Yesterday was not an easy day. I was heading to Brooklyn – (I live in Riverdale) to have lunch with a GYN to talk about Single Embryo Transfer and Micro IVF. And some very unlucky souls had a three car pile up on the West Side Highway. I sat there with a belly full of anxiety – because I was going to be very late for my practice lunch. Never a good thing. As I watch ambulances speed by me – and helicopters hover – it was hard not to laugh at myself. After all – just that morning I had written a piece for this very blog about the power of resilience and being a tree blowing with the high winds! In that moment – none of it was working so well for me.
My Blackberry beeped. It was from the Harvard Stem Cell Program where my husband and I donated our embryos very publicly. You can read all about our decision to donate our embryos to stem cell research in an articled entitled “All That Remains” on Newsweek On-Line right here. There are videos and everything featuring my entire family. This was a huge decision for us. And surprisingly emotional for me – even all these years later. After all – Spencer – my youngest who is almost 18 years old and starting college in the Fall was one of the cohort of frozen embryos that we were donating. These embryos had been around a long time.
And I finally thought it was all settled. We had done it. Found the embryos. Filled out the miles of paper work. Received counseling. Jumped through what seemed like countless hoops. And worked through the emotions – and donated our embryos. Now many months later – the wounds that I felt around my embryos – the sadness – the mixed feelings – had healed over. We had found a great decision – and we finally did it. Not easy. None of it. But it was done. At least so I thought until yesterday while I was stuck on the West Side Highway – very late for a meeting – and thinking about being a tree blowing in the wind.
One phone call changed everything. You see – The Harvard Stem Cell Program can’t use my embryos. There was a glitch in the paper work. They are sending them back to cold storage at Mount Sinai again. They can’t use them for stem cell research. And why not I wanted to know? The reason is that my embryos while they are still in storage at the hospital that I received my medical treatment the doctors are not. The doctors have moved on to build a separate practice and the lab director where my embryos are stored – cannot attest to the fact that these are in fact embryos that were created without a donor.
Really? They don’t have my records? Why don’t they have my records? Why don’t they know that these embryos were created by my eggs and my husband’s sperm? It appears that the program at Harvard won’t accept a statement from my doctors because they are no longer at this hospital. It has to be the lab director that was not there when I was a patient. This is what they call a stem cell catch 22. Do you have any idea how huge this is? How many embryos are routinely transferred to storage facilities from IVF centers everyday around this country? Are they at risk too? Is anybody advising the patients that it is possible if their doctors leave or if they embryos are transferred to a storage facility that no one may be willing to attest to how these embryos were created? Why is this so under the radar that a woman like me who spends a tremendous amount of time advocating for infertile people didn’t know?
There is a lot of talk in this country about stem cell research and embryo donation – nobody talks about how difficult and traumatic this process can actually be for the donors. I sat in traffic and cried. I couldn’t even call my husband. I couldn’t believe that after all of we went through for three months donating our embryos for stem cell research – and documenting it so that others could see the process – that we were right back where we started again.
Our embryos were making a U Turn trip back to cold storage at Mount Sinai.
For a minute I considered transferring them to my own body. This woman with a 21 year old and a 17 year old – this woman who is closer to 50 than 27 – the age I was when I conceived my first child. I just could not bear the idea of disposing of the embryos. And no – I can’t bear the idea of donating them to another couple – something that might not even be possible as no one in the lab at Mt Sinai has the paper work to prove that these are indeed my embryos created with my eggs and my husband’s sperm. No one is willing to attest to it.
How many embryos are simply not viable for anything but destruction because the system didn’t properly take care of them, document them – and advise patients of all of the ramifications of their embryos being stored in a storage facility? Apparently countless embryos.
What an incredible waste.