Launching a journey they'd never imagined
Chad Hodge Craig had never been so put out with his sister.

She was the most accessible person he knew. They spoke virtually every day, and though he was in Georgia and she was in Texas, he never had trouble tracking her down. This day, of all days, Tonya Hodge Rosenberger could not be reached.

Tonya, who was known to her family as Sissy, had promised Chad she would wake up that Saturday morning, Jan. 21, 2006, and take a home pregnancy test. A week earlier, a fertility specialist in Fairfax, Va., had delicately transferred three 5-day-old embryos into her uterus.

She wasn't due to take a formal blood test for another three days. But Chad and Sissy simply could not wait to learn whether she might be pregnant with his children.

The embryos were the product of eggs harvested from a donor they barely knew and sperm contributed by both Chad, 35, and his longtime gay partner, David Craig, 37. Two of the embryos had been fertilized by one of the men, and one by the other, but they didn't know which.

It was their fifth attempt in 15 months to create a pregnancy through a gestational surrogacy arrangement. To get to this point, they had gone through two egg retrievals, 58 eggs, 43 embryos, two embryo freezes, three frozen embryo thaws, four failed embryo transfers, two surrogates and more than $100,000.

They were emotionally and financially drained, and they were down to their last batch of frozen embryos. If this transfer failed, Chad and David would have to start from scratch, and they weren't sure they had either the will or the resources to keep going.

When Chad and Sissy had spoken the day before, they had agreed to delay any disclosure of the pregnancy test results until Saturday afternoon, when David was due to return from a business trip. But Chad jumped the gun and started calling Sissy midmorning, after conferencing in David.

He could not raise her anywhere. Not at her home in Arlington, Texas. Not on her cell. Her husband, Jay Rosenberger, said he had slept in with a cold and had no idea where she was. Chad left messages, but they weren't returned.

Bewildered and increasingly agitated, he killed time until midafternoon, when David arrived, and then tried again without success.

"I don't know if this has happened my whole life," Chad said, "where it's been this hard to get hold of her."

Just before 4 p.m., there was a knock at the door and Chad, still unshaven, swung it open. Standing there were Sissy and Jay with their two young children, Matthew and Anabelle. Initially, Chad could not make sense of the scene. It was like one of those unsettling dreams where the characters seemed hopelessly out of place.

Then he saw that Sissy was holding a clear baggie. In it were two plastic sticks, the size of thermometers. They were pregnancy test monitors, and as Sissy raised them to Chad's eye level, he could see that each bore faint pink stripes.

*

Too momentous

"CONGRATULATIONS!" Jay said.

It took a moment to sink in. They hadn't let themselves believe it could work this time. "You're here?" Chad said, his eyes welling. "You're pregnant? Oh my God. Oh my God. When did you hear?"

Sissy began telling the story as David came to the door, a smile of astonishment spreading across his face.

She had in fact taken the test that morning, and gotten a positive result. Being wary of home pregnancy tests, she dashed to Walgreens to buy a different brand. It showed positive as well.

"What would you think about getting on a plane?" she asked Jay tearfully. The news seemed too momentous to deliver by phone. "Let's go," he said.

A few hours later, having led Chad astray, they were on their way to the airport. They paused in the parking deck long enough for Sissy to bend over the seat of their minivan so Jay could administer her daily shot of progesterone. Under the circumstances, the $1,500 they shelled out for tickets to Atlanta simply didn't seem to matter.

"Is it really happening?" Chad asked. "Is she really pregnant?"

With Sissy at his side, he called their mother in Valdosta, Ga., and put her on speakerphone.

"Hey, Mom," Chad said. "How do you feel about being a grandmother again?"

"Nooooo!" Debbie Young exclaimed. "Oh my gosh, I'm so excited."

Chad was pacing around the living room, almost hyperventilating. "I'm still in shock," he said.

They celebrated over Thai food at a neighborhood restaurant, brimming with anticipation. Sissy, 34, joked about printing up a T-shirt with an arrow pointing to her belly. "This is my brother's baby," it would declare.

Though new responsibilities lay ahead, David felt light with relief. For more than two years, their lives had been hostage to their quest to have children.

"I didn't think I could go through this again," David said. "This is one of the brightest days of our lives."

As they waited for their food, 1-year-old Anabelle entertained herself by squeezing a plastic cup until it croaked, over and over again. Her 2-year-old brother jabbered loudly while trying to coax milk from a bottle lying flat on the table.

Sissy grinned mischievously. "Now," she said above the din, "y'all have to get ready to be parents."

David laughed. "Let us enjoy the moment before we start stressing," he said.

*

How many babies?

Three days later, coral roses brightened the living room table, arranged with pink and blue balloons. Debbie Young had ordered them for her son and his partner, and had sent a matching bouquet to her daughter.

Unable to contain themselves, Chad and David had spread the word to family members, friends and readers of the online surrogacy bulletin board they frequented. Their best pals had thrown an impromptu "baby brunch" to toast the pregnancy, with Bloody Marys and champagne for everyone but Sissy.

The expectant fathers dusted off their list of baby names, and admitted to each other that they really wanted a girl. They began scrolling through Web catalogs selling Burberry strollers and Holstein-patterned car seats.

They called their friends Barry Golivesky and Dan Bloom, a gay couple in Atlanta who had just learned their own surrogate was pregnant with twins.

"Your kids are going to have a playmate," David chirped.

Sissy, Jay and the kids returned to Texas. She had confirmed the results with two more home pregnancy tests, so there wasn't much suspense when she called Chad and David after the blood test.

"Helloooo," she said. "It was positive!"

They talked about her beta number, a measure of hormone levels that can provide the first indication of multiple fetuses. It was 191. That suggested a singleton but it didn't rule out more.

They wouldn't know for sure until her first sonogram on Feb. 13. But her next blood test, taken on Jan. 31, provided a clear indication.

"Are you sitting down?" she asked Chad and David before telling them that the numbers had soared off the charts. The doctors and nurses said there was little doubt she was carrying more than one. The real question was how many.

"There's probably three of them in there," Sissy fretted.

"No, no, no, there's not," Chad told her.

The two-week wait for the sonogram was excruciating. The risk of multiples, which they had all willingly accepted while trying to get pregnant, was now a looming reality. Even twins would elevate the likelihood of prenatal complications, premature delivery and low birth weight.

"I'm worried about being on bed rest and my kids and how it would affect them," Sissy said. For legal reasons, the plan had been for her to deliver in Atlanta. Multiples would require her and the children to travel there sooner.

Sissy was already suffering terrible morning sickness. She was always hungry — with cravings for popcorn shrimp — but had trouble keeping anything down.

"Your babies are sucking the life out of me," she needled Chad.

Chad spent the weeks trying to fathom what life would be like with three newborns. David spent the weeks trying not to. Given all they'd been through, Chad told David, three would still be better than none.

*

'Nothing natural'

Chad and David flew to Dallas the day before the ultrasound. They wouldn't have dreamed of missing this glimpse of their child, or children. It also would be their introduction to the obstetrician who would handle Sissy's pregnancy.

The doctor had delivered both Matthew and Anabelle, and Sissy adored him. But she had shocked him a year earlier by announcing that she hoped to be a surrogate for her gay brother. He told her he had never handled a case like that and would have to think it over.

The doctor, who asked not to be named in this account, is socially conservative, the medical director of a clinic that steers pregnant women away from abortion. He holds firmly to the belief that children should have mothers, and he found the moral footing of this arrangement slippery.

"Without great use of technology," he said, "this pregnancy doesn't even come about. There's nothing natural about it. There's nothing spontaneous about it. And the circumstance is different when the parents are going to be two men. You can say it's not different, but it's like saying men and women aren't different."

On the other hand, the doctor didn't want to abandon his patient. Sissy's devotion to her brother impressed him. And she wasn't asking him to engineer this pregnancy, only to give a baby the best possible start. "The child is an innocent bystander in all this," he said.

Sissy wondered if she should go elsewhere. She didn't want checkups to be awkward for Chad and David. "I just don't want any negativity around any of it," she said.

Ultimately, the doctor decided he could put his feelings aside, and convinced Sissy he would make things comfortable. It was a good sign, she thought, when he called to congratulate her upon learning she was pregnant.

At the ultrasound appointment, the doctor breezed into the exam room, dressed in navy scrubs and New Balance running shoes. He introduced himself with a smile and a handshake, then warned them to get ready. With Sissy's hormone levels, there was no telling how many fetuses they might find.

"We'll see what's in here in just a minute," he said, guiding the probe as he watched the monitor. Almost immediately, the screen showed two teardrop-shaped sacs.

"Do you see what I'm seeing?" he asked.

"Two!" they proclaimed in unison.

"I was wondering if it was that obvious," David said.

"It's that obvious," the doctor said. "It's twins."

They could hear a metronomic rhythm, swooshing like windshield wipers. "Two good heartbeats," the doctor said.

"Whew," David said. "I'm a little relieved that there's not a third one."

Until gender could be determined, Chad, David and Sissy labeled the babies Acorn and Butterbean. The doctor took measurements and printed ultrasound images for them to take home. "This looks just fine, normal and healthy," he said. "It's a very good start."

He briefed them on the challenges of a twin pregnancy. "It is a little higher-risk," he said. "Full term is sooner with twins. I'd like to get to 37 or 38 weeks if we can."

He said there would be frequent sonograms and that he would be watching for signs of preterm labor, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and anemia. Given Sissy's track record, he didn't anticipate problems, but you could never tell with twins.

"You could be going along great and the water breaks early or she starts dilating," he said. "It's very unpredictable."

A grandfather talk

Despite their giddiness, Chad and David had hesitated to share the news with their fathers. Both came from divorced families, both had troubled relationships with their dads, and neither had told their fathers they were trying to get Sissy pregnant.

It came as quite a surprise to Billy Hodge, therefore, when his son and daughter called.

"You know," Chad began nervously, "David and I have been trying to get pregnant. And, well, in fact, we are pregnant."

Sissy interjected: "You're not pregnant," she said.

"Right," Chad said, "we're not pregnant. Actually, Sissy's pregnant."

They filled the silence with explanations about egg retrievals and embryo transfers. Eventually, their father asked a few questions. Whose babies would they be, he wanted to know. Whose name would they bear?

Chad, who had disappointed his father by taking David's surname, explained that they would be equals as parents, in practice and in law. They planned to incorporate both family names, he explained.

"Are you in shock?" Sissy asked.

"Yes," her father answered. "Wouldn't anybody be?"

He hadn't expressed displeasure, as they feared he might, but he clearly wasn't comfortable. He continued to call Sissy several times a week as usual, but never asked about the pregnancy.

Chad confronted his father when he visited in March. "I don't want someone who the kids grow to love and trust, a grandparent, to come to them at any point and make them feel bad about the situation they've grown up in," he said.

"I would never do that," his father answered. "We're going to love these kids as our grandchildren. We're not going to do anything to hurt them."

"It's not even about consciously hurting them," Chad explained. "It's about a sensitivity that you don't normally have. Whether or not you believe in it or think it's right or wrong, I expect you to subjugate that to their feelings and the fact that this is their experience."

His father said he understood, but he did not say much more.

*

Legal navigations

Chad and David continued to commute to Dallas for Sissy's doctor's appointments. At 15 weeks, a sonogram showed they had a boy and a girl.

"The babies are growing appropriately," the doctor said, "and you're not showing me anything that really worries me." He projected delivery for mid-September.

Within a day, Acorn and Butterbean were renamed Holland Kelly Hodge Craig, to be known as Holland, and Christian Asher Hodge Craig, to be known as Asher.

"Let the monogramming begin," Chad e-mailed their friends.

In mid-April, Chad and David met with an adoption lawyer in Atlanta to discuss the delivery. Sissy had decided it would be easier on her children if she could stay in Texas, but the lawyer, Lori M. Surmay, advised against it.

A Texas delivery would make it difficult to petition a judge to declare Chad and David the legal parents before birth, she said. That, in turn, could mean that only one of them, and perhaps neither of them, would get their names on the birth certificates. She could even spin a scenario in which a Texas judge might deem their children parentless and make them wards of the state.

"Ugh," Chad said. They weren't willing to take that chance. After they explained it to Sissy, neither was she.

Surmay was confident she could get Chad and David on the birth certificates in Georgia. Whoever was determined to be the biological contributor would be listed as "Father," and the other as "Parent."

"It's a little bit mind-blowing here in 2006 that you can get a birth certificate with no mother on it," she said. "We're through the looking glass here."

Sissy had a scare in early May when she felt contractions after cleaning out the garage, but they disappeared after two days of bed rest. She could feel the babies moving now, vying for diminishing space.

She got a kick out of telling people she was pregnant with her brother's twins. When the nosy nurse at her pediatrician's office asked why her brother's wife couldn't have children, Sissy answered: "Because his wife has a penis."

Chad created a website to keep family and friends up to date. The doctor, he wrote on June 5, had called Sissy "the poster child for twin pregnancies." He added: "If things continue to progress as they have up to this point, we are looking at an uneventful rest of the pregnancy."

Father's Day was around the corner, and Chad (whom they had decided to call Papa) decided to surprise David (aka Daddy) by having Sissy sit for a three-dimensional ultrasound. The results were remarkable — crystal-clear sepia images of two fully formed fetuses, complete with slender fingers and button noses.

"I just can't believe these are our babies," Chad wrote on the website. "They are adorable...I can't even begin to tell you how happy I am."

*

Hospital trip

The next morning, Friday, June 16, Sissy felt some mild pressure against her cervix when she got out of bed. She took her kids to swim lessons at 11:30 and, while in the pool, felt her stomach tighten. She wondered if it might be a contraction. They went home so she could lie down, and the pains began almost immediately. She timed them at two minutes apart.

She called Jay at work, asked him to come home, and started to cry. She just knew the doctors, once they stopped the contractions, would order her on bed rest for the remaining three months of the pregnancy.

Normally a cautious driver, Jay lead-footed it to Arlington Memorial Hospital, five minutes away. They wheeled Sissy into maternity triage, hooked up an IV, and timed the contractions at a minute apart. A nurse lifted the sheet covering Sissy, and paused.

"You're completely dilated," she said. "We're going to have to deliver these babies."

Sissy became hysterical, and the nurse gripped her by the shoulders. "You cannot do this right now," she said firmly. "You're going to harm the babies if you don't calm down." Sissy breathed deeply, struggling to focus.

The nurses rolled her into an operating room as strangers in scrubs swarmed around her. An obstetrician arrived and told her to push, but the babies were blocking each other's path. "We're not going to be able to get them out," the doctor announced. "We need to do a C-section."

In the hallway, Jay was approached by one of the hospital's neonatologists, Dr. Eva Carrizales. "Right now, at 24 weeks, they're barely viable," she said. "Do you want me to do everything I can?"

"Save my wife first, but, yes, do everything you can," Jay said.

There was no mention of Chad and David. Sissy and Jay hadn't had time to discuss it, but each had decided to defer explaining that these children were not theirs. This was the Bible Belt. Why volunteer information that might cause a distraction?

"I want these people thinking they're working for a desperate straight father and mother," Jay told himself. When a nurse called him Dad, he just nodded.

Jay reached Chad in Atlanta and David traveling on business in Virginia, and told them to get on planes as fast as possible. "Sissy's going to deliver in 10 minutes," he said.

*

'Just live'

The babies were born at 2:25 p.m. and 2:26 p.m. First came Asher, weighing 1 pound, 10 ounces. Holland followed, 2 ounces lighter. They looked just like the ultrasound images taken the day before, fully formed, but barely a foot long. The doctors called them micropreemies.

Chad and David didn't know it yet, but they were parents.

Nurses rolled the babies past Jay in pod-like incubators, ventilator tubes taped to their mouths. He touched the plastic, shaken by how tiny they were. The neonatologist told him the odds of survival at that age were not high; babies that made it were often afflicted with lifelong handicaps such as cerebral palsy. Then again, preemies like this sometimes left their unit after three months with virtually no problems.

As he waited to fly out, terrified and frantic, Chad wondered whether there would be legal hassles at the hospital. Would he and David even be allowed to see their own children? He called Lori Surmay, and she quickly e-mailed papers allowing Sissy to transfer decision-making authority to them.

Sometime that afternoon, the hospital learned through consultations with Sissy's obstetrician that she was carrying the babies for her brother and his partner. The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Arlington Memorial had never had a pair of gay men as parents. It didn't sit right with some of the staff, and there were whispers in the corridors and at the nurses' station.

"A few people thought it was very, very awkward and were a little grossed out," said Dr. Scott C. Tisdell, a neonatologist whose own gay brother happened to be adopting a child.

The staff was careful, however, not to show any disapproval. And even before Surmay's documents were signed, the hospital treated Chad and David as the rightful parents. When Chad arrived that evening, they snipped the ID bracelet off Jay's wrist and gave it to him.

As they entered the NICU, Jay warned Chad that his first look at his children might be unsettling. Breathing and feeding tubes snaked into their mouths, and lines ran into their hands and umbilical stents. Monitors were taped to their torsos and feet. White cloth patches shielded their eyes from phototherapy lights. Yellow plastic discs protected their ears from noise that could cause their blood pressure to spike.

All Chad could do was smile. His daughter had an adorable ski-slope nose. His son was wiggling his arm. They both had long blond eyelashes, and rounded chins like David.

A nurse told him he could touch them, but not to stroke or rub. For the moment, his sadness and fear were washed away by the instant connection he felt to his children.

David felt the same sensation when he arrived a few hours later. The babies had stabilized, and their color looked better than he expected. He couldn't believe how immediately his emotions were captured by these two tiny beings.

"Oh, my God, I'm a parent," he thought. "It's no longer theoretical."

"Just live," he begged the babies. When you get older, he told them, "you can throw up in my car all you want to. Just live."

Fathers' Day

Over the next 24 hours, the doctors prepared everyone for the worst. Statistically, nearly half of all babies born before 28 weeks of gestation do not make it. At 24 weeks and four days, the cusp of viability, the twins could be expected to careen from one life-threatening crisis to the next. Conditions could change in a snap, so a good night did not necessarily mean that a good morning would follow.

Because the babies' blood vessels were so thin, the risk of brain hemorrhage was high. Any stimulation to their systems — a change in temperature, say, or even a bout of crying — could cause massive bleeding.

Gastrointestinal problems also were common because their organs were not yet fully functional. Asher's blood-sugar measurements were high, and he was being treated with insulin. The nurses would try to keep the babies sedated and still, hoping they would gain weight.

If they could get through the first 72 hours, the odds would improve. The good news was that this NICU didn't lose many babies, maybe two or three a year.

Sissy's obstetrician spoke to Chad on Saturday morning and said he was baffled. Though twin pregnancies were risky, everything had looked perfect. Infection could cause this kind of rapid labor, but there were no signs of it. He could remember one case like this in 16 years. They would probably never know what happened, he said.

It didn't take long for the hospital staff to conclude that Chad and David were more devoted than many parents who passed through the unit.

They slept in Sissy's room — one in a chair, one on the floor — and kept vigil in the NICU late at night. Chad asked so many questions the staff eventually supplied him with medical texts. They were loving to each other and comforting to Sissy, even under stressful circumstances that drove many couples apart. Both of their mothers had flown in to provide family support.

Sissy was bereft. She stood for long stretches at the babies' sides, often alone. It was evident to Kay Douglas, one of the NICU nurses, that she was replaying events, wondering what she could have done differently. "She wanted so much to do this for them," Douglas said.

Just after midnight on Sunday morning, Chad and David were grabbing showers at a nearby hotel when they were summoned back to the hospital. Dr. Carrizales informed them that Holland had suffered a pulmonary hemorrhage. Blood was flooding her lungs. If they couldn't oxygenate her soon, she would die of asphyxia.

They went to Sissy's room, trying to sleep while the doctors worked, but Carrizales interrupted them at 3 a.m. Now the news was worse: Holland had suffered a brain hemorrhage. The radiologist on duty was certain that blood had seeped into the brain tissue, causing irreversible damage. Carrizales wasn't as sure, and thought there might be hope.

"Are you religious?" she asked.

They told her they were Christian.

"Just pray and turn it over to God," she said.

When they woke up the next morning and visited the NICU, the staff had taped Father's Day cards to each of the babies' bassinets. Asher seemed to have stabilized, but Chad and David spent their first Father's Day wondering if they would have to take their daughter off life support.

They bought a video camera and brought it to the NICU. "Here's little Holland on Father's Day," David narrated calmly. "Isn't she cute? Look at her little fingers. Her little face is covered up. It's very sweet. Hey, little angel."

They summoned the curate from Sissy's Episcopalian church to baptize Holland, and she thought it best to bless the twins together. As the nurses gathered around in prayer, the curate made the sign of the cross on the babies' foreheads with a single drop of sterile water. Then they shared communion and sang hymns in the NICU lobby.

Chad and David had braced themselves for bad news about Holland on Monday morning, when both children were scheduled for brain scans. They were not prepared for the news they got.

"I need to talk to you about Asher," Dr. Tisdell began.

"Oh, my God," Chad thought.

Only an hour earlier, at about 8 a.m., Asher too had suffered a brain hemorrhage, the doctor said. The ultrasound showed it was more severe than his sister's. Half his brain was devastated. If he lived, Tisdell explained, it would almost certainly be in a permanent vegetative state. It would be unfair to Asher and to their family to keep him alive, he said.

Stunned into silence, they went to visit their son. He had opened his eyes and was wiggling his bottom. But the doctor had been unequivocal. They looked at each other and knew they had no choice.

Sissy's obstetrician came to visit and they asked his opinion, knowing he felt strongly about choosing life. He said that under the circumstances he would disconnect.

That afternoon, the nurses removed the wires and tubes, wrapped Asher in a fluffy white afghan, and brought him to his fathers in a conference room. He lasted only a minute or two. Chad, David and their family members held him for the first and last time, kissing his face and sniffling through their goodbyes.

"I'm a daddy," Chad said, looking to his mother.

"Yes, you are, hon," she said. "You will always be a dad, you and David both. You will always have children."

"Beautiful baby boy Asher," Chad said, cradling his son.

"Little angel," said David.

Changing hearts

Chad and David felt they had lived a lifetime in three days, just like Asher. They had experienced the extremes of emotion, high and low, all at once.

"Through the sadness of loss we have found a special joy that we never thought possible," Chad wrote on the website. "At the same time, it has been the most devastating time in our lives…. We both feel like a part of us has passed on and there is an enormous emptiness."

Holland made modest progress in the next few days. They fed her drops of breast milk that Sissy had pumped. Chad, David and Sissy serenaded her with "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." One night, the nurses let Chad help change her diaper.

On Thursday, however, a CT-scan convinced Dr. Carrizales that Holland, like her brother, had suffered the highest-grade hemorrhage. The doctor had resisted that conclusion all week, but now she told Chad and David it would be best to let Holland go. There would be no quality to her life.

Again, the family gathered to say goodbye. Cris Nation, one of the NICU nurses, disconnected the lifelines, tears fogging her glasses. First Chad held Holland, and David kissed her nose and cheeks and toes. They told her she was beautiful and how much she had been loved.

Then David held her, and Holland reflexively wrapped her miniature hand around Chad's index finger. As she drew her last breaths, her grip softened and relaxed. "I knew she had taken Asher's hand," Chad would say later.

They held a memorial service on Saturday morning at Sissy's church in Dallas. Sissy's obstetrician, who had come to like and admire Chad and David, paid his respects with reddened eyes. The doctors and nurses from the NICU turned out in force, and sent a wreath for each twin.

For many, their week of caring for Asher and Holland had been profoundly affecting, even life-altering. Some wished aloud that they could take children from less suitable parents on the ward and give them to Chad and David. Others talked about donating eggs for a future attempt.

Kay Douglas, the nurse, found herself so drawn to Chad and David that she began to reexamine her Southern Baptist conviction that homosexuality is sinful.

"It made me stop and consider the people individually, not just their lifestyle," she said. "There was just something about Chad and David. I don't know if it was that they wanted these babies so desperately, or their love for each other, or their love for the babies. But the whole unit felt it."

Rev. Christianne L. McKee, the curate who had baptized the babies, officiated at the service. The crowd of 40 sat in concentric circles in an airy chapel.

David kept his arm around Chad, gently stroking his shoulder. Sissy, in a black pantsuit, tucked a box of tissues under her chair. When the pianist played an opening dirge, she buried her face in Chad's shoulder and sobbed. His mouth was turned down at the corners, like a mime's.

McKee read from Psalm 139, an ode to the divinity of creation.

"For you yourself created my inmost parts;

you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I will thank you because I am marvelously made;

your works are wonderful, and I know it well."


Truly, McKee said, Asher and Holland had been marvelously made, as well as adored. "These children were loved," she said. "They still are loved. That love does not stop with death. Chad and David will always, always be their fathers. They will always be your children."

Grieving parents

Chad and David returned to Atlanta the next day to find that boxes of baby furniture had been delivered in their absence. The big old house they were renovating, with its freshly painted nursery, felt empty and dark.

They held another memorial service in a beautiful stone church. Both of their fathers drove in. Diane Hinson, their surrogacy lawyer, flew down from Virginia. Their friends Barry Golivesky and Dan Bloom, whose twins had been born five days earlier, greeted Chad and David with a bittersweet embrace, then took seats toward the back.

The men grieved together and alone, each in his own way.

David, who had been the anchor at the hospital, returned to work quickly. He felt flat all the time, but kept it together. He even managed to attend a bris and baby-naming for the Golivesky-Bloom twins only two days after the Atlanta memorial service. Chad couldn't bring himself to go.

The ordeal only strengthened David's faith that everything happens for a reason. "There's still so much good that came out of it, the lives they changed," he said. "It's certainly not like they lived in vain. They did a lot for a lot of people in a short period of time."

Chad took more than three months off, some of it thanks to co-workers who contributed vacation days as a bereavement gift. He was angry at first, and frustrated that so much effort had led to such an outcome. In their week as parents, they had borne more responsibility and made tougher decisions than most would in a lifetime.

"To love someone that much and have them such a short time and then to lose them, it leaves you with an emptiness you didn't have before," he said. "You've opened up a part of who you are and then it's gone, and it's very hard to understand what you're supposed to do with that."

He lighted candles, planned a memory garden, and occasionally spoke to the ashes they kept in a bronze box on a chest at the top of the stairs. He and Sissy talked several times a day. Some days were better than others.

The hospital bills arrived, totaling $125,000. All but $1,100 was covered by Jay's family insurance policy. Because no legal steps had been taken to establish Chad or David as parents, Sissy was listed as "mother" on the birth certificate and Jay as "father." (In Texas, the husband of the mother is presumed to have paternity unless proven otherwise.)

The hospital tab almost equaled the amount Chad and David had spent to create the pregnancy. When they tallied that number, it came to $119,000. While Jay's insurance covered prenatal care and the delivery, Chad and David had paid all fertility-related costs out of pocket.

A new chance

Almost immediately after the twins died, Chad and David began talking about trying again. Despite the intensity of the loss, their taste of fatherhood had only reinforced their desire to be parents.

"I think the only loss I am not prepared to deal with is the loss of the hope that we will one day raise children," Chad said. "Our hope did not die with our twins. Instead, the twins, by their existence in our lives, amplified our hope and strength to continue."

They briefly considered adoption, but decided to pursue another surrogacy so they could participate more fully in the creation of their children. "The journey itself has value," Chad said, "and if we eventually have another baby we will add that to the list of blessings that have come about because we stepped out on this path."

Their grief counselor recommended they wait at least until November to attempt an embryo transfer, so that a birth would not precede the first anniversary of the twins' deaths. Knowing how long it could take to produce a pregnancy, they threw themselves back into the process.

Friends and relatives worried it might be too fast. But Chad and David reassured them they weren't trying to replace Asher and Holland, only to create a sibling for them. As for financing another round, which would cost at least another $75,000, Chad said the strategy this time would be to win the lottery. Absent that, they would borrow again.

They signed on with a new doctor and made arrangements through Hinson's agency for a third egg retrieval from Jessica, the donor who had helped them produce Asher and Holland. It was important to Chad and David that there be a genetic link between their first children and any future ones.

In late July, they posted an ad seeking a new surrogate on http://www.surromomsonline.com . "We will forever be parents to our sweet babies who lived so briefly with us," they wrote. "They taught us that the capacity to love is without bounds. They also cemented our desire to have more children. We know our continued journey to build our family will be incredible because it will be guided by our special guardian angels."

They were flooded with responses. In September, they negotiated a surrogacy agreement with a 41-year-old school crossing guard, a divorced mother from Massachusetts. Two of her three children are twins, and she carried them for nearly 38 weeks.

Later this year, a doctor is scheduled to transfer two embryos into her uterus, in the hope that Chad and David Craig might again become fathers.


kevin.sack@latimes.com