Cartier Masthead Final Weeks

Loss, Donation and a Chance for Happy Ever After

Callie Elward-Barrett

One of the saddest consequences of the recent statewide power outages in South Australia last year was the loss of approximately 50 embryos at Flinders Fertility Clinic when a backup generator did not power up in time to keep them sufficiently protected.

Seeing the story pop up on social media stopped my heart for a moment. We have embryos waiting to be donated, stored at Repromed Fertility Clinic in Adelaide and I had not long before seen a message on Facebook telling patients not to worry as they had backup generators in case of a power cut. Had this failed?

Upon opening the article and seeing it was Flinders Fertility Clinic, I breathed a sigh of relief, immediately followed by a sense of complete anguish for the 12 poor families involved.

The devastation these families will be feeling cannot be adequately put into words. The decision to have IVF is one that many people suffering with infertility/sub-fertility do not take lightly. It took my husband and I almost 5 years to be able to put ourselves through the incredibly invasive and painful process.

Each step of the journey, from injecting your stomach every day to increase the number of eggs produced during a cycle, through waking up after surgery desperately looking to see how many eggs were retrieved, to getting updates on how many eggs survive each step of the fertilisation process. You exist in limbo, hoping with every fibre of your being that at the end of it all you will have at least one healthy, ‘viable’ embryo to implant. My understanding is that the embryos that were lost, were in fact these beautiful, viable embryos and they were waiting to be transferred into their mothers.

Each embryo was a child to the people waiting to receive them and each loss carries real grief.

To understand how much has gone into these lost embryos and how incredible they are to have survived that far, I will tell you our story.

After my egg retrieval, I woke up groggy from the general anaesthetic and quickly lifted my hand to see the number written there. 16. 16 eggs retrieved! I was ecstatic and also a little concerned as it was quite a high number and we had been warned that too many eggs could result in Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome (this did happen). But 16 eggs made me hopeful that after all of the disappointments, maybe this time we would be successful.

We overheard the doctor speaking to a couple in the cubicle next to us discussing how they had only had two eggs retrieved and one of them didn’t look so good. They were upset but determined, this was their last chance, they were her last eggs and this would be their successful cycle. We listened to their desperate tears and it compounded just how lucky we were.

Over the course of the next few days, the number of our eggs slowly dwindled. One died that first night, two more didn’t survive the initial ICSI process and on it went until by day five, there were eight little embryo warriors still alive and suitable for implantation. 50 percent didn’t make it this far. That couple next door would theoretically have one left.

We decided to have a ‘Freshy’ put in and the rest frozen. Our freshy went on to become our daughter and of the seven that were frozen, two were found to have genetic abnormalities. This is normal, and these are the ones that would generally result in early miscarriage. The rest are sitting in storage at Repromed.

So of our 16, five are left.

These five are waiting to be donated to families, whether singles, couples, same sex, whatever, so that they too can hopefully realise the wonder of becoming parents – the good and the bad of having a child.

We contacted Repromed and asked if it were possible to offer these five embryos to those affected by the losses at Flinders, maybe someone for whom this was their last chance at their own baby. They were very open to the possibility and agreed to approach Flinders on our behalf.

Unfortunately, Flinders don’t run an embryo donation program and privacy prevents them from giving details of affected families to third parties, so our embryos are still waiting to find a family through the Repromed embryo donation program. We are excited and also incredibly nervous, who knows how this might play out?

It has not been an easy decision, but we are sure that we do not want to expand our family further, for a myriad of reasons and we cannot bear the thought of the remaining embryos being ‘disposed of’. We also know firsthand the agony that exists for people suffering from infertility. If we can ease that for someone and give our embryos a chance of finding a loving family, then that works for us.

Oh and that couple in the bed next to us? They went on to have a beautiful daughter too.

If you want to follow Callie’s donation journey, click here


Callie Elward-Barrett

Callie Elward-Barrett is a self-confessed political nerd with a serious coffee habit. She has a post grad in climate change adaptation and communication and has worked in social housing and with refugees in community detention. Her alter-ego is a world travelling Personal Trainer and gym instructor, who teaches Zumba and tries to encourage a balanced approach to fitness. Callie is an IVF survivor with a 7-month-old. She writes about the not so shiny side of motherhood on her Facebook page: Mummy Needs a Wine ( More about the Author