His PBS documentary ‘Vegas Baby’ directed by Amanda Micheli explores the high cost of IVF
Would you bet your life savings on possibly getting pregnant?
A single round of in vitro fertilization (IVF), where a woman’s eggs are fertilized in a lab and implanted in the would-be mom’s womb, can cost $20,000. Yet there’s only a 30% chance that a single IVF cycle will result in a successful pregnancy.
“That’s choosing between buying a car, paying for a year of college – or the chance to have a baby,” Morgan Spurlock, the director of “Super Size Me,” told Moneyish. “If you walked into a car lot with that money, and someone told you that you had less than a 50/50 chance of getting the car, you wouldn’t do it.”
Yet Spurlock and his wife played the odds, spending around $60,000 on IVF and suffering a miscarriage over three years before they were blessed with their second son Kallen 13 months ago. This drew Spurlock to be an executive producer on the documentary “Vegas Baby” that aired on PBS on Tuesday, which follows families so desperate to conceive that they enter an online contest to win a free round of IVF from the Sher Institute, a network of nine private fertility clinics. “Vegas Baby” also hits Netflix on July 4th.
“People with infertility are rolling the dice every day,” documentary director Amanda Micheli told Moneyish. She turned her lens on the emotional and financial cost of IVF after undergoing three unsuccessful rounds of it herself, including one miscarriage.
“I’m a pretty educated person, but I wasn’t aware of the odds,” she said. “So I felt, as a filmmaker, it was my job to take my own personal experience and try to turn it into something more meaningful that could help other people.”
More than seven million Americans – and one in six couples worldwide – struggle with getting pregnant and carrying a baby to term.
And while IVF has become a household name as celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen, Nicole Kidman and Celine Dion become moms that way, “the tabloids tend to glamorize it as ‘the $200,000 baby’ and just show the happy ending, and not the strain and the expense that led up to that,” Micheli said.
Indeed, insurance rarely covers the cost of fertility services — a market that will exceed $21 billion by 2020 — like IVF, which can cost families tens of thousands of dollars. One couple in the film has a baby through IVF, but they lose their house to foreclosure in the process. And most of the media stories on the topic don’t delve into the emotional strain of IVF either. “There is a line that you as a couple have to draw, of how far are you willing to go, because it is such a stress and a strain,” Spurlock said.
Plus, there’s still a lot of stigma around getting IVF, as many people equate it with something self indulgent, like getting plastic surgery or building a designer baby. Athena Reich, a Lady Gaga impersonator from NYC, reveals in “Vegas Baby” that it was harder to come out about her infertility issues than it was to come out as a lesbian. “There’s this kind of shame, and you feel like a failure,” she said.
Ultimately, Micheli says she hopes that “people that watch this won’t take their fertility for granted, and that people who don’t have this problem will have a little more empathy for what people are going through.” She also hopes “there will be more insurance coverage to help people finance this,” but adds “that will be an uphill battle.”
“Especially where we are right now, where we’re not sure if anything is going to be covered anymore,” said Spurlock.
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