By freezing embryos, couples try to utilize fertility while delaying parenthood

By Gillian E. St. Lawrence
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When we married in 2001, my husband and I thought about having children someday. It was very important to us, though, that we first be financially stable enough to support them and give them plenty of parenting time.

We were aware of our biological clocks -- who isn't? But before we knew it, we'd been happily married for eight years. I was 30, he was 32, and we still were not ready to be parents. Knowing that time was running out, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably would not have children.

Then we found another option: a way to postpone parenthood without risking the higher miscarriage and genetic disorder rates that occur in babies conceived from parents older than 35.

We did this by undergoing in vitro fertilization and freezing our embryos.

Most couples resort to in vitro only after years of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, a process I think of as Desperation IVF. Instead, we chose to preserve the advantage of our current youth and fertility. I call it Preservation IVF.

Ironically, we came to this solution because we had given up on having a child. Since I wasn't going to be using my own eggs, I started looking into donating them to infertile women, and in the course of my research I learned a lot about the infertility industry: for instance, that it's usual for women undergoing conventional IVF to take extra hormones and undergo enough egg retrievals to produce several blastocysts, the five- or six-day-old embryos that are sufficiently developed to be implanted in the uterus. One or more blastocysts are implanted "fresh," and the rest are frozen for future attempted pregnancies. So many embryos have been produced that way that today, about 25 percent of all babies born from IVF techniques come from frozen embryos. I also learned that the younger the parents are when they produce the eggs and sperm involved in any conception, whether in the womb or in vitro, the better the chance of a healthy baby.

At some point in my research, it occurred to me: My husband and I could create embryos, freeze them and, essentially, donate them to our future selves.

The quest

I knew that IVF clinics had the ability to help us with this. They just had to think outside the box a little. So, early in 2009, I began my quest.

First, I looked online for clinics that did embryo freezing. Then I called them up and said, "I am 30 and my husband is 32, and we don't have any fertility problems, but we are wondering if your clinic would do IVF for us so we can create embryos and just freeze them; just skip the part where you transfer the fresh embryo into the uterus. We don't want to use any of them right now, but we want to save them for later."

Some doctors seemed to think I was crazy. ("Why don't you just wait a couple years and get pregnant at 32?" one said.) But others were encouraging, even applauding us for being proactive. ("If more couples thought like you," said one infertility specialist, "I'd be out of a job.")

Once we found some cooperative clinics, we asked questions and did more research.

First, we considered IVF in general: Would it produce a baby as healthy as one conceived naturally?

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