PARENTS
06/19/2012 03:42 pm ET

Three Couples Win Free IVF Cycle Through Sher Fertility Institute 'I Believe' Contest (VIDEO)

Three couples have won the chance to start a family through in vitro fertilization that will be provided free of charge.

Officials at the Sher Fertility Institute hosted a contest in which they encouraged hopeful couples to submit a video detailing their struggle to conceive. But instead of choosing one winner, the center donated fertility sessions to three couples from California, Texas and British Columbia, according to a Sher Fertility press release.

The winners, who have endured hardships including miscarriages, failed adoptions, still births and death, will receive the treatment, valued at $12,000, at no cost.

IVF treatments in the United States can range in cost from $10,000 to $20,000 per treatment, and only 15 states require that insurance providers cover the treatment, according to a 2010 article from The Daily Beast.

Contestants were instructed to express their struggles and plans for the future in any way -- "sad, hopeful, funny, happy, sentimental" -- they found appropriate, according to the contest details.

For Melissa Costa-Lac of British Columbia, the good news was so overwhelming she had to pull over on the side of the road and cry, Time's Bonnie Rochman reports.

But for U.S. Marine Jimmy Heaton and his wife, Emily, IVF is an all-too-familiar process: The couple from Camp Pendleton in California have already gone through six IVF cycles, all of which resulted in miscarriages, according to KPBS.

But despite their heartbreak, the couple remains hopeful.

"Our dreams of a family will never be broken. We will never lose faith that one day our hero will be hanging balloons and signs for daddy's homecoming," the couple stated in their video journal entry.

Although the center's treatment will offer three couples a chance at their dreams, Time reports the implications of the giveaway aren't that simple:

“It’s a publicity maneuver,” says Samantha Pfeifer, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania and chair of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s (ASRM) practice committee. “What makes it weird is that you’re creating a life and that puts it into a different category. But if you think of it as a medical procedure you have to pay cash for, you could think of it as giving away a free car: we need a car but we can’t afford it, let’s go for it.”

Even so, Sher Fertility Institute hasn't been the only center to offer fertility treatments as a prize.

Last year, Ottawa's radio Hot 89.9 stirred controversy after asking listeners to write a letter explaining why they deserved to win a round of fertility treatments estimated to cost $35,000.

Listeners were split in their feelings about tactic: Some said that promoting adoption would be a better strategy, while others praised the station for giving couples a chance to start a family.

Contests aside, IVF remains a popular option for couples who have had trouble conceiving.

In fact, according to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, about 70,000 rounds of IVF are performed each year.

In 2010, women younger than 35 went through nearly 40,000 cycles of IVF using fresh embryos from non-donors, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.

In comparison, women between the ages of 35-37 and 38-40 underwent about 20,000 cycles for each age group, while those aged 41-42 underwent nearly 10,000 cycles.

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