Deciding what to do with our one frozen embryo

Bright blue frozen embryo with cells in the shape of a question mark


By Angela Kidd

Once a year an invoice arrives in the mail from the fertility clinic for the cost of maintaining one frozen embryo. A reminder of the heartache and hoops jumped through to bring our second child, our beautiful daughter, into the world over seven years ago.

The frozen embryo and my daughter are the only survivors of a process that yielded 26 eggs, 18 of which were successfully fertilized.

The storage facility has changed ownership and names three times since our treatments. One year I recycled the invoice without opening it, believing it to be junk mail. Bill collectors followed up for the $500 payment.

Two years ago, the amount owed for our embryo’s space in the freezer jumped to $750/yr. How did the microscopic thing somehow become $250 a year more expensive to store? I imagine its tiny locker upgraded—maybe it’s being given a space with a better view, better service or they’ve added WiFi?

This year’s bill arrived from yet another clinic I do not recognize. The logo is pink and green, in loopy, clumsy cursive, more akin to a custom monogramming business than the big business of infertility.

In years past we have avoided discussing the matter of the frozen embryo. Each year we run out of time to thoughtfully consider what to do, and I mail a check. The maintenance of potential life, it seems, is no different than deciding to renew a (very expensive) magazine subscription.

I am attached to the embryo because it is insurance. It’s the umbrella carried when there’s a chance of rain—it never rains when you have an umbrella.

My husband is attached to it because it represents his not-so-secret, tightly held hope that we might still grow our family. If IVF had not been so physically and emotionally difficult, and if I hadn’t suffered two miscarriages since the birth of our second, I might consider another child. But I am done. The loss and the physical toll on my body I’ve already experienced is all I can take. But my husband would love to try for a third, even a fourth. The frozen embryo is the illogical promise of a future child.

It is not reassuring that I have options. I can donate the embryo to another infertile couple, a process sometimes called “embryo adoption.” Though I’m not sure I could endure there being another human in the world who shares DNA with my children but who I don’t know and love.

I can donate the embryo to science, and while the progressive part of me wants to do this, I struggle with the idea of being experimented on (I do not have the same feelings about donating an organ in death).

The remaining option is to destroy it. This is the most final. The least complex.

This year when the invoice arrives in the mail it feels different. This year we can’t avoid discussing the embryo. Maybe it’s because I’ve had the miscarriages. Maybe it’s because we both recently turned 42—something about the combination of those two round numbers that feels like there’s no more space for growing our family. And so we discuss it. On our speaker phones in each of our cars after the kids are dropped off at school. Each alone with the space to process without bearing witness to the other’s emotional struggle.

I say, “There’s a big chance it wouldn’t survive the thawing process.”

“And even though it’s a ‘young’ egg, your miscarriages remind me we aren’t young,” he says.

“Even if we wanted to use it, I’m not sure how we would get it here. It’s still back in Chicago… And I’d have to go through the process of getting my body ready for a transfer… I don’t think I’m up for it.”

My husband pauses. “I guess it’s time to accept we aren’t having any more babies.”

With a decision made, what should be the easiest part of the process—dialing the fertility clinic to give our instructions—suddenly becomes the hardest. The invoice lays unfolded on my desk. It won’t lie flat, making it impossible to ignore. I look at it, but don’t move it, for days. I should let my husband call the clinic. With a decision made, this is now just a monetary decision for him. I wish the default position was that the clinic simply destroyed the frozen embryo if payment was 60 days late. I wouldn’t feel so responsible. I’d much prefer inaction to action in deciding whether to keep this tiny hope sustained in the freezer.

I pick up the invoice to scan it for the phone number to call. Then I text my husband:

“Fuck. I don’t think I can destroy it.”


Angela Kidd is a recovering attorney who lives in Minnesota with her family, which she still hasn’t put the kibosh on growing. While sorting through where her life is headed she is focusing on writing and running.  

Artwork by Chloe Trayhurn

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