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Ottawa radio station announces winners of controversial baby contest

Ottawa radio station announces winners of controversial baby contest - image

OTTAWA – Five couples have won the chance to become parents thanks to a controversial contest held by an Ottawa radio station.

More than 400 people entered to win a round of IVF treatments worth $35,000 as part of a contest held by Hot 89.9, an Ottawa top-40 radio station targeting women aged 25 to 45-years-old.

The entrants were narrowed down to five finalists and the public was asked to vote on who should win the IVF treatments.

The couples spent weeks soliciting votes from friends, family and complete strangers, with some votes coming in from places as far as the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland.

All five couples gathered at the radio station early Tuesday morning, ready for elation or utter disappointment.

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But in a surprise twist, Jeff Mauler, one of the morning show personalities, announced: “The winner for win a baby…the winner is all of you.

 

The announcement was met with silence and then tears.

“By the silence alone, everybody sitting in their cars, everybody sitting at work, everyone at their breakfast tables had an image of what these couples were doing. The silence was speaking a thousand words this morning,” he said.

Mauler said the twist came after a last minute decision over the weekend.

“Truly we knew that we just couldn’t go with one. They all had great stories. They are all wonderful people and we found a way to make it happen.”

The winners were Marie Allene MacGillivray and Christopher James Noiles, Tracy and Nathan Broad, Josee and Steven Nicholson and Carly and Benjamin Perkins; and Natasha and Ryan Derouchie, both 30-year-olds from the Ottawa area.

“I’m still completely floored. My husband and I were sobbing and trying to get it all in because this has been a rollercoaster of a week.”

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Desperately hoping to win, Derouchie hasn’t been able to sleep since entering the contest a month ago and hasn’t let her cellphone out of her sight.

But as hard as the month had been, she said the heartache was compounded when she stepped into the radio station Tuesday morning and saw the four other couples.

“All of us were like we wish we could all win because it would be so hard, and then we did!”

The Derouchies have been trying to have children since they got married five years ago.

At 17-years-old, Natasha had her appendix removed and had two follow-up surgeries to remove abscesses. The surgeries left the young woman with enough scar tissue to interfere with the mobility of her fallopian tubes. Meanwhile, Ryan had low motility, or slow sperm, making natural conception near impossible.

The couple tried everything — supplements, diets, exercises – to conceive before going to the fertility clinic in April.

That’s when they got the news the IVF was their last hope, at $10,000 a try.

“It floored us because it was the only option that we had and that is a lot of money when it is not a guarantee,” Natasha says. “Basically we had no idea about how we were going to come up with that money.”

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In Ontario, money is one of the biggest challenges facing couples considering IVF because the provincial government doesn’t cover the procedure.

The great irony for the 400 Ottawa couples who applied is that just a kilometer away in Quebec, the treatments are covered.

The radio station contends that part of the contest, which was birthed out of the experience of a radio station’s employee, is to raise awareness about the government’s failure to fund IVF.

The province set up an expert panel on infertility and adoption in June 2008. The panel recommended Ontario fund three rounds of IVF, but no action has been taken.

“What I really want now, in the end, is for our province to step up and start paying for this,” says Mauler.

Derouchie said the contest stoked a conversation that has been kept silent for too long.

“I hope the other 400 couples that applied are going to be asking the government what they are going to do about this,” she said. “They started the conversation and everyone else has to continue it.”

That’s exactly what Jennifer Druer is doing. Druer is one of the would-be moms who entered the contest, but walked away empty-handed.

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She’s channeling her disappointment into political action, promoting a petition to get the Ontario government to fund IVF.

 

“I cried for a bit, but it is not going to stop me,” she says. “I figured if I can’t get it through Hot 89.9 I can at least get people to sign the petition and try to get it that way.”

Tens of thousands of people logged on to vote for the five finalists and Druer is hoping they will also sign the petition.

While the contest struck a chord with thousands, it also stirred up controversy.

Critics said the “Win a Baby” marketing was false advertising and raised questions about whether it is ethical for a radio station to determine who should be a parent.

“It could promote certain social norms or expectations about who really is most deserving of being a parent,” says Carolyn McLeod, a professor of philosophy at the University of Western Ontario who studies reproductive ethics. “We tend to think some people are more deserving than others.”

The five finalists were chosen by a team made up of personnel from the radio station and fertility experts, in a process that Mauler described as “emotional.”

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He added, “We wanted to make sure we hand-picked five that spoke to us emotionally, but also had the best chance of conceiving.”

The task proved to be difficult according to Mauler because of all the heartfelt entries and the radio station had to push the deadline for announcing finalists back several days.

The eventual winners were supposed to be chosen by listeners, but Mauler said giving all the couples the treatment was “the right thing to do.”

McLeod, who went through struggles with infertility before eventually adopting, says she hopes the couples all have healthy babies, but that the contest raises ethical questions about the commodification of children and why society is so wrapped up in biological childbirth as a way of having a child.

She warns that the couples should have a back-up plan in case the rounds of IVF don’t work and they eventually have to pay for more treatment or adoption.

“People depend to be overly optimistic even if they are told there is not guarantee,” she says. “In the majority of rounds, IVF doesn’t work…. The point is there is no guarantee.”

The opportunity is enough for the Derouchies.

“I wanted to call (the fertility clinic) as soon as we left the station for an appointment,” says Natasha. “I’d go through anything to be able to have a child. We are so excited and we are so ready that it has all been worth it.”

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She added that she knows it may not work out in the end, but the contest has taken away the financial stress of trying.

Mauler said all critics need to do is to is talk to the couples to be convinced the contest was the right thing to do.

“If they see the happiness, joyfulness the couple is going through and what they are about to go through, I think all the naysayers will be zipped up pretty tight,” he says.

Whether the contest results in any new babies won’t be known for at least nine months and the winners will decide if they want to share the results of the IVF rounds.

Until then, the radio station will be going ahead with new promotions, without any plans to resurrect the “Win a Baby” contest for a second round.

“I would never say never, but traditionally at our radio station once we hit gold we go on to something else,” Mauler said. 

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