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Human egg being penetrated by a needle for IVF

By the time Sarah Chamberlin’s fertility doctor declared her genes “incompatible” with her husband’s and said the clash might be preventing her from having children, she’d had five rounds of artificial insemination and two cycles of in vitro fertilization — and precisely zero pregnancies. So when the physician suggested she try a drug that is ordinarily prescribed to cancer patients, to get her immune system to stop attacking her embryos, she didn’t hesitate.

“I was 41 by then,” said Chamberlain, 47, who lives on New York’s Long Island and at the time was a consultant at her husband’s restaurant. “When they say they have one more thing you can try, it gives you hope.”

She had already spent tens of thousands of dollars in an effort to conceive — her insurance didn’t cover assisted reproduction — and had grown inured to the fertility-related shots that turned her into a human pin cushion. With all she had been through, it seemed foolish to hesitate over six additional daily injections and another $3,000 for the drug, called Neupogen; the idea that she...