For the hundreds of families affected by the fertility clinic malfunctions in Ohio and California, there may be a bright spot: One woman is donating her four frozen embryos — and hopes that other women will follow her lead.
Niki Schaefer, 37, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio started fertility treatment in 2008. Today, she has two children, though her road to motherhood was paved with sadness and disappointment.
"I was traumatized by the experience," she said. "It's heartbreaking, and it's completely beyond your control. Fate is in the hands of doctors and magic — and everything else it takes to have a kid."
Schaefer's son, Noah, 8, was conceived via in vitro fertilization (IVF), after trying several rounds of intrauterine insemination (IUI) and one failed round of IVF. After Noah was a little over a year old, Schaefer and her husband decided to try again. After a few failed rounds of IVF, she became pregnant with her daughter, Lane, now 6, and was left with four frozen embryos.
At the time, she was unsure of what to do with them, so Schaefer continued to pay the nearly $400 annual fee to store them at the Cleveland Clinic. Now she is donating those four frozen embryos to University Hospitals Fertility Center in Cleveland, in the hope that they might help a family now left without other options.
"It's the loss of a chance to have that family that you're trying so hard to get," Schaefer said. "People who freeze their eggs because they're getting their ovaries removed or going through chemo and can't try again ... I felt like I owed it, in a karmic way, to help those people."
While the logistics of transferring her eggs from one clinic to another are still being worked out, Schaefer is sharing her message, hoping other women will also donate their frozen eggs or embryos. Her Facebook post announcing her decision has hundreds of supportive comments.
"It feels good to have gotten a positive reaction to the post," Schaefer said. "And to help in some tangible way. It would be great to get a critical mass of eggs and embryos to help these people."
And in the interim, Schaefer offered a few words of advice for the hundreds of families struggling with the news.
"What always made me feel better (when struggling with infertility) was to try again," she said. "It is excruciating and painful, mentally and physically, but that was the answer for me. And I know that there are people who aren't going to be able to do that, and that's so sad. And that's where people like me come in."
If you're interested in donating your frozen eggs or embryos, speak to your fertility doctor about next steps.