IFLG Genetic Bereavement Managing Loss When Infertility Leaves You Unable to Carry a Genetic Child Rich Vaughn

Genetic Bereavement: Managing Loss When Infertility Leaves You Unable to Carry a Genetic Child

Worldwide, 17.5% of adults are affected by infertility, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), many of whom will find out during their fertility journey that their dreams of parenting a genetic child will never be fulfilled. While they may continue pursuing their dreams of parenthood via assisted reproductive technology (ART), they will need to use donor eggs, sperm, or embryos to create their families. Although this news can be devastating, many intended parents overlook the importance of acknowledging and mourning the genetic child they will not be able to have before exploring other methods of family building. For some intended parents, “genetic bereavement” or “genetic grief” can be all-consuming, and finding ways to work through that grief is essential.

What is Genetic Grief When Dealing with Infertility?

Genetic grief refers to the emotional response experienced by intended parents when they learn that using donor eggs, sperm, or embryos is their only option for having a child. In essence, the genetic connection to their babies that many intended parents had imagined is gone. This realization can create a deep sense of loss with feelings of sadness, anger, denial, depression, anxiety, failure, and even shame.

Intended parents also may experience fear of the unknown. Will I bond with my baby? What will I tell my child about his or her conception? Will my friends and family love this child any differently? Will I love this child as much as if I were genetically related? Am I strong enough to pursue this?

Processing all the emotions that come with genetic grief is an important part of the process. It takes time, and the emotions are not linear. They can come and go in waves and don’t subscribe to a specific order, but allowing yourself time to have the emotions is part of the healing process before moving forward on this new path to parenthood.

Letting Go

As you go through the stages of grief, there may be a need for a symbolic gesture in order to begin the healing process. Not being able to use your own DNA can feel like a huge loss, and it is important to acknowledge this loss. Health fertility specialists and grief counselors recommend symbolically “letting the genetic child go.” For some, a ceremony or ritual may help with healing and closure. This could mean writing a poem, planting a garden, donating to a charity in the genetic child’s name, journaling, a balloon release, making a necklace in their honor, or anything that feels right for you. There is no right or wrong way to let go so that you may begin the healing process. It can be as simple as allowing yourself 15 minutes a day to grieve. What is important here is that you allow yourself the space and time to grieve so that, when you are ready to move forward with your fertility journey, you have fully embraced this alternate route to parenthood.

Set Emotional Boundaries for Friends and Family

Taking time to think about and establish boundaries for family, friends, and acquaintances is also important. There will be questions, so it is important to decide who you want to tell, how much you want to tell, and when you want to tell your story.

Family members may have their own feelings about using donor eggs or sperm. Maya Maria Brown, M.A., an infertility mental health expert with a master’s in Counseling Psychology, who is also going through fertility treatments, tells Tilly that when she talked to her parents about using an egg donor, she asked them how they felt. She said, “If this works, you might feel sad that your grandchild doesn’t share a genetic link with you, and I would understand that.” She goes on to say that she was filled with relief and gratitude when her parents said to her, “Any child you have will be our grandchild, 100%. We don’t give that a second thought.”

Of course, not all who are close to you may have the same reaction and may need time to process your decision. There may be insensitive comments or questions, and you may face ignorance, as not everyone is well-informed about assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments, so decide in advance how to frame the conversation by determining how much you want to tell your friends and family. It’s natural to want to educate others, but not everyone will listen and learn. Even among those who do, there might be mixed feelings about your decisions, so setting boundaries in advance can help prepare you for and cope with any unwanted reactions.

Consider Therapy to Help with Genetic Grief

When your path to parenthood has been planned out in your head your whole life, it is not uncommon to feel a tremendous loss of control when you discover that you’ll need to take a different journey to create your family.

Many intended parents experience stress and anxiety during their fertility journey. Psychology Today states that “about 80% of patients dealing with infertility experience some emotional distress and between 30%-40% experience clinically significant depression and anxiety.” In fact, a study published in the National Library of Medicine found that women diagnosed with infertility had anxiety and depression scores equivalent to those of women diagnosed with cancer, and those undergoing cardiac and hypertension rehabilitation.

Seeking therapy is another way to help with genetic bereavement. Learning to cope with and understand your grief and the stress and anxiety that can sometimes be a part of that grief is an important aspect of healing and acceptance.

In addition to the stress and anxiety that arises from the inability to have a genetically related child, there can also be a strain on relationships and your work environment. A mental health fertility specialist can help with stress levels and be an outlet for your emotions. This is the time to talk and let out any emotions you may be having. It is also the time for you and your therapist to set up goals for dealing with grief. Psychology Today goes on to say that “giving patients an opportunity to hear themselves express their fears and hopes out loud” can be a big help in lowering stress and normalizing the new journey.

Online Support Groups Can Help with Genetic Grieving and Infertility

Bereavement can also be incredibly isolating, even with friends and family support. Online support groups can help. The reality is that coming to terms with using a donated egg, sperm, or embryo is so personal that, unless one has been through it, it is hard to fully understand the multitude of emotions. Online peer support groups can be beneficial as intended parents come together online to share experiences and receive and provide peer support.

Science Direct reports that a study in The International Journal of Nursing Studies found that online support groups offer varied types of support with mutual benefits as well as serving as a “safe haven” with diverse options for struggling individuals or couples. Most intended parents benefit from support from others who understand their fertility journeys. The study goes on to state, however, that support groups can sometimes create a herd mentality with collective negative emotions, and that credibility and misinformation may be concerns. Finding a group with rules and active moderators who enforce the rules is a good place to start. The National Infertility Association, Resolve, has a detailed list of both in-person and online support groups for infertility and loss.

Genetic bereavement is a deeply personal response to loss characterized by a complexity of emotions that can have a profound impact on intended parents. If not addressed promptly with compassion and understanding, the sense of loss created by the inability to genetically procreate can consume all aspects of daily life. While there is no time limit or one-size-fits-all pattern, taking the time to process and acknowledge the different stages of grief is key. In time, you’ll be ready to give yourself credit for the journey you have already been on and recognize that your new path to parenthood is unique to you and worth embracing.



Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015, received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension, and obtained her second Master of Science degree in Legal Studies from Loyola Law School. Peiya relocated back to her hometown, Beijing, China in 2019 and works from IFLG’s Beijing office. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University which he received in 2013, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. Luis has worked for IFLG in both Los Angeles as well as San Francisco, and is currently based in Dallas, Texas. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”


Kim has over 30 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Phone:  +1 844 400 2016

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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.

Phoebe Sadler

Fertility law attorney Phoebe Sadler has a background in family law and has been practicing exclusively in the area of assisted reproduction technology (ART) law since 2018.

Rubina Aslanyan

Rubina has an extensive background in the legal field as a paralegal in Family Law and has worked in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 2012. Her area of focus is in managing and assisting clients with surrogacy, egg donation, and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s domestic and international clients. During her spare time, Rubina enjoys spending time with her family and dog Bella, traveling and cooking.

Alexander Espinoza
Legal Assistant

Alexander joined IFLG as a legal assistant in 2019, where he manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases. Alex is bilingual in English and Spanish and has been in the legal field for 23 years. Alex is excited to join the IFLG team and pursuing his will to help others in the reproductive law process. In his spare time he loves spending time with his family and friends, being outdoors, road trips, loves music and dancing.

Cara Stecker
Senior Paralegal

After receiving her paralegal certificate in 2005, Cara began working in assisted reproductive law. During the fifteen years Cara has worked in this field, she has gained a wide range of experience and knowledge that she uses to help better assist clients and those involved in the assisted reproductive journey. Cara’s primary roles involve managing parental establishment matters and coordination with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorney network, drafting contracts and parental establishment court documents and providing support to other team members. Cara finds great joy in being a small part of a team of caring people who help others achieve their dream of having a family. In her spare time, Cara enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, watching her children play the sports they love, and she enjoys, running, cycling and exploring the outdoors in the sun.

Stephanie Kimble

Stephanie received her BS in History and Political Thought from Concordia University Irvine in 2015 and her Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego later that same year. She has been working as a Paralegal since 2016 in Family and Reproductive Law. She is excited to be part of International Fertility Law Group working on managing Surrogacy, Egg donation and Parental Establishment Cases.

Trish Pittman
Assistant Financial Coordinator

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting, Trish joined the IFLG team in 2019 as Assistant Financial Coordinator. Her client-facing focus at IFLG is to assist with all client trust accounting. Trish is the mother of two daughters and enjoys spending time teaching and learning new things from them. In her free time, she loves long walks in the park and reading suspense and mystery novels.

Katie Deaquino
Senior Paralegal

Katie is a Senior Paralegal with IFLG and has dedicated over sixteen years to the areas of surrogacy and reproductive law. She received her Paralegal Certificate from Coastline Community College and has worked with some of the top law firms in the assisted reproduction community. Katie is also a commissioned Notary Public. With IFLG, Katie manages Surrogacy, Egg Donation, and Parental Establishment cases and provides support to other IFLG team members. Katie truly enjoys helping others build their families through assisted reproduction and is thankful she has had the rewarding experience of assisting IFLG clients. Katie often spends her free time with her Husband, four young children and her bulldog “Bella”.

Elsa Jimenez
Legal Assistant

Elsa joined IFLG as a Legal Assistant in 2019, bringing more than 35 years of experience working in the legal profession (concentrating in tort and litigation matters). At IFLG she assists surrogates with their surrogacy and parental matters. The oldest of five siblings, born and raised in East Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Elsa loves “seeing the beauty of families forming” through assisted reproductive technology. She and her husband Carlos have four children and one grandson. Elsa enjoys jazz and ’80s music, being outdoors in nature, collecting teacups and tea pots, and spending time with her close-knit family.