One in six couples worldwide are diagnosed with Infertility. For those who try to solve the problem using in-vitro fertilization – IVF – the costs can be astronomical. Just one cycle can cost about $20,000; $12,000 for the service itself, another $5,000 for the medications, plus the time and cost to travel to a fertility center. What’s worse is that there is no guarantee of success. It is an enormous gamble … much like everything else in Vegas.
Vegas Baby is the story of the people who entered a contest at the Sher Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Las Vegas in the hopes of winning a “free baby” – that is, getting a free round of in-vitro services. The contestants were asked to submit a video on social media explaining why they should win; and why viewers should make their dreams come true. One couple dressed up as superheroes; another did an animation; some cried on camera; and most pleaded, “please vote for us.”
For many of them, it was a last chance at parenthood. As one husband put it, “This is the only thing I cannot provide for my wife.” For all of them, trying to get pregnant has been and continues to be a painful process, and one tinged with hope and fear, shame, a sense of failure, and lots of prayer. From a devoutly Catholic Latino couple in Texas to a Lesbian Lady Gaga Impersonator in New York, they are all determined to have a baby against all odds.
Director Amanda Micheli tackles this delicate subject with empathy and tact. She humanizes the clinical aspects, showing the women injecting themselves with hormones (in their stomachs, their thighs, arms, and butts); the process of egg retrieval and embryo transfer; and finally, the waiting game that ensues. Viewers get a close up view of the process, as well as the heartbreak that comes when the outcome doesn’t work in their favor.
Micheli is a bit of an expert on the subject. After years of trying not to have a baby, she and her husband decided to get pregnant. But it proved to be a struggle, during which time her husband was also diagnosed with testicular cancer. Micheli says she was astonished by her ignorance about her own fertility, and “bowled over” by the financial and emotional costs of treatment.
To add insult to injury, her home state, California, like the majority of the United States, does not mandate infertility health care coverage, even for cancer patients. So Micheli and her husband had to “foot” the bill for the entire cost of treatment. As she said, “It felt like the doctor took over our bedroom and our savings account all at once, and it put an incredible strain on our marriage.” Luckily, her husband’s cancer was treatable. Unfortunately, her infertility has not been.
It’s one of the reasons she decided to make this film – to give voice to all those who struggle in isolation with fertility. “By humanizing their stories, my goal is to break the silence around this medical and social issue and ignite a conversation about the flipside of reproductive choice: the choice to have a child.”
This documentary is raw, emotional, and riveting even for those of us who’ve never gone through the pain. It literally had me on the edge of my seat … waiting, hoping, and cheering on all of the would-be parents. When you watch it, make sure to keep a box of tissues by your side.
Vegas Baby will have its U.S. television premiere on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 at 8 p.m. on PBS’s America Reframed and it will be released on Netflix on July 4, 2017.