The Dangers of "The Children I Was Meant to Have"

We have a bad habit of reaching for our phones on Sunday mornings as we lazily stay in bed just a little longer, because we can. Bryce was looking at his Google feed (which seems to be filled with terrifying COVID-related news that I've told him he can't share with me anymore because I have to hang on to the belief that at some point things will be less scary), and an article popped up: 

"The Anguish of Saying Goodbye to My 25-Year-Old Embryos," on the Today website.  

Bryce said, "Well, you don't see that headline a lot," and I started reading over his shoulder when he said, "why don't I just send this to you. I don't really want to read it." 

You don't really have to read it, either, unless you want to -- but I will tell you it filled me with a special kind of fury, once I got to the end. 

Basically, the author's piece was summed up by her tagline, "My unused embryos were recently rediscovered. I know I won't use them, but after years of struggling with infertility, how can I possibly let them go?" which was followed by a picture of her two living children when they were little. 

She went through infertility and recurring miscarriage, and had a horrible time with infertility treatments and loss in a time when it wasn't as widely discussed or supported. She became pregnant after an ectopic pregnancy took her good tube and she turned to IVF, did a couple cycles with no positive result, took a 6-month break, and then had the "best cycle of her life." She describes the pain and loss of being pregnant and wondering each moment if she'll stay that way, if she can dare to hope for a future with a real live baby in it. She does give birth to healthy baby boy and then "eventually had a second son from that same batch of embryos." 

Following this, she had an unbelievable spontaneous pregnancy, but it ended in miscarriage. She says, "This one is OK, I'm all right with this one. I ended up with two healthy, biological children when I was told I was never going to have that." And then, she relates that today her sons are in their 20s, and she received a letter from the cryobank where her 14 remaining embryos are stored, and she was shocked because she kind of forgot about them, and there was a notice that they'd forgotten to bill her for the past 17 years of storage, and she'd have to make a decision to continue to pay for the storage, donate them, or discard them. 

This is not the part that filled me with fury, but it was where we parted ways with how I could imagine her emotions and experience. 

I cannot imagine forgetting that I have 14 embryos in a freezer somewhere. I had 8 embryos in storage that haunted me for a few years, and when faced with having to pay to for long-term storage, and realizing that we'd never be able to use them ourselves, we also faced the dilemma of what to do with our frozen babylings. Ours were a little different, because we never had living children, and our embryos were not solely our own biological material -- we had two blastocysts from a cycle with my eggs and donor sperm, and 6 2PNs (two pro-nuclei, super early split) from a cycle with donor eggs and Bryce's sperm. Maybe they loomed large in our mental and emotional space because they were the only possible genetic legacy we had left, although a fractured one. We were also faced with the choices -- do we discard? Do we donate for stem cell research (not an option for us in our state, from my recollection)? Or do we donate them? There were two choices for donation -- anonymous donation where we just sort of hand them over and hope for the best but never know the outcome, or placing with an embryo adoption agency, and simultaneously try to adopt a baby while being a strange, not-remotely-the-same-but-still-odd "half-origin parent" for another couple trying to get pregnant. 

It was a very weird space to be in, but that last choice was the one we went with, because it seemed like a way to have a connection to these potential humans that had some of me, and others some of Bryce, and to give another couple a chance. Some people who knew me were concerned this meant I wasn't actually pro-choice, but I am -- it was OUR CHOICE to go through embryo adoption from the placing side, and it was OUR CHOICE to view these specific embryos as potential people, given all the effort and heartache that had gone into creating them. 

Soooo, having gone through effort to create them, and having them carry the heavy burden that they were our last opportunities to have a little bit of ourselves out in the world, we made our decision. That decision is an insanely personal one, and I know people who have chosen differently for a variety of reasons, and no matter is painful. It is hard. 

But I never have known anyone who FORGOT THEY HAD EMBRYOS IN A FREEZER SOMEWHERE. Much less fourteen of them from one "batch." 

It is hard for me to understand this mental space. Its not that I am judging it as wrong, it's just that I can't comprehend it, even as I try to imagine what it might be like to have finally built a family that you didn't think would be possible, and wanting to put that painful, dark period behind you, and so in your busyness of raising two children it slips your mind that there is a batch of probably viable embryos hanging out in a freezer until you get the storage letter. 

But, that's not where the article went horribly wrong for me. Different experiences, I can try to wrap my head around. But harmful tropes about infertility treatment outcomes? NO SIR. NO MA'AM. NO WAY. 

The callout in the article read, "When you're going through infertility, you're on a roller coaster. And it's nonstop. You keep your eyes on the prize and keep going." 

Okay, this is true. It IS a nonstop roller coaster. A roller coaster combined with a merry-go-round from hell. It IS nonstop, and you are definitely encouraged to "keep your eyes on the prize and keep going." Even to insanely unhealthy levels -- it's that "Keep going! Never ever ever give up! Eyes on the Prize!" that had me unwilling to jump off that merry-go-round even as I developed autoimmune issues that will haunt me for my whole life, and destroyed my body, and had a mental health crisis. I did not feel I could step off because MY EYES WERE ON THAT PRIZE. 

But wait, it gets worse. 

At the end of the article, she shares that her sister-in-law suggested she join a RESOLVE support group while she was dealing with the grief and loss of miscarriages and treatments that weren't resulting in healthy pregnancies. And so she joined, and THE LEADER OF THE GROUP, a SOCIAL WORKER, gives out some gems that had me growling and ruminating all morning: 

"The social worker said two important things that kept me going: one, that each of us was going to resolve our situation one way or another. And the second thing she said was that if we wanted a child, that we would all get the child that was meant for us.

That, at least, I know is true: I got two wonderful kids ... who were meant for me." 

(insert loud internal screaming here)

Okay. I was with the social worker in the first thing that she said. Yes, everyone will resolve their "situation" in one way or another. Bravo! Fantastic! There is more than one way to resolve your infertility journey! 

What I wish she said next was, "And no one way is better than another. Some of you will resolve with children, either biological or not. And some of you will make a new life without children. It is OKAY to decide when you have hit your enough. You can build a beautiful life with children, and you can build a beautiful life without children. But you will all eventually resolve." 

But no, she didn't. She said the thing about resolving, and then made it PERFECTLY CLEAR that the only way to resolve when you actually WANT children is to keep going until you get the child that is meant for you. 


This is the thinking that keeps people going and going and ruining their physical and mental and financial health for that quest of "If I stop, it means I didn't really want children badly enough. If I stop, I'll be stopping right before the CHILD THAT WAS MEANT FOR ME comes to me. I CAN'T STOP." 

It is so harmful. It is something that is put out by people who were actually able to have that child through whatever means, and who can't IMAGINE a life without children, and so they perpetuate this idea that it is terrible to give up on that child who is clearly out there for you, if you just STICK WITH IT enough to achieve that end. No matter what.

It blows my mind that this was said by a social worker, leading an infertility support group. Well, sort of. I heard a LOT of ilk like this in my own journey, including the insane (to me) idea that we have to open our hearts and minds (and uteruses) to our "Spirit Babies" who are swimming about in the ether, and all we must do is invite them to come to us with sincerity and all will be well and the children who are meant to be ours will be ours. WHAT COULD GO WRONG WITH THIS THINKING? (All I can think of is creepy spirit babies floating around, saying, "yup, let's go to this one" and evaluating potential uteruses like the Great Pumpkin, Linus shouting "nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see!") The yoga class where this imagery was used was one that I attended after my own miscarriage, and all I could think as tears wet my hair on the mat was that apparently I wasn't sincere enough as my spirit baby had revoked their invitation, and through all my IVF attempts I had been deemed "not worthy" over and over and over again. Not a good feeling. 

I realized, after reading it a second time, that this article was in the Parenting section, but I really, really wish that the media would put out more articles where people resolve without parenting and it's NOT the absolute worst-case scenario. Where someone reading that article could leave it without feeling like a big fat failure, or like they'd better sign up for the next package of IVF cycles so that they too can get "the children that are meant for them." Bryce said that that story isn't viewed as a feel-good story, but I don't see why we can't change that. I think my life IS a feel-good story, thankyouverymuch.

This article showed up in a Google Feed without that searching for "parenting" articles, and probably was targeted for Bryce because of the IVF piece, because Google is creepy. Regardless, there should at least be links to supports that don't seek to make people feel that there is only one acceptable outcome to IVF and the quest for parenthood below the article. There should be some acknowledgment that resolving without children isn't a sad sap horror story of poor persistence. 



  1. Interesting. I cannot imagine forgetting about about 14 embryos either. Although perhaps "forgetting" is maybe not quite the right word for the sounds more like she avoided the decision of what to do with the embryos until she stopped thinking about it actively. Still hard to fathom that mindset, though. In hindsight (of course) I am very grateful IVF did not work out for us as I know it would bother me a lot to have unused embryos. It is also unlikely that we would have had any, because of my lack of egg reserve, but if we had gone ahead with donor eggs, who knows. I can easily see myself as someone who keeps embryos in storage forever out of indecision (but not forgetting).

    It would have been nice if the social worker had phrased her piece of wisdom the way you suggested, to make it OK to resolve without children-at-any-cost. Although people tend to edit their memories to justify who they are in the present, so even if this social worker did say it was OK to be child-free, odds are the author wouldn't remember the conversation that way. I'm sure lots of people told me when we were TTC that it was OK to not have kids, as most of my friends never had children. I am positive my parents said so to me. But it's not something I really bring to mind anymore. I do remember that I had cultivated an appreciation of our life with one child, so that it would not be a terrible tragedy if we couldn't have a second. But again it's not something I think about much anymore, because things turned out differently. I probably only really even remember that mindset now because I blogged about the issue so much, so there is proof. I can't easily mentally edit my past so that I was forever meant to have the life I have.

    The author seems to be re-living and grappling with her trauma decades later, trying to justify it to herself and find meaning, grasping at a long ago conversation to steady herself. Honestly, I think you and Bryce have probably done a far better job of resolving and coming to terms with your experience of infertility than she ever did. A lot of people assume that having a baby or more automatically resolves all their past experiences and grief and in many or most cases, it's not remotely true.

    1. I love your perspective, thank you so much for putting so much thought into your comment! Interesting to look at it from the point of view of someone who has resolved parenting, and different trains of thought. I remember when you were thinking about being resolved as a one-child family. I loved your last sentence as well. And thanks, it's been a lot of hard work to resolve and come to terms. Interesting to think that ending your journey by having a child (or more) could mask those feelings and traumas and ethical dilemmas that need to be dealt with.

  2. I love torthĂșil's final sentence, and completely agree with it.

    I also agree with all your silent screams and frustrations. We so rarely see articles like this from those who went through IVF but resolved without children. It is maddening. Argh.

    1. Yes, Torthuil has good points for sure! And yes, SO MUCH INTERNAL SCREAMING. And then outward screaming. I wrote an email to TODAY detailing my frustrations and what could have been done to make it better, I hope they consider it even if I never hear from them. Argle blargle indeed.

  3. I read this article this weekend before reading your post. I had the EXACT SAME reactions as you. How could you forget you had frozen embryos?? All FOURTEEN of them?

    And then her description of taking a seemingly simple break from fertility treatments and then just having the perfect IVF cycle after that. That pissed me off. I am not someone who deals with IVF guilt. I know I stopped when I had to stop. But my heart ached for all of the people who question their need/decision to stop. Because her description made even me question myself. Was my perfect IVF cycle waiting for me, if I'd only taken a six month break instead of powering through all of the whole awful experiences? Oh I was pissed. It is cruel to plant more doubt in infertile people's minds.

    Then. The ending. My God. How horrifying. "We would all get the child that was meant for us?" We sure as shit DON'T!!! What an awful thing to say, what a damaging message to repeat to others. It reminds me of the terrible counselor I saw at my fertility clinic. Maybe I should go into practicing therapy for people navigating infertility and life afterward... I can't do any worse than these morons running their mouths!

    1. Oh my gosh NOOOOOOOOO! It got you! It's horrible how these stories can make you second guess choices and wonder about the What Ifs. I sucked at taking breaks. Couldn't do it. Even if I waited to do a cycle that "break" was spent on "egg boot camp" out other such prep. That last paragraph was so terrible. Absolute poisonous stuff. I would hope no one today would say such things, but unfortunately that's probably too optimistic. You would be great!

  4. Ugh, ugh, ugh!! I know some people seem to develop amnesia about what it was like in the infertility trenches when they finally have a baby -- but to completely FORGET that you had FOURTEEN EMBRYOS in storage??! Seriously??! And then that ending...!! So glad you wrote to Today to call them out on it. It's that kind of thinking that makes life difficult for the 70% of us for whom fertility treatments did not work.

  5. I am not sure how you “forget” about embryos as well, but maybe without the payment reminder? I mean, it’s also a very large number??