Four years and $100,000: Couple's struggle to have a baby

Melissa Buttigieg
News Reporter

Melbourne woman Bec Passlow never thought she would be a mother.

She was 36 years old when she and wife Joh Villani started their first round of IVF, and doctors thought age was a factor in their 15 unsuccessful courses.

It took four years and about $100,000, but the couple was finally “blessed” with baby Valentine.

Despite the government giving rebates for about half of their expenses, IVF fees have to be paid up front for each round, which can be a huge financial burden on some families.

Now 41 years old, Ms Passlow said she and Ms Villani, 47, had good jobs and never put a budget on having a baby. They are even planning a second.

After 16 courses of IVF, Bec Passlow finally became pregnant and gave birth to baby Valentine. Source: Bec Passlow

“We were really lucky to be in a position to do IVF without financial hardship,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

Early in the process, Ms Passlow realised her eggs were having trouble being fertilised, which she assumed was due to her age. So a donor embryo was used from an anonymous couple, left over after completing their own IVF journey. Ms Passlow described this as “an incredible gift”.

She and her wife feared they would never have children together, having met later in life. But nine months ago their first child Valentine was born, whom they are both besotted with.

“It’s been extraordinary. We feel so blessed that we were able to access IVF... We are so in love with him,” Ms Passlow said.

“We really valued having fertility specialist Nicole Hope’s expertise, never selling us false hope... she never sold us medical conventions that weren’t backed by science.”

Bec Passlow and wife Joh Villani with their baby boy Valentine. Source: Bec Passlow

IVF costs can cause financial hardship

The new mum said Dr Hope had been transparent about the process, costs, and what was required, so there weren’t any surprises along the way.

Ms Passlow said it cost $10,000 to $15,000 for each cycle of IVF, and it took about a month for any Medicare rebates to be paid back.

“Coming up with that money up front can limit people’s opportunities to continue,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“People are even accessing their superannuation early to pay for it.”

She admitted “sacrificing your future [security] for your future,” was a conflict, but she couldn’t put a price on being a mother.

“We sold an asset to pay for it and we just saved every cycle. The number of times you can do that is limited... We were fortunate enough to be in a position to afford it and sacrifice other things to be able to afford it.”

The Northcote couple are planning for another try at IVF, but this time they have just three attempts for a brother or sister for Valentine, utilising the remaining eggs and sperm from the same anonymous donors.

“We’d be really lucky to be blessed twice,” Ms Passlow said.

Joh Villani (pictured) and wife Bec Passlow didn't think they would ever become parents, but baby Valentine was born nine months ago. Source: Bec Passlow

How much does IVF cost in Australia?

According to IVFAustralia, one standard cycle of IVF costs around $10,000 – about half of which is rebated through Medicare. Additional costs come with freezing eggs and sperm, and injecting sperm into each egg to assist with fertilisation, among other expenses.

Many Australian fertility treatments attract a rebate from Medicare, in addition to the Medicare Safety Net which provides additional rebates for people with large medical expenses.

The cost of fertility treatment is however becoming more competitive in recent years, thanks to more doctor-owned facilities being established, according to Dr Hope. One of these is the new Newlife IVF specialist fertility centre in Box Hill, east of Melbourne, where she practices, which offers all aspects of pregnancy onsite.

An estimate of out-of-pocket costs for fertility treatment and associated IVF services. Source: IVFAustralia.

“While many of our standard costs are almost half the price of some competitors (after Medicare rebates), we have included three laboratory techniques as ‘standard treatment’ that other clinics might choose to charge additional fees for,” Dr Hope told Yahoo News Australia.

These inclusive treatments are the use of EmbryoGlue for successful embryo transfer; use of an EmbryoScope incubator to help grow the embryo; and egg spindle visualisation imaging system to assess if an egg is in optimal condition for fertilisation via sperm injection.

In addition to the cost of a course of IVF, there are also treatments not covered under the standard price structure or through Medicare. So your fertility specialist should discuss these with you and explain the additional fees at the outset, Dr Hope advised.

Bec Passlow and Joh Villani will soon start trying for a brother or sister for Valentine. Source: Bec Passlow

What to consider when choosing a fertility specialist

Dr Hope recommended people looking into IVF or fertility treatment to firstly obtain a diagnosis that explains their difficulty in conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy, and consider if IVF is the right treatment.

Determine if your fertility specialist offers other treatments. “Not everyone struggling to have a baby necessarily needs IVF,” Dr Hope said.

She also advised to talk to other patients before selecting a fertility specialist.

“On a personal level, it’s important that you feel comfortable with the personality of your specialist and that you’ll work well as a team.”

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