Embryo Adoption: How Does It Work And What Are Snowflake Babies?

Yes, You Can Adopt Embryos — Here’s What You Need To Know

April 6, 2020 Updated June 2, 2020

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Carlo Navarro/Unsplash

If you’re looking for more info on other types of adoption, you can find our guides to open, closed, baby, foster care, private, adult, international, transracialstep parent, military, single parent, Jewish, Christian, and same-sex adoption

If a person or couple want to become parents but aren’t able to do so biologically, we’re at the point where there are other ways to do so, thanks to reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF) and artificial insemination, as well as adoption. And when we think of the latter, it usually involves a scenario where parents adopt a baby or a child through a reputable adoption agency, which they then raise as their own.

While that’s one option, some individuals and couples have decided to go a different route: embryo adoption. Whether a couple is dealing with infertility, or would prefer not to give birth to their own biological child, there are a variety of reasons why people decide to go this route. If you’re wondering if this might be the best way for you to grow your family, here are some fundamental facts about embryo adoption you should know. You should also know you’re not alone in your query. In fact, according to the latest search data available to us, embryo adoption is searched for nearly 6,600 times per month.

What Is Embryo Adoption?

First things first: what is embryo adoption? In short, embryo adoption occurs when a person decides to get pregnant through IVF using an embryo donated by someone else. In other words, the embryo was created using an egg and sperm from people who are not typically biologically related to the prospective parents. These embryos are made possible because of embryo donation, in which an individual or couple made several embryos during their own IVF process, and had some leftover. There are several options for the spare embryos: donate them to research, destroy them, or donate them to other people who wanted to become parents. The babies born via embryo donation and adoption are called “snowflake babies,” given the fact that the embryos were previously frozen. 

There are two types of embryo adoption: anonymous and known donations.  In anonymous embryo donation, the donor’s clinic is responsible for matching them with a recipient, but the donor and recipient families are not made aware of each other’s identities. In known donations, on the other hand, the donor couple makes the decision to learn more about the recipients, and may even request additional information, like the embryo transfer date, whether their embryo resulted in a pregnancy, and potentially even periodic updates on the snowflake baby. The success rate of embryo adoption is slightly better than other forms of IVF — around 35 percent. In other words, adopting an embryo does not guarantee a successful pregnancy and childbirth, but your chances are no better or worse than other people or couples undergoing IVF with their own biological embryos. 

How Much Does Embryo Adoption Cost?

While some people may want to go through the traditional adoption process in order to become a parent, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars between all the various fees, making it financially out-of-reach for many. Embryo adoption, on the other hand, costs significantly less, ranging from around $2,000 to $8,000. Typically the donor person or couple isn’t responsible for any of the costs. 

The Pros and Cons of Embryo Adoption

Like any reproductive technology, there are pros and cons when it comes to embryo adoption. To begin with, embryo adoption not only gives a person or couple the chance to become parents, but also allows the future mother the ability to go through the whole pregnancy and childbirth. For some people who truly want to be pregnant, this is a huge advantage. And although embryo adoption is more costly than getting pregnant naturally, it costs less than both traditional adoption, as well as IVF.

That said, depending on your religious and political affiliations, you may want to do extra research on the clinic you decide to use as the middleman between you and the other party. Per The New York Times, embryo adoption has gotten tangled in the anti-abortion conversation in recent years and many conservative-leaning clinics/agencies may not open adoption to gay, lesbian, single, atheists or other couples, often based on religious affiliations and skewing heavily Christian.

If you’re looking to donate your embryos or are looking to adopt and your beliefs don’t fall in the same realm as these agencies, you’re not out of luck. With a little bit more research you can easily find one that fits your needs and aligns with your beliefs.

If you’re looking to learn more about a family’s experience with embryo adoption, several websites have sections that share personal success stories.