4 Reasons We Chose Embryo Adoption Instead of IVF

Test tube babies.

That awful phrase about sums up the extent of my [mis]understanding of IVF two years ago: IVF (who the heck knows what it actually stands for) is for people who can’t get pregnant. And it fixes it, and then they can get pregnant. Ta da, problem solved and happy ending achieved.

Ah, to be so blissfully naïve about IVF (in vitro fertilization, btws).

Two years ago, I did not understand that the woman takes significant amounts of medication (a fun combination of both oral medication and SHOTS (!!!) that she has to administer herself) to manipulate her hormones so that her ovaries release a bunch of eggs, and then she must have a procedure to retrieve those eggs. (P.S., if you’re looking for tips and tricks for painless progesterone in oil (PIO) shots, I’ve got you covered here!)

I did not understand that the man provides his sperm (yepp, you know how it’s collected) so that the eggs can be fertilized.

I did not understand that the eggs are then fertilized in a petri dish (not a test tube) to create embryos, which are then either transferred fresh into the woman’s uterus or frozen for later transfer.

I did not understand that it might not work, and that the embryos might not implant. I did not understand that the embryos that do implant still may not survive.

I did not understand that the cycle involves dozens of appointments, ultrasounds, and lab draws. The cycle may get cancelled if the uterine lining does not respond appropriately. Or if the ovaries are overstimulated. Or if the eggs don’t fertilize. Or if there aren’t enough eggs. (If you’re curious about all the reasons the cycle may get cancelled, here you go.)

I did not understand that IVF costs anywhere between $10,000-$18,000 per cycle. And that recent reports state that pregnancy was achieved in an average of only 27.3% of all cycles.

But I do now.

Setting Lines

See, as a pregnancy becomes more elusive, you start drawing these “lines” in terms of fertility treatments. We’ll do this, but we won’t do that.

Honestly, it’s a bit like setting courtship rules for your fertility.

And you set those “lines,” saying, “No way—we won’t ever do that” based on some sort of principle or conviction that you have. But, in your head, you also think you won’t ever need to do that.

And then you come up on those lines.

Nothing else has worked so far, and you’re running out of options. You just saw yet another Instagram pregnancy announcement. Your coworker asked you with naïve excitement when you’re thinking about having kids, and she encouraged you to not wait because she’s never known a love like she has for her baby. And the always-well-timed church baby dedications have reminded you, once again, that your arms are empty.

Soon, the lines you set start to look more dashed than solid. Maybe you should move the lines.

To make this more concrete, I’ll share some of Brian’s and my lines.

In Part 1 of our infertility story, I shared that after stopping birth control, I wasn’t ovulating. My OBGYN prescribed medication to stimulate ovulation.

Brian and I prayed about it and, ultimately, we both felt comfortable with me taking fertility medication because doing so was to correct a misfunction in my body. My body was supposed to ovulate, and it wasn’t doing that. The medication helped all my hormones and systems to work properly again.

As we began to sift through options and what next steps might look like if the medication didn’t help us conceive, we returned to the same rationale.

Now, let me preface what I’m about to say next with this: fertility journeys are intensely personal. Very few things about infertility are black and white; there are a lot of shades of grey. I believe that each couple must intentionally and relentlessly seek the Lord’s wisdom in their decisions, and I believe that to be disobedient to what the Lord reveals is sin. Plain and simple.

But I do not believe that God guides each couple in the same way. I do not believe He writes the same stories or the same outcomes for every couple. And so, in the case of fertility treatments, I don’t believe it’s as simple as saying “going this route is wrong, and going this route is right.”

For us, personally, our conviction became that we wanted to pursue only those fertility treatments that would help our bodies to function optimally and increase our chances of conception. We felt strongly convicted early on that we did not want to remove the marriage bed from the equation of conception.

And therefore, we agreed very early on that we did not want to pursue IUI (intrauterine insemination) or IVF.

Again, please hear my heart. I am not drawing an objective line with which fertility treatments are either right or wrong. But this was something God placed on our hearts for our story, and we simply knew it wasn’t going to be right for us. And to be fair, our reasons weren’t all pious. IVF seemed too complicated, too expensive, and frankly—too scary.

And so we held firm to that decision for over a year.

But then we sat in that cold, white doctor’s office and we learned we would have no chance of conceiving naturally. My brain and my heart wanted to make sense of this utter devastation; I wanted a solution. I wanted a baby.

IVF flashed in my mind, and our doctor started explaining it—way too quickly, btw—as our only option to conceive a genetic child (and, to be precise, not only would we need IVF, but we’d need IVF with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) because of the low sperm count).

Were we willing to compromise on what we knew God had put on our hearts? If this was the only way, didn’t we have to?

As I share in Part 3 of our infertility story, another thought also flashed in my mind as our doctor explained IVF: embryo adoption. It was then that I cut her off and told her we weren’t interested in pursuing IVF.

So, why did we choose embryo adoption instead of IVF? Aren’t they similar in process, cost, medication, separation from the marriage bed, etc.?


So why? Read on to learn the four main reasons we chose embryo adoption over IVF.

4 Reasons We Chose Embryo Adoption Instead of IVF

1. Surrender.

We knew deep in our souls what God had revealed to us. But we wanted a baby.

He placed within us this uneasy, unsettled feeling when we would think about IVF. But we wanted a baby.

From the very beginning, there were myriad reasons we knew IVF wasn’t the right path for us. But.we.wanted.a.baby.

So, we had a choice. Trust God to work in His way, in His time… or do it our way.

There’s one thing I’ve heard God whisper to my heart over and over again during this journey. It’s a seemingly simple question, and yet, as I try to answer it honestly, the many broken areas of my heart are exposed: “Do you trust me?”

I love the way Susan Radulovacki talks about this in her book, Pregnant with Hope:

“At some point, the lack of forward progress becomes unbearable. Couples face a choice. They can sacrifice their dream…or their faith in a loving, responsive God…or their (illusion of) control. … [For some couples, their] infertile faith cannot find sufficient hope in God’s promises, or sufficient evidence in their experience thus far, to trust Him. Instead, they elect to trust the worldly success formula that equates results with effort, and good outcomes with control [emphasis added].

Susan Radulovacki, Pregnant with Hope

I’ve done enough things my own way to know that God’s ways are always better—even when I don’t see it or feel it. And so we chose to let go.

To “…let the illusion of control ‘die’, and to entrust the dream to God, the dream-giver. This is the ultimate letting go. It is willful denial of self, combined with intentional faith in God’s faithfulness. It is unclenching the fists that have clung to the dream and turning our palms upward in faithful supplication.” (Radulovacki, p. 57)

That’s what we chose. To surrender our dream—our babies—to the God who only gives us His best. We have to believe that God writes a better story than we ever could.

2. Redemption.

There are somewhere between 700,000 and 1,000,000 frozen embryos in the US. Let that sink in.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of frozen humans, waiting for a family and for the chance to become all God created them to be.

We have an open heart for parenting, an open home, and—due to our struggle with infertility—an open womb. (Now you see where the blog title comes from? 😉) In essence, we have the unique conditions that are needed to give these embryos a chance at life.

And in doing so, we can see God’s beautiful heart of redemption in both sides of this story: He is redeeming our infertility, and He is redeeming the life potential of these embryos frozen at their most vulnerable stage.

The God we serve moves us from brokenness to healing, from despair to hope, and from death to life. And we are seeing so much of that in embryo adoption.

3. Adoption.

It is clear throughout Scripture that God has a heart for orphans.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Jm. 1:27 ESV

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
    this is God, whose dwelling is holy.

Ps. 68:5 NLT

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.

Deut. 10:18 NIV

These are just a few verses of many. So why is God so concerned with orphans (and widows, foreigners, and the poor/needy)? Why do they have such specific mentions in Scripture?

Because to love these people is to love sacrificially. It’s to love with a heart that is only concerned about what we can give and not what we can get.

It’s to love as Jesus loved us.

We have nothing to offer our Father God (Jn. 15:5). We bring nothing to the table. Every single one of us has fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

And yet Jesus, our divine Creator King, in His unthinkable love for us—though we could offer Him nothing in return—emptied Himself on the cross, humbling himself to the point of a humiliating, excruciatingly painful death to save us so that we could spend forever with Him, enjoying His goodness in abundance.  

We who were once orphans in our affliction, through no effort of our own, have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High King (Eph. 1:5).

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God [emphasis added].

Jn. 1:12-13 ESV

And since we are his true children, we qualify to share all his treasures, for indeed, we are heirs of God himself. And since we are joined to Christ, we also inherit all that he is and all that he has. We will experience being co-glorified with him provided that we accept his sufferings as our own.

Rom. 8:17 TPT

COME ON! Those verses make me want to shout and dance around with joy!

Adopting children here on this earth is a beautiful picture of our own adoption as children of God. And although these embryos haven’t been abandoned by their genetic parents, they have been frozen at the earliest and most vulnerable stage of life. And now, they need a home and a womb and a family. And we can be that family.

It’s messy. It’s not easy. But God did it anyway. And so we’re doing it too, with boldness and confidence, knowing that He will equip us and sustain us as we follow Him.

(A note: We did prayerfully consider fostering or traditional adoption. But, as I’ve said, everyone’s story is different. We did not feel that was the door God was opening for us at this time. You can read more on this decision in FAQ: Embryo Adoption.)

4. Medical benefits/advantages.

The final reason we decided to pursue embryo adoption instead of IVF was the many medical benefits/advantages I learned about when comparing the two. Although they are similar in process, there are still quite a few differences as these embryos have already been created by another family.

  • Fewer medications: I will be taking a lot less medication than if we were doing IVF. The exact medication protocols will vary, but women going through IVF must prepare for the egg retrieval in addition to the transfer. Those are two separate processes with two different sets of medication.

    The egg retrieval process will likely involve, at minimum, a mix of injectable hormones to increase egg development (gonadotropins), an injection of hCG to trigger the release of eggs, and doxycycline to decrease chances of bacterial infection.

    Embryo adoption skips all of that since the embryos have already been created. There is still a fair amount of medication to prepare for the frozen embryo transfer (both oral and injectable), but that part is consistent in either IVF or embryo adoption. (You can read more about the medications involved in this post where I tell the story of our first appointment with the NEDC, or here where I share our tips and tricks for painless progesterone in oil shots!)
  • Easier on my body: Embryo adoption will generally be easier on my body than IVF would be. I am making no official medical statements here, but increased medications and procedures typically increase the risk for side effects and complications. There are more steps, more medications, and more things that could go wrong.

    Please hear me: I’m not saying something will always go wrong in IVF, and I’m not saying that everything will always go right in embryo adoption. Absolutely not. This is NOT medical advice. Please talk with your doctor(s) as you decide what’s right for you.

    As we considered my health and safety as well as the health and safety of our future babies, embryo adoption was a better choice for us.
  • Eliminating the known risk of passing along a genetic condition: As I’ve mentioned, the reason for Brian’s low sperm count is likely a genetic mutation. (Probably a Y chromosome microdeletion, though we have not had the genetic testing to confirm.) If it is indeed a genetic mutation, he would pass it onto a biological son. As we prayerfully considered our options, Brian was very concerned about that. We struggled with knowing that we would pass this on to a son who would then have to carry the same burden and discuss it with any potential marriage partner.
  • Cost: Embryo adoption and IVF are both expensive. Period. And for a lot of people (myself included), medical insurance does not cover IVF or embryo adoption costs. However, embryo adoption tends to be less expensive.

    For IVF, the average cost for one (ONE!) cycle is around $10,000-18,000. And for us, we would have needed IVF with ICSI each cycle, which would have added another $2,000 to the price tag.

    The average cost for embryo adoption is around $12,000-$15,000. And, to return for siblings, there are a few costs we won’t have to repeat. (There are many that we will have to repeat, but repeat costs for siblings are consistent in IVF as well).

    Since Oct. 2019, we spent around $14,000 on embryo adoption costs (including more variable costs like travel expenses, medications, home study fees, open adoption mediation fees, cycle monitoring fees, etc.). This is about what we expected to spend. We were blessed enough to get pregnant with our first transfer attempt, but we know there will be some repeat costs as we hope to return for sibling transfer attempts. So, not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but not as expensive as IVF.

    (P.S. If you’re interested, we do still have a GoFundMe available if you’d like to contribute to our embryo adoption! Though we are pregnant with our first now, we will still incur new costs for sibling transfer attempts.)
  • Embryo Creation Dilemma: As we learned more about the IVF process, we strongly felt that God wanted us to adopt embryos that have already been created rather than to create our own. Again, this is a very personal decision. We think it’s really important for couples to be discerning about the number of embryos created and transferred so as to always value and promote life, and while some doctors may be agreeable to this discernment, other doctors may solely be focused on giving couples the best chance at a successful pregnancy without regard to what will happen to poorer quality embryos or to any unused embryos when the couple decides their family is complete. Although that’s understandable from the doctor’s perspective, these are difficult conversations and practices to navigate. So, for us, we knew that God had laid it on our heart to give existing embryos a chance at life, and we are excited to see these little lives become all God has created them to be.

    To this end, we have been so encouraged by the spirit and the heart of the folks at the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC). The compassion and care with which they treat patients—donors, recipients, and embryos alike—is incredible. They demonstrate the highest value of life for these embryos in their practices, and we are so thankful for that.

As I’ve shared many times throughout the post, infertility and the decisions surrounding it are intensely personal. Not everyone will feel the same way or arrive at the same conclusions, and that is okay. This is my story; it doesn’t have to be yours.

As followers of Jesus, what is most critical is that we “walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:8-10 ESV).

Seek the all-knowing God in your decisions. Trust in Him with all your heart—not your own understanding (Prov. 3:5). And as you do, He will guide you, and you can walk confidently in His way, knowing He prepared this story beforehand just for you (Eph. 2:10).

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Dawn Mellott

    I am happy to hear that IVF is so much cheaper than when we were given that option. That will open it up as an option for so many people. I would love to hear more about why you chose the TN agency. Are there no closer options? Do they acquire their embryos in a certain way? Happy to hear that some are planned to be adopted as I know so many are abandoned. Those extra embryos, the success rate, and the cost are the reasons we made the choice we did. Praying for you both.

  2. Susan Radulovacki

    I’m so glad that a book I wrote years ago continues to speak to people as they make their way through the infertility journey. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your story. God is glorified by your willingness to let people into your struggle — because your choice to trust Him enables them to see that that’s a choice they could make, too. Thank you for your courage, your candor, and your compelling witness. I cannot wait to hear how your story unfolds!!

    1. Jenna Bieber

      Wow, thank you so much! 🙂 Your book was an amazing help to me–especially early in our journey when SO much was unknown–and it continues to be a beautiful resource to which I refer often. Thank YOU for writing and for helping so many couples like us to realize they are not alone, they are not forgotten, and God is working for their good and His glory!

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