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Image of a newborn baby being handled by a nurse.

I was 15 in 1978 when Louise Joy Brown’s birth captured the world’s attention. Still new to monthly menstrual cycles, I had just begun to believe that one day my womb would be at the center of human creation. It was a wonderful dream while it lasted.

Two decades later, I sat nervously in my ob-gyn’s exam room covered only by a paper gown. No one could tell me why I hadn’t been able to get pregnant, so I was preparing to turn to the bright promise of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

I didn’t know then that it would become a frustrating, fruitless, and expensive odyssey. Nor did I know anything about the dark side of assisted reproduction, a highly profitable industry that operates largely under the radar of regulators.

After several years of pumping my body full of hormones for monitored cycles and treatments, my husband and I had spent nearly $50,000 without the joy of having a child. Unlike the pictures of smiling parents and their new babies posted on clinic websites and social media feeds, I came...