What Michelle Obama's IVF Announcement Didn't Say

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My heart goes out to Michelle Obama, who recently shared her own deeply personal experience with infertility and in vitro fertilization (IVF). Many commentators have rightly applauded Mrs. Obama for opening up about the heartbreaking reality of infertility and the decisions each couple is tasked with making.

As a man, I am in no way qualified to speak to the challenges women face each day in this area (not to mention the many men facing infertility). Nor am I qualified as a white man to speak with any expertise about the very real and troubling challenges that women of color face in so many aspects of their lives in the U.S.

There are so many ways in which our society can and must heal and do so much better.

At the same time, what many commentators haven’t noted is that IVF remains problematic for several reasons:

  • In many cases, more embryos are created than are used. Some of my Catholic friends oppose IVF under any circumstances, noting the marriage bed is the only place embryos ought to be formed. Others believe IVF is acceptable, but only so long as the total embryos formed are the exact same number that are transferred to a mother’s womb. The sad reality is that many embryos often are formed but are then either discarded or frozen, which itself can damage those embryos permanently. My own daughter is a blessing in so many ways, including because she survived this thawing process, and without our placing family, she wouldn’t be a part of our lives. Nonetheless, as I share in “Frozen, But Not Forgotten,” not all of our adopted embryos survived this process. Couples using IVF and also those planning to adopt should be aware of this.

  • Fertility clinics often don’t broadly share adoption information. IVF is one of many options available to couples seeking children. Rather than promoting expensive procedures that can be difficult on a woman’s body and result in remaining embryos, more couples should be told about existing embryos that—while the process is not clear cut or a sure thing in terms of frozen embryo survival—would ensure the best chance at life for frozen embryos. There are some extremely notable exceptions, and my wife and I are so grateful to our own clinic for helping us through the transfer and thawing process. I wish more clinics and fertility doctors would become adoption champions.

  • Policies in some countries limit embryo creation and encourage adoption. Countries such as Italy—rather than giving subsidies to encourage greater use of IVF, as some have proposed in the U.S.—have tested the notion of placing a limit on total embryos made and transferred through IVF. We don’t often think about the way proactive federal and state policies could encourage adoption of remaining embryos rather than the development of new embryos.

    Mrs. Obama’s story deserves to be told. My hope is that other couples who have been through IVF and placed their embryos for adoption—as well as adoptive dads like myself, and adoptive moms—will share their experiences, as well.

    IVF accessibility is an understandably attractive topic for the many thousands of couples facing infertility, but embryo adoption deserves a similarly public consideration.