Generally speaking, I like to think I’m one of those people who can see all sides of debates. I see the shades of grey (pardon the unintended pop culture reference); I’m diplomatic. My wife might describe this tendency as “annoying” and “indecisive.” Abortion, however, is one of those few black and white areas for me. I fully and completely support the right to choose, and believe that abortion should be safe and legal. This isn’t a story about abortion, but trust me, this is relevant.
Even when pregnant, with a very much-intended pregnancy requiring thousands of dollars and daily drug injections, I referred to the being I was gestating, now known as my daughter, as the fetus. Although I was blessed with a relatively comfortable, easy pregnancy, being pregnant solidified my pro-choice stance even more — no one should have to go through any of that if they don’t want to.
And yet, once a year I get a letter in the mail, and I think about three microscopic 6-cell embryos and picture them as tiny little versions of my beautiful daughter.
The aforementioned pregnancy with the thousands of dollars and drugs started in a lab, with the creation of five embryos, made from donor sperm and eggs collected from my wonderful wife. Two embryos had 8-cells (the ideal), and were squirted into my uterus, and one of those grew and grew and was born a day before her due date but the day after the Pixies show we had tickets for (thanks kid! It was a good show!). The remaining three were put in the deep freeze in case the first try didn’t work. And there they remain. Three embryos, conceived the same day as my daughter, frozen in time.
Every year, the clinic mails us a letter, giving my wife and me four options, along with the necessary forms for each. The first option is to destroy the embryos. Seriously, that’s the term they use. Destroy. I’m not entirely sure what that process looks like but I have to imagine it involves lasers.
The second option is to donate them to research. The letter assures us that no pregnancies or pod people would result from any of the research, which is comforting, I guess. The third option is to donate them to another patient at the clinic. As in, someone else would have them transferred into their uterus, and if they were successful, they’d be the proud parent of my daughter’s full sibling(s). As the paperwork (and required counseling) indicates, it’s basically adoption, except that the actual existence of the child isn’t guaranteed. One can even opt for open embryo donation!
Then there’s the fourth option. The $270 annual storage fee to keep the tiny possibilities in deep-freeze. It’s the option that doesn’t require my wife and I to actually make a decision — the option of ambivalence. It’s the one we chose when we got the paperwork for the first time a few months after our kid was born, because we were both still in newborn haze and figuring out what to make for dinner was monumental enough at the time. It’s the decision we made again this year, because the other options just don’t feel right… yet?
Donating the embryos to research or to another patient are both noble options. For some reason though, the thought of research being done on those embryos scares me. Despite everything I know and feel about biology, they’ve become maybe-babies in my mind. The decision to donate them to research or have them destroyed is essentially the same; since the research won’t result in any pregnancies, eventually the embryos would be destroyed anyway. The maybe-babies, potential full-siblings of my kid, destroyed, possibly (but probably not) with lasers.
Donating them to another patient would be wonderful in so many ways, but just doesn’t feel right to me either. That feels like a decision I’d want us to make together with our daughter, as it could mean she would have a full sibling (or three) living in the same city as us. That’s pretty huge. How will my daughter feel about her sibling popsicles? We have this really amazing book about how babies are made that totally works for our daughter’s conception, and I look forward to all the questions I can imagine her asking someday. Should we tell her about the embryos when she’s old enough to understand? If we decide to have them destroyed, will she be angry?
Complicating all of this as well is the not-even-remotely-minor issue that my wife wants another child and I do not. I’m not even sure I would want to use these particular maybe-babies if I ever change my mind on that. If we did have another go at it, I think I’d want to give my own genes a try.
So we put it off. We postpone the decision indefinitely. We dutifully write our cheque every year, and might as well write “here you go fertility clinic, here’s another couple hundred bucks because we cannot make up our damned minds” in the memo.