embryo storage, how do you decide what to do? Imagining these little ‘frosties’ running around as potential siblings makes the decision even harder, especially having gone through fertility help and treatment to make these precious embryos. I (Eloise) have not yet vocalised this personal conundrum myself (more to come on that). In the meantime, we wanted to chat with a leading voice in the fertility world – the wonderful Natalie Silverman, Founder and Co-host of The Fertility Podcast.

Donating to science

Making the decision to donate our frozen embryos to science was the hardest thing I have had to do in my life, so far. Even writing this is something I’ve put off, as it makes me feel numb and sad and I’ve been trying to protect myself. Yesterday my son turned five and I’m today, as I write this, heading to my fertility clinic to make a video with them, talking about this decision. I’ll be speaking to the fertility counsellor who helped us with our decision and the Director of Science about what actually happens to our precious embryos. What I am about to write might well trigger emotions in you, so please don’t read on if you are feeling vulnerable about where you’re at on your trying to conceive journey.

The thing is, I know in my heart that I wanted to have more than one more child, however this was not to be the reality. We had successful treatment in 2015 – our son Phoenix who is now five. Phoenix has been an incredible influence in our lives. He is the motivation for me to create The Fertility Podcast, which I launched once successfully pregnant after ICSI.

Over the last two years I have been struggling with the decision of what to do with our three frozen embryos whilst being immersed in the TTC (trying to conceive) community, both on and offline. Creating The Fertility Podcast has been in some ways my therapy, as I’ve been lucky to speak to a lot of people about different issues we have to face along the way in terms of infertility, yet it has also been a challenge for me to remain here through making this decision. I’ve watched people discuss having FET’s and becoming pregnant and have also talked a lot about how it feels to speak openly about secondary infertility.

So what did I do? Well, I had to seek out professional help to deal with this decision and it’s something I highly recommend if you are struggling with any of your decisions, especially this one.

Feelings of guilt

You see my husband and I are both have siblings and the guilt I have around our son not having a brother or a sister is immense. It manifests itself in different ways – the conversations I have with mums and dads at the school gates, as my son started school in September 2019. The other day, I watched a story-line on TV where two sisters in their 40’s were mourning the loss of their mother… together. I was instantly struck with sadness that Phoenix won’t have that support when the inevitable happens.

I had ‘implications counselling’ to work through the process of donating our embryos to science, after I had spoken to a fertility counsellor for about six months. She told me it was something my fertility clinic should offer me for free, so I contacted them and they said they would support me. I know every fertility clinic is different but they should ALL offer you a level of support for every decision you have to make. My husband didn’t really want to talk about anything. This has since changed, ironically. I think something has shifted with him as a result of our decision.

I don’t want to go into the reasons why we chose not to have further treatment as they are personal, but it was predominantly financial and that really does make me sad.  A friend said to me: ‘what if you just fell pregnant naturally, you’d cope, right?’ Yes, of course but that wasn’t the situation we were in.

Donating embryos feelings of guilt

Letting go

In making the decision to donate your embryos to science, you will have to accept that you will need to grieve. You will feel sad and you will cry. You will still get triggered by things you see on social media. Pregnant tummies, that you thought didn’t bother you, will once again be everywhere.

But knowing that you are doing something that could help someone else is the one saving grace in this difficult and almost impossible decision. Someone said to me I needed to be 100% before I did it, yet after two years of thinking about it I wasn’t.. but I was nearly there.  When you tell your clinic this is what you want to do, there is then paperwork, then more paperwork asking you if you are really sure. It’s heartbreaking once again. When we finally sent the letter back to the clinic, I wanted to mark the occasion with my husband.

We went to the beach and cast three white roses out to sea. Of course they came back to us, floating on a wave to say – hang on we’re still here.. So, I set them in the sand and walked away with the tears once again rolling. As I turned to look back I saw a lady with her family stop and crouch down, she was taking pictures of the flowers. Like the embryos going to science to help others, I knew that beautiful image of the roses on the sand was going to give her joy as it probably made a lovely Insta shot. It certainly did on my feed.

What’s next

Since making the decision, I have now completed my qualification as a Freedom Fertility Specialist, helping to support people better with their emotional wellbeing and mental health, by working one-on-one and in groups, teaching a brilliant formula of fertility counselling, coaching and mindset tools to help people create a daily self-care strategy – and I’m in a much stronger place.

If you are stuck about this decision and want to talk more about this issue, please do seek out support from an implications counsellor or of course you can get in touch @fertilitypoddy on Insta and Twitter. I’ll be sharing a video on my IGTV and a podcast from my visit to my fertility clinic, Bourn Hall, where I spoke to my counsellor as well as the Director of Science to give you better understanding of what ‘Donating to Science’ actually means.

You can find out more about my coaching and listen to my podcast via www.thefertilitypodcast.com to subscribe or you can listen wherever you get your podcasts.

Natalie Silverman, Founder and Co-host of The Fertility Podcast

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