The emerging path to parenthood known as “embryo adoption” can give rise to new kinds of families, according to a recent study. Embryo adoption, which allows aspiring parents to legally adopt the frozen, embryonic byproducts of other couples’ IVF attempts, can allow donors greater control over who receives their fertilized eggs and how much contact they have with their biological children, researchers write in the journal Human Reproduction.
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Kelli and Dan Gassman told Fatherly that they participated in the study after adopting two embryos, and that they enjoy a very positive relationship with Rebecca and Chris Henderson, the biological parents of their children Aubrey, 3, and Trevor, 4. “I feel like having them in our lives is an added bonus for our children,” Gassman says. “They’re great people. I have an immense amount of respect for them. What a blessing to have Trevor and Aubrey know their genetic family.”
For the study, British researchers conducted email interviews with embryo donors and recipients involved in the United States-based Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program, part of the Nightlight Christian Adoption agency. The scientists say they were struck by the open communication between donors and recipients. “The people involved in the Snowflakes program have much more information before the pregnancy,” coauthor Lucy Frith of the University of Liverpool told Fatherly. “There’s an expectation there will be information exchanged and possibly people keeping contact after the birth.”
After conducting interviews with roughly 60 parents and donors, Frith and colleagues discovered that many had developed connections with one another. And although many participants said they started out with the understanding that contact would be minimal, they change their minds as their children matured.
In a few cases, participants like the Gassmans and Hendersons grew to become extended if unconventional families, establishing regular contact between the children and their biological parents. “This is our normal,” Rebecca Henderson, who has biological children of her own, told Fatherly. “We’re okay with letting our children know that they have a brother and a sister out there. When they’re older they can decide how their relationship goes from there.”
Frith notes that not all embryo donor processes are quite so open. Conventional embryo donation involves a clinic placing an embryo with a recipient without any input from the donor. Embryo adoption, on the other hand, allows donors to have a greater sense of agency and help select who will adopt their potential offspring. “It’s a positive that there are different types of ways to donate your embryos, and you should look into options carefully,” says Frith.
“Make sure you chose something that you are comfortable with.”