Snowflake is What They Call…

Hadara Bar-Nadav

an embryo on ice. A glimmering, a beginning. A cluster of cells. People have leftover embryos from IVF. The ones not chosen. The ones they cannot let go of.

Other women can legally adopt them, can choose to reach out through snowflake websites and apply to receive the embryos and have them implanted. The women who want the snowflakes must work with an infertility clinic and pay several thousand dollars to prepare their bodies, to drug them, fool them into thinking they are pregnant already, so the embryos “stick.” As with regular IVF, there is no guarantee the women will actually become pregnant (the embryo may not stick). There is no guarantee the embryo will not “arrest” when it is thawed before implantation. There is no guarantee that the embryo is viable or that the baby will be born alive.

Still, there are these embryos–these snowflakes, promises, wishes, prayers, frozen for years in a tank through cryopreservation–whom the birth-mothers and/or birth-parents still love. Or still think about–an idea frozen, a possibility on ice. Their wishes still alive, for the time being. It costs approximately $600 per year to store a single cryopreserved embryo. As of Nov. 2020, there were over 1,000,000 frozen embryos in the United States.1

The other option besides freezing embryos is to donate them to science. Or let them die. The lab will let them “thaw” and “arrest.” This is the language of death. Of love. Of science.

If you want to adopt an embryo, you can find out about the color of the mother and/or father’s hair, eyes, and skin. You can find out what they do for a living, their athletic abilities or lack thereof, their level of education, and genetic profiles. You can find out if they believe in God. What kind of God. Most importantly, you can find out how many of their other embryos were born alive. This gives you hope that their embryos can be born alive in you.

“You can give birth to your adopted child,” says a popular snowflake website. Here comes the hard sell: the adoption is already done by the time the baby arrives. The baby is yours. You bought it. You legally own it. No one is changing her mind. There is no mind. There is only you and an idea, you and an embryo that is legally yours. This is the company website, the infertility clinic, the lawyer you will give all your money to for the promise of a baby in the shape of a snowflake. A promise that melts on the tongue.

Hadara Bar-Nadav is an NEA fellow and award-winning author of several books of poetry, among them The New Nudity and Lullaby (with Exit Sign), She is also co-author of the best-selling textbook Writing Poems, 8th ed. She is Professor of English and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.