While the San Francisco couple feels their family is now complete, they are still in a quandary over what to do with their six remaining embryos — what they call their “maybe babies.”
Every year they’re forced to weigh their options again, Gatz tells Shots, when a letter arrives from the fertility clinic. It asks whether they want to destroy the embryos, donate them for medical research, give them to another infertile couple or continue paying $800 annually to keep the embryos frozen.
“Every time we read the ‘destroy’ option on the form, my stomach does a somersault,” Gatz says. “It feels as if our future children are showing up once a year to confront us.”
The men are not alone in their ambivalence. It’s estimated that, in the United States, there are almost one million frozen embryos now in storage, a number that includes embryos reserved for research, as well as those reserved to expand families.
In a 2005 study that interviewed 58 couples who conceived through IVF and had at least one frozen embryo in storage, more than 70 percent had not yet decided — even several years after the procedure — how they would dispose of a surplus embryo. Some said they considered the embryos to be biologic tissue or a genetic or psychological “insurance policy.” Others told the researchers they thought of the embryos as living entities — “virtual children” that have interests that needed to be considered and protected.
“With the astonishing advancements in reproductive science, IVF now produces far more embryos than it did in the past,” says Dr. Anna Glezer, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco. The choices that abundance poses are very difficult for some couples, she says, “which raises the need for psychological resources, such as peer support groups for these …