The Reality of Donor Embryos’ Medical Backgrounds

When considering embryo adoption or donation, one of the first things recipient families will be asked to consider is their openness regarding the medical and health history of the embryo donors.

All of the sudden, something you may not have given much thought to in your family building journey moves to center stage.

A medical background (or health history) is a record of an individual’s health. It may include information about allergies, illnesses, surgeries, immunizations, and results of physical exams and tests. It may also include information about mental health, prior and current medications, and health habits.

When going through any adoption program, families are asked what medical backgrounds they would consider for the children they wish to adopt. For example, for domestic infant adoption, adoptive families may be asked if they are open to drug or alcohol use by the expectant mother while she was pregnant. Or, if the family were pursuing international adoption, what physical or psychological special needs they would be open to. The same is true for embryo adoption.

Before you start making your long list of acceptable vs. non-acceptable medical background situations, please take a moment and consider the following three realities.

1. By and large, medical histories of families donating their embryos are mild.

Placing families (or embryo donors) are frequently healthy individuals who are not prone to the scarier aspects of medical histories typically seen with other adoption programs.

For example:

  • Severe cases of mental illnesses are rare.
  • Significant histories of cancer are rare.
  • Tangible, genetically linked illnesses or conditions are rare.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse within the placing family is rare.
  • And prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol during pregnancy is non-existent!

Now, this is not to say there never was nor ever will be a placing family whose medical history is less than stellar. It is just not as common as other adoption programs. It is important you do not set your expectations and preferences too high.

2. No matter which placing family you are matched with—No matter the medical background you are provided—there will be something.

Nobody on planet Earth has a squeaky clean, perfect medical history. This includes you!

Placing families’ medical histories will include things like treatable, correctable illnesses and conditions or mild, one-off instances of anxiety or depression. Or they will note that children who were born from the embryos may have had a mild speech delay, or dyslexia, or ADHD, or a sensory disorder. (It should also be noted that these and other conditions or disorders do not have any tangible genetic link.)

If you make a long list of conditions or illnesses you and your partner are not comfortable with (and are not flexible in any matching situation), you will be facing a longer matching time. We have found that when adoptive families take medical backgrounds on a case-by-case basis, they are able to be matched more quickly.

Understand that you do not have to be open to every single placing family medical history to secure a match. Some aspects of a medical background might be just too uncomfortable for you. The advice is to remember there is no perfect placing family and that flexibility and open-mindedness is important.

3. You are provided more accurate and complete information about your potential child through an embryo adoption program.

Through the Snowflakes program, you are provided three generations of medical history from your matched placing family. Most other clinic donation programs and embryo adoption programs do not even come close to providing this much information about their available donors.

As a result, you can make more educated decisions on the medical background and health history of your future child. You can see if something is more prevalent down the family line, or if something was likely caused by environmental aspects rather than by family history. You are also able to ask the placing family some follow up questions regarding their medical history (mediated by the agency) before you agree to a match.

Another significant benefit to working with an adoption agency is the ability to receive updated information about your matched family and their medical background in the future. (This is also a benefit of having an open adoption agreement!) Having updated information and ongoing communication is very rarely possible through clinic donation due to the anonymous position of most programs.

This is the reality of the health histories for donor embryos. Keeping these in mind can help you solidify your preferences for matching.

To learn more about embryo adoption and donation, visit EmbryoAdoption.org.