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FATHERS IN THE MAKING

Ready to be dads, but they're going to need help

For a baby of their own, David and Chad will have to draw on science, the law, their families -- and most of all, each other.

October 29, 2006|Kevin Sack | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fairfax, Va. — CHAD HODGE LIKED #694. She was a 21-year-old college student, 5-feet-5, 135 pounds, with straight brown hair, blue eyes and a narrow nose. She had won 16 awards in high school for academics and music, and scored a 1210 on the SAT. She was outgoing, intelligent, responsible and friendly, or at least she said she was.

Chad wanted her to be the mother of his children.

But David Craig, Chad's partner of seven years, had his heart set on #685. She was a teacher, 23, 5-feet-2, with wavy blond hair and light blue eyes. She wore a size 0. She had been a varsity tennis player in high school, a ballerina and a classical pianist.

For two hours on that day in early 2004, Chad and David sat in a small office at Genetics & IVF Institute, a fertility clinic in northern Virginia, and sifted through the dossiers of prospective egg donors. It felt more like catalog shopping than human reproduction.

The previous fall, they had decided to have a child through a gestational surrogacy arrangement. They would pay one woman to provide her eggs and then, after fertilizing them in vitro with their sperm, pay another woman to carry the resulting embryos to term.

It was a quest that would take them to the frontiers of medicine, bioethics, technology and the law, as well as to the front lines of the culture wars.

They had considered adoption, but Chad, 33, and David, 35, wanted to participate more fully in the process of bringing a child into the world. They longed to see the first ultrasonic images of a tiny pumping heart and even to provide coaching in the maternity ward, just like straight fathers.

They also hoped to exert some control over their child's genetic makeup, and to create a biological link across the generations. Over the last decade, science and society had conspired to make it all possible.

Rather than creating a life in the privacy of a bedroom, Chad and David would plot this conception in law offices, doctors' suites and Internet chat rooms. It would take a village to manufacture their child.

A weak link at any point -- the egg donor, the surrogate, the lawyers, doctors or embryologists -- could mean emotional devastation, at considerable expense. Chad and David were braced to spend upwards of $100,000, much of it borrowed, with no assurance of success. In the young field of in vitro fertilization, which had produced its first baby only in 1978, heartbreak often preceded happiness.

Hoping to keep the genetics within their families, Chad and David had first approached their sisters about donating eggs. But Chad's sister and her husband had not wanted to interrupt their own baby-making timetable. And tests suggested that David's 37-year-old sister, at three years past the usual age limit for egg donors, might be a risky bet.

That left few options but to shop the open market for half of the genetic material that would determine their child's appearance, aptitude and health. All they would have to go on would be the responses to a 10-page questionnaire, a couple of pictures and a brief audiotape.

The egg donors in the clinic's database commanded a $5,000 fee, the maximum recommended by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Because state laws barred the sale of human tissue, contracts would assert that the donor was being paid not for her eggs, but for her time and trouble, including weeks of daily hormone injections.

The parties would remain anonymous to each other, minimizing any risk that the egg donor might someday stake a claim to the child. Though that anonymity would afford Chad and David a measure of protection, it also meant there would be little way to verify the donor's representations, from her genetic history to her SAT scores.

David shook his head as he turned the pages. "This is so 'Twilight Zone,' " he said. "I mean, these are people. This isn't what shirt am I going to buy."

"We're not doing this because we want to," Chad said. "Our options are limited."

In their profiles, egg donors had been asked to describe every imaginable trait, down to the contour of their hairlines (straight, slight curve, or widow's peak) and the flare of their nostrils (small, average or wide). Medical histories, from heart disease to handedness, were required going back three generations. Did anyone in the family have clubfoot? How about psoriasis? The donors were even asked their favorite colors, movies and songs.

Chad and David had ideas about what they wanted. For weeks, they had evaluated virtually any woman who entered their field of view. One night, when David met friends at a Georgetown bar, a striking woman with olive skin and dark eyes asked him to dance. When he later told Chad how flattering it had been, Chad could only ask: "Do you think she would be our egg donor?"

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