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Marna's mission: help her 'friends'

Posted Jun 12 2009 11:57pm
The Oregonian - Margie Boulé
A ll over the world, women who can't give birth using their own eggs are becoming pregnant with eggs donated by others.
Many turn for information and support to a nonprofit organization called Parents Via Egg Donation, founded by a woman named Marna Gatlin. Those who've been helped by the organization call themselves "friends of Marna."
Marna lives right here in Oregon.
There's not a lot Marna doesn't know about giving birth using donor eggs. Eight years ago, she was part of the process herself.
At that point, she'd been trying to get pregnant for more than a decade. Marna says she miscarried nine times. Her marriage couldn't stand the stress; she and her husband divorced.
In 1998, she married again. "I got pregnant on our honeymoon. Everything looked great until week 10. The baby died. I was devastated."
Marna's physician referred her to a reproductive endocrinologist -- a specialist in infertility. She saw Dr. John Hesla at the Portland Center for Reproductive Medicine, today called Oregon Reproductive Medicine.
"I'd been to many doctors who couldn't give me answers," Marna says, "and I was very jaded and cynical. I think I was probably cranky. I said, 'Look, I don't want to waste your time, and I don't want you wasting my time. If you cannot get me pregnant, just tell me, and I'll get a dog.' He laughed."
After testing, Marna was told her ovaries were not functioning properly. "He said getting pregnant with my eggs probably wouldn't be an option for me."
When Marna learned this in 2000, getting pregnant using another woman's egg was not a well-known option.
"I was frustrated. Information about this particular reproductive technology was hard to find," Marna says. "The Internet was just up and running. I did find a small e-mail listserv called Mothers Via Egg Donation. That group became my lifeline."
The process for selecting an egg donor is different today, but in 2000 Marna and her husband were given information about several anonymous donors. Marna chose a woman with a healthy family history whom she felt a connection with. "She played piano like I do; she loved coffee and chocolate like I do. It said she had a quirky personality, great sense of humor."
Marna and her husband chose donor number 153. "I will never forget that number as long as I live," she says.
If Marna should ever meet the donor, she says, she would kiss and hug her. "She's an amazing person for what she did."
Nine months after the first procedure, "on a dark and stormy night in December 2000, my son Nicholas was born," Marna says. "He was an amazing baby."
And he's a wonderful boy today, tall and blond and bright.
Throughout her pregnancy and since then, Marna became more and more involved in the listserv group. She became a moderator, then headed the group. By late 2007 she was getting 40 to 50 e-mails a day with questions.
"I decided to create an organization that embraced every person who chooses egg donation as the way to become a parent," she says. "A global organization with unbiased, accurate information . . . not affiliated with any clinic or donation agencies, egg brokers or law practices."
She founded the nonprofit Parents Via Egg Donation last January. She thinks it's the only one of its kind.
"The response has been phenomenal," she says. The Web site, www.pved.org, has had around 30,000 hits since October; its forum has had double that.
"The most common thing we hear is, 'I didn't know I couldn't have a baby in my 40s. Now they're telling me I have to use an egg donor.' "
The organization helps women grieving because their babies will not be biologically related to them. It also counsels parents about what to tell children about their beginnings.
"We told my son from the get-go about this beautiful angel lady who let us have him because Mommy's eggs were wrecked. He's always known his story," Marna says.
She believes children "have a right to know their source of origin. We feel disclosure is healthy and secrets are unhealthy."
The organization provides medical and technological information, offers counsel to those with religious concerns and weighs in on ethical issues.
"Right now, because of the economy, some egg donors are asking for more than the amount suggested by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine," which suggests a $10,000 fee for egg donation. "It's a big controversy."
Marna is not in this for the money. "We're hoping someday advertising on the site will cover a small salary."
Until then, "This is my job that I don't get paid for, but it's OK."
She's glad to help people all over the world become parents. People who call themselves "friends of Marna."
Margie Boule: 503-221-8450; marboule@aol.com
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