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Grieving Lost Embryo Siblings

By Tracey Minella

January 7th, 2014 at 9:51 am


image: anankkml/


Is it common for those born through IVF to grow up to grieve their “sibling embryos” that were not born…either because they were never transferred or because they failed to survive the transfer or at some point thereafter?

As an IVF mom, I was intrigued by an article I read this week in* about a woman who grieves her lost embryo siblings. The woman complained that no one understands her overwhelming grief… including her own parents… and that there are no appropriate support groups for IVF children who feel like she does. Will my IVF children feel this way someday? Is there anything I can do to prevent that from happening?

I wonder how many IVF children suffer from this grief and guilt. If given a name, would we call it “Survivor Embryo Syndrome”? Does it occur more often in only children born through IVF…children who may be longing for a sibling? Or is it extremely rare and that’s why support groups don’t seem to exist?

There are countless grown women and men who were conceived long ago through this miracle technology and could possibly be struggling with such feelings.

These adults were conceived before today’s recommended single or double embryo transfers…probably back when four embryo transfers were the norm. Imagine being the only one out of four embryos that survived?  Wouldn’t it seem natural to often wonder “Why only me?”

Then again, sometimes all four embryos survived. In past decades, selective embryo reduction was often used in high order multiple pregnancies. A difficult and personal decision (and a controversial topic not without its own risks) selective reduction may be used to reduce the number of a high order multiple pregnancy, from quadruplets to twins or from triplets to a singleton, for example. It’s hard to imagine the conflicted feelings some of the surviving children of such cases might experience.

Why am I here and they are not?

Hopefully, IVF parents who may understandably be blinded to the plight of their lost embryos by their extreme thankfulness for the one that did survive will be mindful that their miracle may grow up with some survivor guilt issues.

If my own IVF daughter shares these feelings with me someday, I will certainly acknowledge them and help her process them in the same way we’ve always discussed how she came into this world. Age-appropriate information shared in many open discussions that always focus on our determination to have a baby and how very much we loved her even before she was born. I tell her that it was fate that she was the one we were meant to have at that given time, even if it’s sad that so many other embryos with the potential for life did not come to be. I tell her there is a reason she is here and to live her life to the fullest, use her talents, be happy, be charitable, and do good things. And if she still needed more help than I could give her, I’d encourage her to talk with a professional counselor with experience in infertility-related issues, such as Long Island IVF’s Bina Benisch, MS, RN.

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What do you think about this survivor guilt issue? How would you comfort your IVF child or what would you do to prevent them from feeling any guilt over being survivors?



photo credit: anankkml/


3 Responses to 'Grieving Lost Embryo Siblings'

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  1. This is something I always worry about explaining to Bobby!

    Jessica Upham

    7 Jan 14 at 4:54 pm

  2. admin

    13 Jan 14 at 8:54 am

  3. I always wonder, too, how Nic will feel when she really grasps this
    concept some day. At 16, she knows about IVF, but not really likely to
    have thought about her surviving, or her being among those chosen to
    transfer, or others not surviving, including her “vanishing twin”…the
    one that implanted so briefly along with her but did not develop.

    I’m not sure, but I think it might be less common for children who have
    siblings to think like this, or to obsess over it. Maybe also less
    common for boys to think like this, but that’s just my opinion. Guess
    we’ll cross the bridges when and if we get there and just love them up
    in the meantime. Tracey


    13 Jan 14 at 10:31 am

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