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Why Embryo Adoption Was the Best Option for This Family

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

Yes, it's possible to adopt embryos — one family shares their story

After five years of infertility, Leanna and Jeff Landry’s lives were changed in 30 minutes. In that short time, the wife and husband found out they were candidates for embryo adoption and were in possession of six embryos.

For people unable to conceive naturally but who want to become parents, we tend to think there are two options: going through fertility treatments or adopting a child. But there’s also embryo adoption — a lesser-known but increasingly popular way of starting a family.

Embryo adoption isn’t for everyone, though: Some infertility stems from the fact that someone with a uterus isn’t able to carry a pregnancy to term, in which case embryo adoption wouldn’t work either. But for someone like Leanna, who had complications with endometriosis (initially misdiagnosed as polycystic ovarian syndrome) leaving her unable to conceive but able to become pregnant, embryo adoption seemed like the perfect solution.

Here’s how it works:

When people create embryos via in vitro fertilization, sometimes there are leftover embryos that are not implanted in a uterus. Traditionally, the options for those embryos are paying for storage to continue to freeze them indefinitely, donating them for research purposes or destroying them. But there’s another route: putting the leftover embryos up for adoption.

Once an individual or couple has been approved for embryo adoption, the process that follows is the same as after traditional IVF. The embryos are implanted in the person with a uterus, who then gestates and gives birth. The resulting baby is not genetically related, but the mother does have the experience of pregnancy and childbirth.

After five years of looking into options, Leanna came across a video on embryo adoption and knew right away this would be the right choice for them.

“It just fell into our laps, which was amazing,” Jeff says. “It all unfolded from there — an amazing cascade of fortune that led us to it.”

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The first donor profile Leanna and Jeff reviewed had biracial embryos (white male/black female), matching their own family dynamic. The couple left the meeting having adopted six embryos.

“In that moment, we considered ourselves parents,” Leanna says.

Leanna and Jeff’s story is featured in an episode of Family Portrait on PeopleTV – Time Inc.’s free streaming network. Each installment of the show provides a glimpse into the lives of diverse families across the country, putting the stereotype of the “typical American family” to rest.

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“I was born on this Earth to be a mother,” Leanna says in the video. “And I was really ready for us to start a family, but after a year of it not happening, that’s when we started to talk to doctors.”

Leanna is adopted, and adoption was always on the table for her and Jeff. But as Jeff points out in the video, adopting a baby is easier said than done, with many hoops to jump through, not to mention costs ranging from $20,000 to $40,000. So when they learned of embryo adoption, Leanna says for them, it was “the best of both worlds” — getting to adopt and go through the process of gestating and delivering their child.

Also, the costs were significantly less. The Landrys paid around $5,000 for embryo adoption. Part of the reason for the reduced price is that all the costs surrounding IVF have already been paid.

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Despite the promise of embryo adoption for those facing infertility, the Landrys found that many people — including medical professionals — were not familiar with it.

“The biggest thing I found is that honestly, I don’t think people understand what we’re talking about initially,” Leanna explains. “Over time, they’ve asked more questions. I think that they didn’t really wrap their heads around it and assume it’s close to IVF so most people have a puzzled look on their face but don’t always initially ask questions.”

Like a traditional adoption, embryo adoptions can be open or closed. Leanna and Jeff do not have any information on the identities of the donors aside from their medical history.

After a successful pregnancy, Leanna gave birth to their daughter Olivia three years ago — an energetic child who loves to dance.

The Landrys have taken their story public because they want other people to know about embryo adoption.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity to still feel like you’re getting to actively participate by carrying the child,” Leanna says. “I don’t think it’s as emotionally draining as some of the other options — even traditional adoption. It gave me satisfaction knowing that once we had those embryos, they were ours. There was no waiting period or someone taking their child back. It was more final and straight to the point.”

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