Thursday, December 10, 2009

From donor embryos to Ethiopia: Tales from an adoption conference

Finally, here's the what's what on the adoption conference we attended at the end of November:

There were hundreds of attendees and 90 different talks to choose from, so Will and I split up and attended some different talks throughout the day to get a sense of things.

We don't know whether we're even headed to adoption as a next step, should IVF #6 be a bust, but just in case, we wanted to arm ourselves with as much info as possible.

Here's the scoop on what we learned:

Talk #1: China's waiting child program - super long waits at this point to adopt from China unless you get a "special needs" child. "Special needs" can mean everything from cleft lip/palate to heart defect to club foot/feet to Chronic Hep B, etc. You can specify what you can deal with and wait times are reduced considerably.
What did we think? Kind of an attractive option. Since we're medical folks, we aren't intimidated by some of the medical issues (cognitive issues scare us more). Three of our nephews are half-Japanese/half-Caucasian descent so an Asian child would have cousins who look similar (and who are learning Mandarin at school), which is a plus.

Talk #2: Private domestic adoption - Listened to attorney discuss private adoption. Legalities differ from state to state, depending on where birthmom is. You place your own ads and hope for the best. You also pay birthmom's medical expenses and in some states living expenses. If she changes her mind, you're out of luck.
What did we think? Kind of scared me, honestly. After all of our losses, the idea of meeting a birthmom and getting attached to the idea that I would be able to parent the child she is carrying and then possibly having that child NOT go home with us...well, it makes me want to puke. Not sure I can do it. Somehow, although I know many people have happy stories to tell about it, this one felt really iffy to me.

Talk #3: Ethiopian adoption - Discussion by two large agencies on status of their orphanages and how their programs work. Thought wait times for this country might be less but they still hover around 2 years - unless you go the "special needs" route. Bummer.
What did we think? Things are rough enough in Ethiopia in terms of poverty and malnutrition that it would really feel like we would be making a huge impact on a child's life to adopt them from here, which appeals. Liked that the two orphanages discussed have small staff:child ratios and good nutrition. Really liked that you often get to meet the birthmom or family and can take photos, video, etc., which you could then share with child to help them understand where they came from, and that you can often stay in touch with birthmom/family sending letters/cards (no money/goods allowed). But the malnutrion/parasite/infection issues sounded alarming.

Talk #4: International adoption medical review - International adoption physician spoke about common medical and cognitive issues with international adoptees. He said that the kids have lots of physical issues (parasites, malnutrition, delayed growth and motor abilities, etc.) as well as cognitive issues (50-75% have cognitive delays). Basically, the way he put it, all international adoptees are special needs kids. So the ones labeled special needs have problems on top of problems. At the end of his talk, he said, "Most of these kids should eventually be able to hold a job as adults. And that's all you really want as a parent, really."
What did we think? Um, "holding a job" actually isn't all we hope for for our kids. Yikes! Of course, we'll love our kids no matter what but we hope for the best for them. Bottom line, this talk scared the bejeevers out of us in terms of international adoption. It was really hard to get a sense of whether we could expect our kid(s) to ever be able to approximate "catching up" over the years or how longlasting the impact of malnutrition, orphanage conditions, etc. would be. And the need for these kids is really great. No easy answers.

Talk #5: Embryo adoption - Not really "adoption" in the legal sense of the word, but this one was a talk on how to find donated embryos - supposedly there are a lot out there through various agencies and clinics. You have to do a homestudy and apparently sometimes you write an intended parent profile and the embryos' family "picks" you. Some of these are open arrangements to some degree, so that your child can know their genetic siblings. Costs are much less than donor egg, which is a plus.
What did we think? Intriguing option. Sort of cool, sort of another loss, to image that Will's genetics would no longer be a part of this. Questions about the religious/right-to-life agenda of some of the agencies. Don't want to support anything that might ultimately lead to narrowing options to women trying to conceive or deal with an unwanted pregnancy. We're Catholic, but obviously not too strictly practicing or we would never have done IVF (since it's verboten). Feel sort of excited and frightened by prospect of child knowing their genetic sibs. Also feel absolutely terrified about the gamble of adoptiong embryos (although apparently many are from donor eggs, which helps). Wouldn't the family have already used the best embryos to create their family? What if whatever is left doesn't work? We've made almost 40 embryos ourselves and have no kids. So, it's a scary prospect to gamble yet again.

So, overall, what did we learn? We learned we need to research a lot more as well as explore our own hearts to figure out where to go from here. There are many ways to adopt a child, from the blastocyst stage on up, but they involve what feels like considerable risk in terms of what that poor child may have gone through before they come to us and how that may strongly impact the person they will become. All of the options would require us to tolerate a great deal of uncertainty, which if anything as we've gone through IVF, has gotten harder for me. I feel like if I'm giving up on the idea of my genetic child, then getting a child should be an easy, straightforward process with minimal risk. But - ha! - of course, it is not. It looks to be a whole other roller coaster.

If you have any knowledge of any of these options, please chime in - the more the merrier. One thing I learned at the conference is that for me, hearing about specific situations trumps the abstract in terms of feeling more clearheaded about these options any day.

Thoughts? Experiences? Speak up!


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  1. We just brought home freakishly adorable baby twins from Ethiopia. And while every single part of me wants to say 'hey, that doc was crazy, international adoption is great, everything will be fine'... I can't. As far as we know, our babies are healthy and smart. But while we were waiting, accepting the fact that they might not be, and that really anything could go wrong, was maybe the hardest thing I've ever done. (Adn I know that technically that is true for any route to parenting, but in international adoption the odds are stacked quite differently).

    I know this is kind of obvious, but it makes such a huge difference now, when I think about all this, that these babies are our real live children, not just statistics. I've got no reason to think they will only just be able to hold down a job when they are grown, but even if that DID turn out to be true... at this point, they're my babies. And I wouldn't change them for the world.

  2. Wait, did you go to the adoption conference in NYC? I must have seen you there. Let's chat: I know something about independent placement adoption. I will also send you an email.

  3. We have had a very postitive experience with Korean adoption through the Waiting Child program. Korean has excellent medical care and does many newborn testing that US doesn't even do. Our son had a few things stacked against him at birth, but he's 16 months now and half of the issues are no longer a problem (heart murmur,etc.) Check it out. Also, our wait was 9 months from application to our son getting home.

  4. We just got the call last Friday that we have 5 embryos waiting for us! We are thrilled!. We had our first son through IVF (our own genetic material)but I am now 42 and my husband has severe male factor. It was too much of a risk for us to use our own eggs/sperm again. We actually just went back to our own clinic. They have a small ED program and we only waited 4 months to make it to #1 on the list. The eggs are from a donor and the sperm from the partner of a couple who completed their family a couple years ago. They chose to give the embryos for adoption instead of destroy them.

    I got a full history on the egg donor and the partner who donated the sperm. They are anonymous to us (which was our desire). The whole process is going to cost less than 5k. If this round does not work...(they will only implant 2 embryos at a time)...we have three others to use for a 2nd cycle and it will be less (about $3k) overall....about 1/2 the cost of a fresh IVF.

    We had been exploring Foster-adopt for some time and came to the same conclusion as just don't know what these kids were exposed to in utero, (most have some drug exposure) and then the whole..."what if we lose them?" factor was too great for us. Domestic adoption was too risky and could cost like $30k...and not really guaranteed...I can do 5-6 frozen rounds with $30k.

    As far as the genetics...for me...I don't see it being a problem. When I look at my son...I don't see his genetics or love him for that...I love him for the little guy that he is...the crazy, stinker who keeps me up too much, doesn't listen to the word "no" and gives me squeezes when I drop him at daycare. I rareley think about our genetic link...because he is his own little person and that is who I love.

    I know these are heartwrenching decisions and I know I am in a different place...I did not have to give up on the idea of a biological child....I got maybe going with embryo adoption doesn't sting for me...but I must say...I wish I had thought of this earlier....we wasted a lot of time looking at other options and now I will be 43 by the time the baby is born...not my ideal age for being a new mom again...but the miracle of modern science made something possible for me that would not have happened otherwise so the age thing is just something we deal with.

    Good luck with your decisions. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.


  5. I have no words of wisdom, but appreciate the information. We have the same concerns as you r.e. adoption.

  6. Wow, it sounds like you got a lot of great information and some of the commenters have amazing stories to share.

    Thinking of you.

  7. Check out this site:

    Click on "Read Journals" and you can find blogs/journals from many families adopting from many different countries (although mostly China) and at many stages in the adoption process (including those whose children have been home for extended times) and different circumstances (special needs, etc).

    Much of the site and the families are Christian, and while that comes across in some of their motivations, it doesn't negate their experiences.

    Some of the journals are private, but many are public.

    It might help you get some of those specific examples you're looking for.

  8. I have no advice, not having done much adoption research, but had a lot of similar concerns to you. Hope your next IVF works and gives you lots of healthy frosties too, but if not, you may well come across another option that is acceptable to you. Thanks for all the info!

  9. Hi-
    I recently came across your blog and wanted to wish you all the best on your journey. I am so sorry that you have endured so many losses and challenges. With your persistence, I know you will have your family soon.

    Although I am not a parent of an internationally adopted child, for 2 years I was a full-time nanny for a little girl who was adopted from China. There were several other girls also adopted from her orphanage who lived locally and the parents formed a tight-knit community. The kids went to Chinese language & culture class together on Saturdays. Of these dozen or so kids that I encountered on a regular basis, they were all bright, well adjusted and were developing on track physically. I often think of them as "special" in the best sense of the word... all of them so unique and wonderful.
    All the best,

  10. I also have no words of wisdom, but I really appreciate you putting all of that information out there for us to learn from!!!

  11. I've been researching embryo adoption- some of this is kinda ditto kdatyl's story though... going through an agency is not the only option. Some clinics actually have their own in house embryo adoption programs set up. No homestudy is required, and it's considerably cheaper than adoption. The embryos are donated for all sorts of reasons, the biological parents were done building their families, divorced, a death of potential parents, etc... but they do all come from infertiles, and therefore are sometimes lower quality than a "normal" couples might be. Also, you do a FET and embryos don't always survive thaw. And they don't always implant. So, there are a lot of ifs about it. With in house clinics your wait can be none at all, up to a year or more.

    While you get genetic informaiton, it is usually completely closed. I think being open and closed have their own arguments, and it truly is up to whatever each couple prefers. With using a website like Miracles Waiting, a couple who is donating can find you, and you can try to make a connection and see if it's the right match. You have to do your own legal work here, and arrange transportation- but you will know the donors, their names, and keep a connection open should you both desire it.

    Just what I've found out, we've found a clinic we are interested in doing this through with their in house program... but after my last miscarriage, and not knowing if it was because of my eggs or something else going on, we can't commit to it just yet. Waiting on further testing. It seems like a wonderful option, I'm just not personally ready for it just yet.

  12. My sister has adopted five children. Four came through foster to adopt and one from Guatemala. The three youngest were born addicted to drugs. They had some issues like reflux, one had seizures. Her son from Guatemala has a sensory disorder. But, overall were pretty healthy. Cognitively, Her six and four year old both read and write better than most 1st/2nd graders. Her 2 year old knows his alphabet and sounds. They are great kids. Granted my sister is a teacher and works hard schooling them at home each day. But, I'd say, don't let special needs or drug addicted scare you.

  13. The options are really amazing aren't they? The conference sounds like it was fantabulous! I have been through the process of assessing the options until we figured out what steps we would take. At this point, we're doing a DE cycle with one one of my best friends. Since egg quality is my issues, we're going to try this once. Otherwise, we'll be headed towards donated embryos hopefully through the miracles waiting website. I really appreciate not having to go through a homestudy to "adopt" an embryo because it seems like another way to make money. For me this is preferable to take the heartache of waiting for an adoption that might not materialize out of the picture. Just my two cents! :)

  14. Just discovered your blog today and wow, you have had a journey!

    My husband and I are in the process of a domestic adoption, though using an agency, not an attorney. Through the research we did, we thought that was the best option. Using an agency provides adoptive parents some form of protection, although, if the mom changes her mind, the process stops. That did happen to us once, but we had never met the baby, so while it hurt, it was not the heartbreaking thing it would have been had we brought the baby home.

    A word about international adoption...I am a teacher and we have several students at school that were adopted from Asian countries. They are all smart, happy and doing well. Any delay they might have had was due to lack of interactions and the language barrier. We have two friends that did the China waiting child program and their girls are doing fantastic.

    I encourage you to keep researching all your options. It is kind of fun to learn about all of it.

  15. Thanks for posting this info. While we are not yet thinking about adoption, it is good to have this take on some of the ways I could adopt. It is a shame though - off of one roller coaster, right on to another one. It always seems odd to me that adoption is so hard, when you hear about the flip of that, so many needy children.

  16. If our current pregnancy (a surrogacy) is successful, we're hoping to donate our leftover embryos. As someone else said, my understanding is that, unless you want to use an agency that requires you to go through the "adoption" process, that the process is more like a transfer of personal property than an adoption (no home studies, much simpler legal proceedings).

    I'm really hoping we can find someone who wants our embryos which are evidentally of pretty good quality.

  17. Hi Mo

    Thank you so much for posting all this info. It has really made me think. I understand what the doctor is saying about special needs, but I think many of the problems these children have can be remedied or made better by the love and attention you can give them, and of course the access to the medical care they need.

    I know of many children who came from orphanages in China who had substantial physical and/or mental issues that were non-existent a year or 2 after being with their adoptive parents. Just think you and Will are probably in the best position to give these kids the new start they need. Hugs.

  18. I have a friend IRL who has been waiting for OVER THREE YEARS to adopt from china, that is way way way long in my world.
    I love the idea of adoption, but, I am with you I could not do domestic adoption and run the risk that she changes her mind (which holy hell seems to happen ALL THE TIME).

    I would love to adopt from Ethiopia, but hate the idea that the babie have to live in an orphanage for so long, I would want to move there and be with them...

    Embryo donation, gosh, I dunno - we have 4 little embryos (good ones I think!) freezing at the clinic, and my little head keeps going back to them - do we do surrogacy again (not unless we become independently whealthy) do we actually give ye ol UOD a crack at doing what it's suppose to do, will my sister or a friend step up and offer.
    I dont know, the only answer I have is there is no way in hell I am letting anyone just thaw them out, so I want to give them a shot at life, with me or wtihout me (but, then again, if someone else got knocked up with our baby, I'd want them in my life -so us adopting out our embryos probably wouldn't happen).

  19. This kinda makes me want to punch Angelina AND Madonna. Why do they get to adopt children so easily? You know they aren't waiting for years! They act like they're doing the world a flipping favor, but seems to me like they're just taking kids off the market for those who are struggling with IF - I mean, really...they've had their own, biological kids. WTF?!

    Sorry for that rant - just feel a little pissed that it seems so difficult to adopt, especially when there are so many older kids in foster care. Too much red tape, I think...

    I wish I had something useful to say, something that would help, but I've got nothing....other than a cyber hug.

  20. I don't think anyone can tell you what to do--all of this requires many, many personal and private decisions.

    My best advice (which is ironic, considering the fact that we've failed to start our family)? Research, talk to your husband, pray, meditate, etc. You'll know in your heart what you should do.

    I wish you the best of luck in whatever you decide. Your blog is so heartwarming and sweet, even in the midst of all the pain you've suffered. You and Will definitely deserve some happiness.

  21. Wow!
    Much to ponder.
    I don't have any experience with any of the options, but I enjoyed hearing what you learned and how you felt about it.

    Your head must be spinning...

  22. That's the most I have learned about adoption. I know there is much, much more to the story and the decision, but it makes me sad that with as many unwanted children there are in this world, that adoption isn't an easier option. Good luck with everything!!

  23. Looks like a lot of people have had personal experiences with adoption. I have not, but one of my best friends adopted a baby boy from Ethiopia in 2008. He is now nearly 2 and absolutely delightful: full of joy, smart, outgoing, adorable. My friend has an older biological child and the two kids are INSEPARABLE. The trip to Ethiopia was a really nice experience for their family. They met the birth mom and stayed for several days and met the caregivers at the orphanage. I know my friends are so relieved that they did this, that they have another child, that their family is so exciting and loving. It worked out beautifully.

  24. Oh gosh.

    Assorted thoughts ...

    We were working on adopting when we conceived, and I liked the agency, which does domestic open adoptions, pretty well. If you decide you're interested in that.

    I have friends who have two daughters adopted from Ethiopia. The girls are late pre-teens and are without question two of the most delightful, thoughtful, charming children I have ever known. They amaze me and I am constantly asking their moms (sic) for parenting tips. I know, it's just one anecdote, but all I can say every time I see either one of these girls is wow. They are just that lovely and that much fun to be around and to talk with.

    I know a blogger who has 3 children conceived through donor embryos, donations that she arranged through private channels. It happens that one of the reasons she needed donor was that her DH was a cancer survivor. She's password protected (and maybe you already know her), but if you want I can put her in touch with you. I think she'd come over and get in touch with you if you are interested in learning more about that route.

  25. The properties leaves, what that

  26. So many options! It was really important to my husband to have his own biological child, though I considered adoption. BUT, I also felt like I'd been working so hard with IVF and had come so very close, that it was hard to even research other options. Like you said, "whole other rollercoaster".

    That said, I have a friend who has a beautiful little girl from China, and she had a cleft lip. She had surgery and seems fine.

    Private domestic adoptions sounds scary.

    Embryo adoption, I had no idea!

  27. All very interesting stuff.

    Suggest you check out Donation is different than embryo adoption in that you don't have to go through the home studies, etc. You still get genetics info and you can choose anonymity or not. Also, as several others said, most clinics have an in-house donation program but you have to ASK and be persistant. Most clinics do not freely divulge this info. For more info I suggest reading BWUB's blog for her success.

    Also, sounds like you've steered away from domestic adoption and to reinforce that, you must read Bon's blog The birth mother backed out at the hospital after delivery.

  28. Great post! I, too, wrote a post after going to an in'l adoption seminar at Spence-Chapin in NYC. Wooooh did I have thoughts and feelings. (It was over the summer if you wanted to go back and read it...) You did a lot of research and I could add more, but nothing the other posters haven't already. As I keep reading and I think I can add something specific, of course I will!

  29. Greetings from PA. I've been following your Blog for a while and have been hoping and praying each step of the way that you would fulfill your dreams of becoming parents. I am heartfully sorry this hasn't happened yet. I've never left a comment because while I am infertile my husband and I did not pursue IVF after we were told our chance of success was low (looking back now I think the clinic we chose was more interested in their statistics than helping us). We immediately turned to adoption to build our family and it is our personal experience that I would like to share with you (since you did ask...).

    Our two children were adopted from Kazakhstan at 7 1/2 months. They resided at a baby home (aka orphanage) from birth. Both were behind developmentally when we met them. How could they not be given their circumstances? We began our daily visits (part of the process in Kazakhstan) and the gaps quickly closed. Our children blossomed before our eyes. We have been a family a little more than 4 years and both of our children are happy, healthy and super bright. They bring us immeasurable joy and we love them like crazy. We have had such a positive experience parenting (...well mostly. lol) and with adoption that we are adopting another child from Kazakhstan.

    I really must disagree with the International adoption physician's assessment of the capabilities of children adopted internationally. Sheesh, what kind of thing is that to say?

    Well, one family's story for you to consider. I wish you all the best.


  30. Check out

    It is a website run by a lady who adopted her own two girls from China. She seems to be extremely knowledgeable about the China adoption process.

  31. Wow, you got a lot to ponder and think about, but sounds like you recieved some great information about different options.

    One thing you didn't mention is surrogacy? Traditional and/or Gestational Surrogacy. It's an option'll know the baby is in good care moreso than international adoptions, you get to be apart of the pregnancy and if you do Gestational surrogacy genetically they might be able to share with you, or your husband?

    Just some thoughts, other options you could consider.

  32. Hey there -- just realized your blog had stopped coming up on my reader for some reason, so catching up on where you are. I truly hope this cycle is it for you and you don't need to explore the adoption route further. But for what it's worth, my good friend adopted a baby boy from Korea six years ago and he is an absolute joy. Never any health issues, scary smart, most popular boy in his class, etc. etc. She didn't even have to go to Korea to get him -- picked him up at JFK airport (he was 5 mos old). I don't know if this helps you at all but the wholesale idea that all int'l adoptions are problematic is not true according to what I've seen.

    Anyway I'm thinking of you and I just wish all the best for you -- I hope your journey becomes a pregnancy one very, very soon.

  33. We must have been at the same conference. DH and I did not split up (yes, I know it was advised). This was our first toe in the water into adoption - and I walked away with a slightly better sense of how large and complicated the world of adoption is. Overall, I thought it was efficient to have a jam-packed day of information.

    Our approach was less emotional and more clinical - for now. Good luck sorting through all the information -

  34. I've never heard of home studies for embryo adoptions at the clinics I've cycled with.

    Call around? PFC in SF definitely doesn't require them. Other clinics I'd met with didn't require them either.

    You might need to be a patient there though. I waited about a year for my embryos, but when they were ready for me, I'd changed my mind. I just couldn't go through with it as I realized that it was too much of an emotional frightening decision in the end.

  35. Seems like you want the "perfect" kid with an IQ of 160, perfect health, anything else is not acceptable. You don't want a kid who can just hold down a job, you want an Einstein. Well then you should try only for a biological child since you think you guys are so smart, MD and all. You obviously must be making a lot of money and you can afford all these expensive IVF, genetic tests blah blah while these poor kids who are already born don't even have money for food. Obviously you should not be adopting because there is a small chance that you will get some kid who has a high IQ and is an overachiever and then you will not be able to identify with them. But there is no use criticizing these poor kids saying they must be dumb, bad health etc etc. Well no use is forcing you to adopt them.


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