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Embryo Adoption FAQs

What is embryo adoption?

Embryo adoption is a relatively new process in which couples who have frozen embryos in storage, that they do not plan on using to build their family, agree to release the embryos for transfer to an adoptive couple. The adopting family may be either known or unknown by the donating family. The intent is that the embryos will be transferred into the womb of the adoptive mother so that she and her husband may give birth to a child and be that child’s parents.

Embryo donation and adoption exist today because of an assisted reproductive technology procedure called in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The world’s first child conceived in vitro was born in Great Britain in 1978, and six years later, a technique was developed for freezing embryos. By freezing unused embryos, couples could have additional transfers at a later time without having to harvest and fertilize additional eggs. As IVF procedure success rates continued to increase, so did the number of frozen embryos.

The first embryo adoption was facilitated by Nightlight® Christian Adoption in 1998. Nightlife created the Snowflakes® Embryo Adoption Program and coined the term “Snowflakes®” in reference to embryos because they are all frozen, unique, and created by God. Read more about the very first Snowflake baby here.

As of 2012, there were approximately 500,000 frozen embryos in storage facilities across the country. When the information was released, it made people question, “What will happen with all these embryos?” The answer to this question has only a few answers; embryos can be donated to research (stem cell research), embryos can be destroyed, embryos can continue to be frozen indefinitely while families wrestle with their fate, or anonymous donation to anonymous couples if you happen to be working with one of the select clinics that offer embryo donation.

What is the difference between embryo donation and adoption?

For the purpose of this website, the term “Donation” is used to reference the act of embryo donors providing embryos to a waiting family. “Adoption” is used to reference the act of a waiting family receiving donated embryos.

What are the benefits of embryo donation?

  • Reduced Costs. Oftentimes it is lower in cost compared to traditional adoption, egg donation, or IVF.
  • Reduced Wait Times. The average time between submitting an application to receiving a donation is approximately 6 months, much shorter than the average time to receive an egg donation or complete a traditional adoption.
  • Higher Success Rates. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, embryo adoptions have a national pregnancy success rate of 43 percent and live birth rate of 35 percent.
  • Take Home Babies. Should a pregnancy result, there is no risk of failed placements or changes of heart after the birth.
  • Pregnancy & Childbirth. The adoptive mother will have the ability to control the prenatal environment and xperience the joys of pregnancy, childbirth and nursing her adopted child
  • Maternal Age Non-Applicable. If a woman is experiencing premature menopause, or another infertility condition in which her own eggs are not viable for reproductive purposes, she can still become pregnant with a donor embryo.
  • Reveres the Sanctity of Life. The discarding of embryos is ethically problematic for some individuals. Allowing these embryos to be used to help create a new life is an alternative to disposal or use in research.
  • Siblings. Often times multiple embryos are available from a donor. This can result in several genetic siblings being born from the same group of embryos. If the recipient does not use all of these embryos – they can be returned to the original donor to be re-adopted out to another family in need.
  • Medically Safe. This adoption process is regulated by the government and all appropriate disease screening is required by law to protect the recipient.
  • Legally Safe. Despite the connotations associated with the name, an embryo adoption is actually a transfer of property – not the adoption of a child. Therefore, the donating couple is not legally responsible in any way should a child be produced from the embryo.
How much does it cost to donate embryos?

Embryo Donation costs nothing to the donor. Prior to donation, it is legally within the donors rights to ask the adopting family for reimbursement of proven incurred expenses, such as fees paid to NRFA and cryopreservation storage expenses. Reimbursement must be conducted through approved legal channels. It is illegal to purchase or sell the embryos themselves.

How much does it cost to adopt embryos?

Adoption of embryos can actually cost less than a traditional adoption. While most domestic and international adoptions cost upwards of $20,000 – an embryo adoption and FET (frozen embryo transfer) can be as little as $3,000. Here is the breakdown of expenses you can expect to incur:

  • Legal Fees: A standard legal contract and processing typically runs around $500.
  • Transportation: The shipment of the embryos to your clinic usually costs $400-500.
  • Medical Expenses: $2,500. Depending on the clinic, most doctors charge an estimated flat fee of $1,000 which includes all appointments, sonograms, and the frozen embryo transfer (FET). There is usually an additional fee of $1,500 to use the labortory, embryologist, and facilities for the Embryo Transfer.
  • Medication: Depending on the medication that your doctor chooses to prescribe and your insurance coverage, your cost here can greatly vary. Typically you are prescribed Estradiol (a pill) to be taken for two weeks prior to the transfer, and progesterone (a pill, suppository, or shot) to be taken for a few weeks after the transfer. Typically, these are pretty inexpensive fertility drugs.
  • Embryos: While it is illegal for anyone to sell their embryos, it can cost $0-10,000 for you to locate your embryos depending on the method you use to find them and the reimbursement that the donor family requests. Prior to donation, it is legally within the donors rights to ask the adopting family for reimbursement of proven incurred expenses, such as fees paid to NRFA and cryopreservation storage expenses. Reimbursement must be conducted through approved legal channels.
What is involved in the frozen embryo transfer process?

The Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) process using donor embryos is the same as the FET process using your own embryos. This is referred to as Donor Frozen Embryo Transfer (DFET). The procedure can be performed during a medicated or unmedicated cycle. Some clinics prefer to do a mock cycle first to ensure that you will respond appropriately to any medications used, and that they can insert the catheter through the cervix without incident. A mock cycle is a chance to see how your body responds; no embryos are used during the simulated transfer. Once the cycle is underway, and the lining of the uterus is at an acceptable level, the embryos will be thawed and transferred. A beta pregnancy test will be done 10 – 14 days after the transfer.

What are the differences between an Open, Semi-Open, Closed or Anonymous Embryo Adoption?


  • Description: Offers direct contact between donating and adopting families on a mutually agreed upon regular basis. Full identities are known.
  • Typical Contact: Phone, email, facebook, sending holiday gifts/birthday presents, and/or occasional visits are all valid potential methods of contact.
  • Pros: Resulting child(ren) could benefit from knowing about his/her genetic background, family members, and medical history.
  • Cons: You may find close contact to be uncomfortable. This type of relationship takes time to build so sometimes finding the right match can take longer.


  • Description: Offers mediated or direct contact on a scheduled basis, though neither regular nor casual contact. At least partial identities, like first names, are known.
  • Typical Contact: Contact is sometimes mediated through an agency. Can include (but is not limited to) emails, letters, and/or pictures (typically once or twice a year at scheduled intervals).
  • Pros: Resulting child(ren) still have access to their genetic background and medical history. This type of adoption could be flexible and grow into a more open situation should both parties desire that change.
  • Cons: Mediated communication could hinder the possibility of a deeper relationship forming between the two families. In the event of a medical emergency, it may or may not be possible for the adoptive family to ask timely health related questions of the genetic family.


  • Description: Offers no ongoing contact. Donors may request notification of birth through a mediated party; however, no further information is relayed after birth. Partial identities may be known.
  • Typical Contact: Some communication may occur prior to birth. Typically no communication after birth, though some families reserve the right to communicate in the event of a medical emergency.
  • Pros: Adoptive families fully control how and when resulting child(ren) learn of their unique background.
  • Cons: Possible negative emotional toll on future children if questions concerning genetic origin and heritage cannot be answered.


  • Description: Offers no contact. Minimal details are known about donors beyond their basic characteristics provided in the profile information. No identification.
  • Typical Contact: None at all, either before or after the transfer.
  • Pros: Anonymous embryo sets are currently in high supply with low demand for them. This can accelerate the matching process and even, sometimes, cut costs. For some recipients, the great need for these children to have a chance at life is a compelling factor that overcomes the drawbacks of an anonymous relationship.
  • Cons: Possible negative emotional toll on future children when questions concerning genetic origin and heritage cannot be answered. Negligible background is provided on the genetic parents beyond basic physical characteristics.


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