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updated: 11/21/2012 10:44 AM

An Unexpected Road to Parenthood: One Couple's Journey

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  • Heidi Hayes and her husband, Ruben, with their children.

      Heidi Hayes and her husband, Ruben, with their children.
    Photo courtesy of Crissie Traugott Photography.

 
Jan Miller

Heidi Hayes knows what it's like to long for a child and to wait month after month for the baby that never comes. She knows firsthand the pain of infertility and the difficulties that can come with adoption.

Yet Heidi never imagined how this bumpy journey to parenthood would change her life -- and provide the experience necessary to help her build an entirely new business that will benefit thousands of couples struggling with infertility.

Like many young girls, Heidi always thought she would become a mother someday in the far-off future. After college, she joined the Peace Corps, living and working in the Ecuadorian Andes.

It was in Ecuador that she began thinking seriously about motherhood. "I loved the Ecuadorian focus on family," she says. "It made me start thinking about having children of my own."

She met and married a handsome man named Ruben from Ecuador. The couple went about building a life together and when it was time to start a family, Heidi thought she would easily get pregnant. Each month the couple waited eagerly for the welcome news, but that news never came. They never imagined how bumpy the journey to parenthood could be.

Discouraged, they finally went to see her primary care doctor. After a year without results, the pair was referred to a reproductive endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in helping couples overcome infertility. Their doctor started with three tries of a conservative fertility treatment called an intrauterine insemination (IUI). After each try, Heidi and Ruben received the unwelcome news -- not pregnant.

"Finally, we decided to do IVF since the likelihood of success was better," says Ruben. In vitro fertilization is a power tool when it comes to fertility treatment. The hopeful mother is stimulated to produce more eggs through medication. The eggs are retrieved, and then inseminated in the lab with the father's sperm. The resulting embryos are examined, and then one, maybe two are selected and implanted in the mother's waiting womb.

It's often very successful. Many children have been safely conceived using the IVF technique.

Heidi got pregnant twice with IVF, but then miscarried each time. By the end of their treatment, the couple had completed a combination of nine IVF and frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycles before they took a step back.

By this time, nearly four years had passed in the couple's quest to start a family. The efforts had been costly, emotionally and monetarily. Fortunately, the couple was working with a practice that offered a money back guarantee for IVF. When they didn't have a baby, much of their money was returned. They decided to move forward with adoption.

In 2005, they brought home their seven-month-old son from Guatemala. "Finally, I was a mom and in love with having a baby," says Heidi. "I could stop avoiding baby showers and actually enjoy seeing children again."

In 2006, the couple began a second adoption in Guatemala and were referred an adorable little girl. The couple looked at pictures, selected a name, and traveled to Guatemala to visit their new daughter several times. She had already captured their hearts.

Then on January 1, 2008, Guatemala ended international adoptions. The couple found themselves trapped in politics and desperate to bring their daughter home. They tried everything, but after years of heartache and effort, their adoption officially failed in 2011.

"Adoption is a wonderful way to have a child," says Heidi. "But losing our baby girl was heartbreaking. Adoption is not always a sure thing. We had a baby we loved, a baby we knew and believed was our own. To lose her was devastating."

During this time, Heidi had started at a new job with one of the country's top fertility practices. As a staff member, she learned a lot about fertility and how female eggs lose their quality with age. One of the doctors eventually suggested the couple look into using an egg donor. She and Ruben were a bit hesitant to try treatment again, but knew they wanted more children.

Together, the couple poured through the egg donor registry, looking at the profiles of each anonymous donor and wondering who would be the best choice to help them have a baby. Eventually, they chose a donor they felt a connection to and who would complement Heidi's own weaknesses. "I'm a terrible singer," she laughs, "no one wants to sit by me in church. We made sure our donor had musical talent in her profile."

To use donor eggs, Heidi and the donor both completed screening tests prior to beginning treatment. Treatment consisted of Heidi's and the donor's menstrual cycles being synchronized, so their cycles would begin at the same time.

While Heidi received medication to prepare her womb for a pregnancy, the donor received medications which would help her produce a good number of eggs. The screening and synchronization process typically takes between three and six months.

Finally, when the time was right, the eggs were retrieved from the donor, fertilized and ultimately transferred to Heidi's womb. It was a time-consuming and complicated process, but it delivered the result they were looking for.

"Thankfully, I got pregnant on the first try," Heidi says. "Twins!"

From the beginning, Heidi and Ruben bonded with the tiny infants growing inside her. "The donor gives you one tiny cell -- a precious cell," she says. "But it's your body that helps the babies grow and thrive. Your body nourishes them. You feel the kicks, and the morning sickness. You are a mother--and that alone is an amazing and immediate bond."

The twins were born -- a girl and a boy -- without problem. Today, they're two and a half years old, and running, talking and getting into everything. Their older brother adores them.

And who do they look like? "Well, they actually look like me," Heidi laughs, "but unlike me they have beautiful singing voices."

Heidi is forever grateful to the egg donor who provided those two small cells that gave her the gift of two adorable babies. She believes in the effectiveness of donor egg so much, that when Michael Levy, MD, of Shady Grove Fertility Center had the vision to start an egg bank for donor eggs similar to a donor sperm bank, Heidi was interested in pursuing his vision. She wanted to develop an entity that would be an industry leader in providing quality donor eggs at an affordable price, which would make the treatment accessible to more people.

Heidi became the CEO of what started as an idea and has now become Donor Egg Bank USA.

Donor Egg Bank USA is a national donor egg bank, but it offers a revolutionary change in egg donation -- frozen donor eggs.

In the last few years, an innovative fast-freezing technology called vitrification has transformed fertility treatment capabilities, making the viability of frozen donor eggs nearly equal to that of fresh donor eggs.

Today, eggs can be collected, frozen, and stored, making them immediately available to recipients who select them from a donor database. Using frozen donor eggs allows couples to pursue treatment immediately, without the uncertainties associated with traditional donor egg treatment and at a time

convenient to their schedule.

The biggest benefit to frozen eggs versus fresh donor eggs is that there is no longer the need to synchronize menstrual cycles between donor and recipient. Eggs are available immediately, and only quality mature eggs are frozen.

Donor Egg Bank USA launched in March 2012. The organization has partnered with fertility centers which combined have more than 55 locations in the United States and Canada to offer frozen donor eggs to their patients.

"The ability to offer patients immediate access to frozen donor eggs has transformed the approach to family building through egg donation," says Michael Levy, MD, of Shady Grove Fertility Center. "Working with frozen donor eggs streamlines and shortens treatment while offering a significant cost-savings."

Having gone through the fresh donor egg process just a few years ago, Heidi knows first-hand just how revolutionary the frozen donor egg bank is.

"Using a frozen donor egg is so much easier and faster than when I used fresh donor eggs," she says. "It takes a lot of the worry out of the process, because quality eggs are immediately available when you need them. Plus, because a donor may produce many eggs, more than one couple can share these, which in the end makes treatment more affordable."

While not a guarantee, another benefit to frozen donor eggs is that parents can often have full-blooded siblings. Donor Egg Bank USA offers the ability to reserve an additional egg lot for future use.

The success in having a baby using frozen eggs is encouraging, but it isn't 100%. Thankfully, Donor Egg Bank USA offers a 100% Assured Refund Plan, which gives a refund if the couple does not deliver a baby.

"Patients pay a premium for the Assured Refund Plan" says Heidi, "but they also have the assurance that if they don't have a baby, they will have their money back. The ability to have your money back if unsuccessful allows people to pursue other avenues, such as adoption."

For Heidi, leading Donor Egg Bank USA has been fulfilling. She is thrilled to be able to help others who face challenges similar to the ones she did in starting a family.

"I had an epiphany during my fertility journey, when I was worrying that I might never be a parent," she says. "If you're willing to persevere, and you're willing to spend the money to make it happen, then it will happen. It's a matter of how long will you wait and how much will you spend."

She shares that message when she speaks to others who dream of becoming parents. "I know what it means to long for a baby," she says. "But when you hold your baby in your arms, you know at that moment it was all worth it. I want to help as many couples as possible to experience that moment for themselves."

For more information, see donoreggbankusa.com or speak with Fertility Centers of Illinois http://fcionline.com

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