FAIRFAX, Va.—Muasher, who immigrated to the U.S. after training as an obstetrician at Johns Hopkins, represented a link between the earliest achievements of assisted reproduction and its newest and most controversial applications. He had studied and worked for more than two decades under Howard and Georgeanna Jones, the legendary husband-wife team who created the first IVF baby in the U.S. (and 15th in the world) in 1981.
The Joneses and their superiors at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk had never been completely comfortable with the use of IVF for patients without conventional fertility problems. But after Muasher went into business for himself in early 2004, he recognized that gay men might form a promising niche market.
It frustrated him — and them — that he couldn't find an explanation for Whitney's failure to get pregnant. All the component parts — Jessica's eggs, both men's sperm, Whitney's uterus — had seemed ideal. It was always possible he had simply selected embryos with undetectable chromosomal abnormalities.
At an appointment in late October, Muasher explained that the odds of success would decline with the next attempt. The remaining embryos had on first inspection been deemed inferior to the two he had already transferred. And only 70% to 80% of embryos typically survived the stresses of freezing and thawing.
Playing the odds, they decided to thaw five of their frozen embryos, hoping three would survive to be transferred.
As they wondered how many attempts it might take to get pregnant, they began to feel the press of time. Not only was the process getting more expensive by the day, but on Nov. 2, 2004, when George W. Bush was reelected, 11 states passed constitutional amendments to prohibit same-sex marriage. Chad and David understood the next front in the culture wars might well be gay parenting, and they feared the political tide would surge before they could complete a pregnancy.
On Nov. 17, Muasher called with unsettling news from his lab. His staff had thawed the five frozen embryos and only one was remotely viable. Deeply discouraged, they authorized him to thaw the remaining five.
Things only got worse when Chad, David and Whitney arrived at the clinic early the next morning. Of all the thawed embryos, only one was suitable to transfer. Muasher could not explain the extraordinary loss rate. He and his chief embryologist had checked conditions in the lab and all seemed fine.
"It happens maybe 2 to 3% of the time," he said.
Chad and David were starting to feel they weren't very good at this. "Now we really do need a miracle," Chad said. "We need to beat the odds big time."
Nobody was surprised when Muasher called two weeks later to say Whitney was not pregnant.
Harder to give up
NOW their frustration was palpable, bordering on anger. Chad had foolishly thought his obsession with research would give him a measure of control. Instead, he had a head full of information and no answers.
They faced the same questions so many infertile couples confront after repeated rounds of IVF. How long should they keep trying? How much bad news could they take? Was there a physiological problem or a lab problem, or were they just unlucky? Were they throwing good money after bad?
They had spent nearly $70,000, much of it from a home equity loan. The costs would escalate rapidly with a second egg retrieval, and they were running out of cushion. Yet the more they invested, financially and emotionally, the harder it was to back away.
"This process just sucks," Chad said. "Oh my God, I don't know how people do this for years. You better have twice as much money as you think you need and three times the patience."
"And four times the time," David added. "I thought we'd have kids in kindergarten by now."
Whitney remained committed to Chad and David, but the process was wearing her down as well. The drugs made her sleepless and moody. She couldn't help but feel responsible for the failures. Her boyfriend had started calling her a "guinea pig." And if she didn't get pregnant, she would not receive the lion's share of her fee.
"I feel I'm trying so hard to make this happen," she said.