A Family is Anchored in Relationships, Not Genes
“I love personal stories about how intended parents make that leap to become parents via egg donation. Diana Thomas, Founder & and CEO of The World Egg Bank has opened her heart to us as she shares her journey. It’s never easy to just put it out there, but this is one of the many reasons I adore Diana. She’s honest, vulnerable, and so brave sharing with the world her story. Please read along with me.”
Marna Gatlin, Founder PVED
A Family is Anchored in Relationships, Not Genes
By: Diana Thomas
Founder & CEO, The World Egg Bank
I don’t often share my personal experiences about infertility. After 20 years of talking to thousands of women who have or are going through infertility, I know there is no such thing as a typical experience that can be addressed with simple advice or direction. My own story clearly illuminates that!
Every person enters my world of donor eggs at very different emotional stage in the process and each has a unique resolution based on their own financial resources, level of support from family or friends, knowledge of the ‘science’ behind egg donation, personal resilience, determination, physical stamina, strength of their partners (if they have one), and so on. Having said that, I have seen common experiences and believe that in sharing some of my own story, I can help remove some barriers that we encounter and some we create for ourselves. From my own experiences, I have woven a philosophy into The World Egg Bank that speak to the needs of infertile women. It is the relationship that builds a family.
I was 25 years old and unable to conceive. It was in the mid-1980’s when egg donation did not exist as an option. After 15 years of IUI’s, clomid, laparoscopies (5), lab tests, 3 IVFs with my own eggs, and considerable debt, I ended this painful phase of my journey without a baby and with a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.” I was left with a pretty big ‘empty nest’ to say the least. I was going on 40 years old, had lived in two countries (Canada and the U.S.), was peaking in my 15 year career, traveled extensively, lost my father and a brother to cancer, bought/renovated 3 homes, and all of these experiences only strengthened my desire for a child. Some people are able to find resolve and comfort in their decision to be childless, I was not one of them. I tip my hat to people who can choose to be or remain childless, because I truly believe that is the right choice for them.
My entire 20 year journey has mirrored the growth of IVF in the U.S. I was often among the first to ‘try something new’. Egg donation has become a mainstream menu item for the infertile patient today, but as I had one of the first 100 egg donor babies in the U.S., my world was about Intramuscular injections (all of them and I stopped counting at 500), infertility diagnosis was largely attributed to endometriosis (hence 5 laparoscopies to remove ‘mild endometriosis’), ICSI didn’t exist and ‘fertilizing eggs’ in the lab was a mysterious science balancing quality and quantity of sperm per egg. I had no anesthesia at retrievals, stimulation medications were urinary products I obtained inexpensively from Mexico and information was scare to non-existent for donor eggs. I relied heavily on the only woman-to-woman resource available, which was Mothers Via Egg Donation (MVED), the precursor to present day PVED!
When I was told my most hopeful path to take home a baby, was to ‘find an egg donor,’ I was in disbelief. I swallowed hard and felt like the prior 15 years had been one long experiment. I had to re calibrate my entire way of thinking, let go of the past and reevaluate my financial, physical, and emotional capabilities to start over with yet another uncharted option. My chance to obtain a pregnancy with donor eggs in the 90s was 12%. Could I do this? How did I feel about this? What would my family think? Should I tell my child, IF successful? The deciding question was, am I ready to remain childless or should I try this? I decided to forge forward as my desire for a child out weighed my exhaustion. I had to advertise for and find my own egg donor. Very few clinics in the U.S. had but only several egg donors. I wasn’t allowed to know anything about the donors available at clinics I’d have to travel to, and ‘a nurse’ would pick her for me. That didn’t seem right; I was already a parent who needed to consider how my child would be affected by the genes of another woman.
I learned a few things along the way as I proceeded with egg donation that may apply to women still today and some have been so hashed out in the media, on the web, at conferences, within clinical and psychological arenas, that they may have little relevance today.
• I discovered that I was treated a bit like a freak to carry a baby with another woman’s genes. I felt in many ways that I was giving my children a gift, because my own family medical history was far from stellar. I learned to be very selective about who I would talk to about egg donation.
• I learned to follow my heart and understand that the advice and opinions of others was irrelevant. It was my life, not theirs.
• I had to dig deep and find compassion for people who offered unsolicited advice because they just didn’t understand what it meant to struggle with infertility. “ Relax, go on vacation,” or “goodness my husband just has to look at me and I get pregnant.” You’ve all heard them.
• I decided that I had to be true to myself, and my natural inclination toward openness meant for me, that I was going to tell my child. Children are smart, and I didn’t want them to sense a secret when I felt there wasn’t any reason to keep one anyway.
• I began looking at families and realized that each child was a unique individual, and often did not ‘look like’ either parent or their siblings. What really made a family was anchored by relationships, not genes.
I did tell my children (I actually had my first son at 40 with that only 12% chance I was given with donor eggs, and my twin boys, with another egg donor, 4 years later). Their birth story was how wonderfully lucky they were to have three people create them instead of two!
I have continued to work full time with infertile women and egg donors since finding my own first egg donor in 1995. Each day I can make anyone’s path easier to travel than my own, and I can have this sense of wonder and obligation instilled in every part of our service to women seeking donor eggs. I can sleep peacefully at night knowing it has been a very good day and The World Egg Bank has contributed to another family’s dream.
For these reasons and many more, I have chosen to give back to a great organization such as Parents Via Egg Donation (PVED). Throughout my journey there were many people that “supported” my struggle, but none like the resources provided in MVED and PVED. It was the sense of community, the wealth of information and the hope given in each person’s story that helped to keep me committed during my toughest moments.
Diana Thomas is the Founder and CEO of The World Egg Bank. After successfully becoming pregnant, fertility specialists began approaching Diana asking for her help in finding egg donors for their own patients. She quickly discovered that there was a desperate need for a company that understood empowering recipients with information about egg donors, and the emotional sensitivity to navigate through the process of involving another person in their reproduction life. Through her own personal experience, she created a company that catered to the personal needs of intended parents as well as brought the best quality of care to the egg donors. For over 20 years, Diana’s egg donor agency , that evolved into an egg bank TWEB), has matched thousands of donors and couples nationwide and internationally. In 2004, she was one of three partners to start the first ‘frozen’ egg bank in the world. Since then, The World Egg Bank has increased egg donor options by shipping vitrified (frozen) eggs to recipient’s doctors around the globe, and as such, removed many geographic and emotional barriers for who hope to one day have a child of their own.
For more information on The World Egg Bank, please visit www.theworldeggbank.com