'Time to let go': how I said goodbye to my frozen embryos

Photo: Supplied (Tara Ali) / iStock
Photo: Supplied (Tara Ali) / iStock 

In the end it came down to finances. A very cold motivating factor for such an emotionally charged decision.

In my darkest infertility days I could never have dreamed of the very modern scenario I found myself facing at the end of 2018: figuring out how to say goodbye to the five frozen embryos that were sitting in storage at my IVF clinic. 

There's something confronting about getting emails telling you your embryo storage fee is due. For the first two years, the payment reminders came every six months, then in 2018 my clinic changed the system so that the fees were deducted monthly, and the frequency of thinking about those embryos began to rattle me.

Every four weeks I had to question how long I was going to hang on to them … and whether it was time to let them go. 

'Enough children to fill a bus!'

I was lucky enough to have two children born via IVF. While our family of four felt complete, it's still not an easy decision to let go of your embryos.

To the outside world they were probably just a bunch of cells sitting in liquid nitrogen, but to me: a mother who shed blood, sweat and tears to get them, they represented future potential children. 

Having multiple embryos is the holy grail of IVF. I remember my fertility doctor saying 'Wow that's enough children to fill a bus!' To make it to the stage where you have even one embryo to implant means you can stop holding your breath for a moment – you're in with a chance. I had several chances. 

Sending them off

So you can see how I was reluctant to just sign the form saying my clinic could let my precious embryos be discarded. Even though I was over-the-moon with two children, I questioned if I was really sure this was it. When my youngest turned 18 months I knew I couldn't justify paying the embryo storage fee much longer. I gave myself a deadline of December 2018 to make a decision.

I discussed the options with the father of my children: at my clinic you are given the choice of letting the clinic discard your frozen embryos and either leaving it at that or going to pick them up after they are discarded (kind of like when people take the ashes home in an urn of a loved one). Or you can tick the box to donate them to scientific research or to donate them to another couple to give them the chance to have a child, a process that involves intense counselling over the social, legal and emotional implications of this.

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We considered the choices carefully and decided we would let them be discarded.  

As the months ticked by I had crazy conversations with myself about these embryos. I wondered what they would look like. Who would they take after? I wondered, what if embryo 5 needs me? Do embryos have a soul? Am I their mother? Would they think I was heartless for letting them go? Where would they 'go' to, exactly? I wondered if I was being crazy.

I briefly visited a dark place a couple of times where I thought, what if something bad happens to one of our kids in the future and I want another child? Or what if I changed my mind later on and did want a third baby, and then regretted letting them go? 

I decided to talk to two friends who had had their children using IVF, and through those conversations I realised my anxieties were more around how to say goodbye to something I'd spent so many years creating: and that these 'things' were future human beings. This wasn't some craft project I'd finished that I could put away in a bottom drawer. 

I felt peaceful

When one of my friends suggested I have a private little 'goodbye' ceremony for them, to 'let them go with love', that's what I decided to do. I wrote a mental love letter to these little clusters of cells on New Year's Eve and spent some time thinking about them and reflecting on the huge journey – eight years of trying to have children – that brought them to me and then I kissed my sleeping children and went to bed (Rock n' roll mum life).

A few days later I filled out the cheerily titled 'Discard form' from the clinic, walked to the post office and dropped the letter off in the mail box with a big inhale. 

A month later I received a letter from the IVF clinic stating that on 4th February 2019 my five embryos that were in storage had been 'allowed to succumb'. I didn't feel sad. I didn't feel wistful. I felt peaceful. And so adult (who saw this coming as a kid??).

I filed the letter away, and went back to tending to my son and my daughter who were happily eating breakfast at their little white table, completely oblivious to the momentous thing that had just happened. I know how lucky I've been, and though I think of those embryos from time to time, it's with peace.

That part of my life is now done, and I'm happy to keep looking forward.