Whose Egg Is It, Anyway? An Embryo-Custody Battle

She’s desperate to bear a child; he refuses to be the father. While Augusta and Randy Roman duke it out in court, three embryos they created together are on ice. Welcome to the custody battle of the future.

By Louise Farr

The Desire & Struggle to Have a Family
Sitting at her dining room table, smoothing the crisp white cloth with long, nervous fingers, Augusta speaks of the agony she experienced in her job as an intensive care nurse until she made peace with the idea of mortality — both her own and that of others. "Life is fragile," she says. "I was crying every time someone died. Watching the family go through it is the hardest. Sometimes I say to them, ‘I’m not abandoning you, but I have to step away.’"
Yet she can’t step away from her embryos. "People ask me why I fight, ...I don’t want to be a poster child." But, she adds, "I made a mistake when I initialed that contract."
When Augusta was a girl, one of seven siblings in a bustling Nigerian household with a father who was a school principal and a mother who traded goods in the local market, she wanted to be a flight attendant. "I liked the hat and the uniform," she says, sitting in the house that she is willing to sell, if necessary, to pay her legal bills. A rare smile, raised by the childhood memories, softens her strong features. Most of the time, she appears stuck in the fog of disbelief that descended the night Randy changed his mind.
Augusta was 22 in 1983, when she left her home country for Houston. There she juggled plates as a Denny’s waitress and worked as a healthcare aide to pay for her nursing studies at Texas Woman’s University. Her graduation, in 1992, meant more money to send home to Nigeria. But her American dream was about more than a career: It included a family and children of her own.
Around Christmastime in 1996, long after a brief first marriage had ended, Augusta began chatting with a man she met at the gym. They made an unlikely couple. Augusta was in peak condition, having earned a master’s degree in fitness after completing her nursing studies, whereas Randy seemed the stereotypical techie, slender and pale. He’d recently arrived from California to work under contract for NASA.
"He espoused my values and religious beliefs; he had what I was looking for in a husband," says Augusta, who was baptized in the Anglican Church. "I was going on 35. We had both gone through this dating stuff, and we thought, ‘We know what we want, so why not get married?’"
Six months after they started dating, they did. They bought the house in Webster in part because one bedroom was already decorated in blue, for a boy, and another in pink, for a girl.
Life together was quiet. They weren’t church- or moviegoers, but they enjoyed dinner out and reading the Bible. On weekends, they explored neighborhoods more upscale than their own, fantasizing about where they would move as their children grew. In 1999, Augusta was thrilled when she became pregnant, then devastated when she miscarried at 10 weeks. "I thought maybe I was on my feet working too much," she says. She had no reason to doubt her fertility: Augusta had terminated two unwanted pregnancies when she was a young woman in Nigeria. But by 2000 it had become apparent that having a family wasn’t going to happen naturally, so Augusta began taking hormones to stimulate her ovaries. "Getting older added so much pressure," she says.
In 2001, Augusta underwent a series of unsuccessful artificial insemination treatments, then a painful dye test to examine her fallopian tubes, followed by laparoscopic surgery to remove scar tissue. She still couldn’t conceive. "With each new test I was so hopeful," she says. "Then to be disappointed every time was really tough. But I didn’t think about giving up. This was America. They have technology. I was going to try everything that we could afford."

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