In March of 2012, Heidi Hayes helped to launch a pioneering leader in the world of frozen donor eggs, Donor Egg Bank USA. Now, almost exactly a decade later, in a perfect-circle moment, she’s made the decision to entrust this flourishing company to the care of others. As Heidi explains, “It’s the right time in my children’s lives for me to step back and focus even more of my attention on them.” As the mother of a high school junior and two sixth graders, Heidi doesn’t want to miss a moment of this exciting time. She’s thrilled to be able to attend their activities, to help them ignite their passion for learning, and to be there as they navigate their teen years.
Motherhood isn’t only an important factor in Heidi’s departure, but was also essential to her introduction to the company. She fully credits her co-founder, Dr. Michael Levy, for the vision for Donor Egg Bank USA, but also appreciates how she was the perfect match for this endeavor. Heidi underwent her own infertility journey before adopting her oldest child and conceiving her younger two children with the help of an egg donor. So, she has an intimate understanding of what a prospective Donor Egg Bank USA family may be experiencing. It’s what has fueled her desire to not just help men and women to become parents, but to do so in a way that is accessible.
Heidi’s personal experience was a huge driver in the creation of Donor Egg Bank USA’s Assured Refund Program™ . This unique program provides a financially protected path to parenthood with the help of our live birth guarantee: bring home a baby or receive a 100% refund. She also understands the importance of having a diverse group of donors from which to choose. And she has worked further to distinguish Donor Egg Bank USA by making it the first and only frozen donor egg provider to gather data from their clinics, and then share that data with all of those clinics. The result, more informed and successful outcomes for all.
In the beginning. What came first…the egg.
Heidi has fond memories of the early days of Donor Egg Bank USA as a “scrappy start-up.” The company was launched even before the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) had removed the “experimental” label for the use of frozen donor eggs. But, as Heidi remarks, “We knew the technology worked. We could look at all the data and see that it would.” Or, more specifically, they were certain they could take what they learned from that data to help other fertility practices to emulate the same level of success.
As it turns out, the company’s first five egg warmings did not produce successful pregnancies. “It was very scary,” recalls Heidi. “But failure wasn’t an option.” And then, the next four warmings resulted in positive pregnancies. “It was exciting to be able to make frozen donor eggs available to clinics that had long wait lists for donors,” she says. And even though the numbers were reassuring, Heidi points out that their true goal (then and now) wasn’t quantity, but quality.
Soon after the launch, Heidi and her team found a way to improve on their success even further. They initially had been focusing on the vitrification (the freezing) of the eggs, thinking that was the real challenge. They soon discovered that perfecting the actual warming of the eggs was also essential. For that reason, they put greater attention toward controlling as many variables in the warming process as possible, at as many clinics as possible. As Donor Egg Bank USA helped more clinics to have success with frozen donor eggs, those clinics grew more confident in their ability to freeze oocytes for patients affected by cancer or for elective reasons.
Another important instance of Donor Egg Bank USA’s game-changing impact on the fertility field is one of which Heidi is particularly proud. In 2014, recognizing the need to bring fertility practices together, the company facilitated a two-day symposium on genetics and genetic screening. The result was 21 fertility practices moving forward to implement expanded carrier screening in their practices. These reproductive leaders’ united decision helped to create an industry paradigm shift, normalizing expanded carrier screening as a new industry standard.
What she knows now.
Heidi will tell you, “It’s a wonderful thing when your personal life and your work dovetail together.” As she was building a business that helped people to create their families, she was also raising a family that others had helped her to create. In doing so, Heidi made some important discoveries — that pertained to both worlds.
Perhaps the most important thing Heidi has learned — and that she readily shares — is, “Having a family is all about perseverance. You will have a baby, but it will depend on how long you are willing to persevere through that journey.” She also notes that along with this tenacity is a certain financial commitment, and one more thing that Heidi explains in this way, “Being open- minded really expands the tools at your disposal to help you create your family.”
Heidi has also come to be a great proponent of transparency — regarding both the conception stories for her own children, and for those children Donor Egg Bank USA helps to conceive.
When it comes to her two younger children, there is currently little curiosity about their donor. Heidi observes that as 12-year-olds, “Their understanding of who they are is in the context of their immediate family. They are so embedded in this family, they have little interest in their donor.” Yet, she understands this may not always be the case, and may not always be the same experience for other donor-conceived children.
Heidi strives to be one of the voices that speaks openly about the use of frozen donor eggs, and is hopeful that openness will inspire others to talk about it as well. To that end, since 2015, Donor Egg Bank USA has been very influential in offering “ID disclosure” (versus anonymous) donors. It’s a practice that Heidi would like to see become the norm. She explains why she feels so strongly about the need for this direction, “The donor conceived have a voice that we need to listen to. It goes beyond the business of donor egg and it moves closer to the heart of the individuals we are creating. We need to have our eyes on their future and ensure that our business aligns with the best interests of the healthy children we are trying to create.”
Heidi is more than satisfied with what she and Dr. Levy set out to create, about the many families they helped to grow, and about the exciting direction in which Donor Egg Bank USA is heading. She also has great clarity about the choices she’s making in her personal life. Even though she’s not certain what her next adventure will look like, Heidi does know one thing for certain: “I never want to look back with regret; to realize that I had worked so hard to have my babies, only to not make them the center of my life.” Spoken like a true mother.