The Donor Egg Shop

Diana Thomas knows from personal experience how hard it can be to get pregnant. So she found a way to make it easier — and women over 40 are reaping the benefits.

Photograph: Photo by: Brandon Sullivan

The day after the procedure, the phone rang in her kitchen. It was the embryologist, breaking the news that the eggs had not proved viable. "I was home alone, and I remember not being able to breathe," Thomas says. "It’s so overwhelming to hear that all of the money you spent and the effort you put into it and the hopes you had have just vanished." She was 39; it was time to move on.

Seeds of a Business

Thomas flirted with the idea of adoption, but soon realized it wasn’t for her. "I had a strong biological drive to carry a child," she says. "Anybody who is infertile has this image in their mind; they think it is their God-given right." For that reason, and because she wanted her husband to have the opportunity to pass his genes on to the next generation, she began to consider using donor eggs. "I had to let go of the idea that my child would have a nose like my mother’s or that he would be three-quarters Irish," she says. "I decided to use another woman’s eggs because I felt very strongly that I would love the child no matter what."

That was 1995, when there was little choice with donor eggs. "You had to face that you were replacing yourself, and the clinics were handing you two profiles to choose from," Thomas says. "The process didn’t acknowledge the emotional side of using an egg donor." That’s when she got the go-ahead from her doctors to search for a donor herself. She placed an ad in Arizona State University’s student newspaper that read: "Would you like to help a couple have a child? I’m looking for an egg donor. Can we meet?" Six young women responded. Armed with literature from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Thomas met each of the potential donors at an espresso bar on ASU’s main drag.

Thomas instantly connected with Nicole Leach, a 20-year-old student who shared Thomas’s coloring and also asked smart, serious questions. Thomas agreed to pay Leach $500. Leach spent a month wearing estrogen and progesterone patches, and then took the Pill to synchronize her cycle with Thomas’s. When Leach’s eggs matured, they were removed by needle from her ovaries. Thomas drove Leach to the specialist’s office and sat in on the procedure so she could hold her hand. "I felt like her mother," Thomas says. "I was very protective of her."

The eggs were mixed with Best’s sperm that same day. Three days later, Thomas stared at the eight-cell embryos under a microscope moments before they were transferred to her uterus, a privilege not available in today’s era of malpractice concerns and strict privacy laws. "Imagine knowing the moment of conception," she says. "I felt like I was in a sci-fi movie." Thomas waited nervously for an embryo to attach to her uterine wall. The stakes were high: The donor cycle cost $40,000, which she and Best had financed by taking out a second mortgage. To their profound relief, it worked. Their son August was born in 1996, the same year Thomas turned 40.

The Technology Connection

A few months later, Thomas got a call from her fertility specialist. For once the doctor didn’t want to discuss hormone levels or follicle growth. Instead, the physician had another couple desperate to choose their own egg donor, and they hoped Thomas would help them find someone. "It began to resonate with me that there was something in this," says Thomas, who had transitioned to a job share at the historical registry so she could spend more time with her son. "I realized I could control my own hours and do something that was immensely gratifying." She named her company X and Y Consulting and invested $10,000 in ads, computers, and attorney fees for drafting contracts.

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