Margie Romett remembers visiting Walt Disney World with her husband, Donald, during the years when they were trying to have children.
"There were times when I would see a child or a happy family, I would have to go behind a bench or tree and cry," said Romett, 40, of Sarasota. "I never thought we would have that."
But several years and in vitro fertilization treatments later, the Rometts are the proud parents of Faith, who is 2, and Ava, who is 5 months old today.
The girls are among an estimated 4 million babies born worldwide thanks to the work of British scientist Robert Edwards, who was honored Monday with the Nobel Prize in medicine for his role in developing IVF. The award comes 32 years after the birth of the world's first "test tube" baby, Louise Brown of Britain.
The significance of the news was not lost on families like the Rometts, or the doctors and scientists working to advance the field.
"This is a big day for us," said Dr. Shayne Plosker, director of the IVF & Reproductive Endocrinology program at the University of South Florida, and the Rometts' fertility doctor. "It's one of the amazing breakthroughs in medicine that we've experienced in our lifetimes."
Today, more than 300,000 babies around the world are born each year through IVF, which involves fertilizing eggs — either the mother's own or a donor's — in a laboratory dish and placing them back into the women's uterus.
Though medical advances have improved the success of IVF over the years, it remains a process that is costly both emotionally and financially. Most couples spend years and tens of thousands of dollars trying for a baby, with no guarantee of success. The success rate for the most ideal candidates, women under age 35, is about 45 percent, but pregnancies decline sharply by age 40.
IVF is unaffordable for many, costing more than $10,000 per treatment, and most insurance plans don't cover it. Plosker estimates that of the IVF treatments done by his department, about 20 percent are covered by insurance to some degree.
Romett, a part-time medical biller, and her husband, Donald, 36, a disabled Navy veteran, estimated they spent well over $50,000 on IVF. She worked full time while undergoing treatments to finance them.
Bobbie Itwaru, 41, of Tampa is among the few whose insurance covered part of the cost. She started IVF in 2004, and required 10 treatments over five years before she finally became pregnant. By then, the insurance had run out, and she and her husband paid $75,000 from their savings.
On July 12, she gave birth to twins Hannah and Haylee.
"It was a long journey," said Itwaru, an internal auditor for a local bank. "But we finally got our little miracles. In the end, it was all worth it."
She said she and her husband, Clifford Gideon, 54, who recently retired, probably would have adopted a child if the IVF treatments hadn't worked.
Though her twins were born preterm, at about 35 weeks, and spent some time in a neonatal intensive care unit, both are healthy now, Itwaru said.
Margie and Donald Romett were 28 and 24, respectively, when they got married. Margie Romett remembers people saying the couple had plenty of time to have a family.
After years without success, she learned she had polycystic ovary syndrome, a problem that can make it difficult to get pregnant. Their first IVF attempts were unsuccessful, costing them more than $9,000. But the next round of treatments worked. In 2007, Margie Romett became pregnant, and Faith was born on Feb. 4, 2008.
The couple's next attempt at IVF resulted in a miscarriage. But they decided to try one last time, and Ava was born on May 5.
"It has meant the world to us," Margie Romett said. "Without the science and the medicine, we wouldn't have realized that dream of having a biological child."
The family recently celebrated — at Disney World.
"We had an absolute blast," Margie Romett said. "Our family is complete."
Richard Martin can be reached at [email protected]