By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman, Reporter

People’s eyes are now on Scarlet Snow. Her every move is documented and shared, whether her adventures at a baby play center or when she is simply just being cute. At the tender age of one year, the baby superstar has amassed hearts, followers, and likes on her very own Instagram account — @scarletsnowbelo — which currently has 121,000 fans (and counting).

When age does matter: On IVF, surrogacy, and Obando

Just in case you have been living under a rock, the cute little baby’s parents are beauty-doctor-to-the-stars Vicki Belo, 63, and cosmetic doctor/model/businessman Hayden Kho, 36. According to reports, baby Scarlet was conceived via in vitro fertilization (IVF) with a surrogate mother based in the United States.

“IVF is a test of potential to get good eggs,” Dr. Anthony Ancheta, an OB-GYN at the Medical City, Ortigas, told BusinessWorld in a phone interview. He does his IVF procedures at Victory IVF Lab in Makati.

A woman produces one egg in a month, which has a 10-15% chance of meeting with a sperm via intercourse, he said, resulting in a natural pregnancy. IVF, on the other hand, is a medical procedure wherein an egg cell is retrieved from the mother’s ovaries to be fertilized with the sperm cell of the father in a laboratory dish. The resulting embryo is implanted in either the mother’s uterus or that of a surrogate.

When age does matter: On IVF, surrogacy, and Obando

Baby Scarlet Snow has not only captured hearts but also opened doors for discussing IVF and surrogacy issues in the Philippines.

“Thank you Belo for increasing the awareness about IVF,” said Dr. Ancheta. He sounded happy on the phone. He said that not many Filipino couples are aware that IVF procedures can be done locally, and with “apparatus that are at par abroad.”

There are six accredited IVF centers in the Philippines: one each in Cebu and Davao and four in Metro Manila (St. Luke’s Bonifacio Global City, Victory Lab Makati, the Kato Repro Biotech Center in Makati, and the Center for Reproductive Medicine Inc. in Pasig).

Yet, despite the free publicity for IVF, Dr. Ancheta sees a problem with Ms. Belo’s statement that “Scarlet Snow is 100% our daughter.”

“The claim is misleading. It gives false hopes to couples,” said Dr. Ancheta. “How old is Belo?” he asked.

At 63, the celebrity doctor is already in menopause, Dr. Ancheta implies.

“The magic number for women [to get pregnant easily] is 35 years old,” he pointed out.

Ms. Belo made the statement that Scarlet Snow is “100%” her biological daughter with Mr. Kho on ABS-CBN’s Bandila on May 18. An earlier Philippine Star report had said that only Kho was the biological parent.

The quality of a woman’s egg cells diminishes once  she hits 42, said Dr. Ancheta, and getting pregnant becomes more difficult. On average, Filipinas start to experience menopause — the end of menstrual cycle — in their late 40s, at around 47 or 48.

Dr. Ancheta doesn’t want couples to get the wrong message, he said. An IVF procedure can only do so much, and miracles are “next to impossible.”

He said the success rate of IVF depends on the age of the patients and on how healthy their egg cells and sperm cells are.

But being young doesn’t necessarily mean IVF will be a guaranteed success.

Camille Perez (not her real name) had IVF at St. Luke’s BGC last year. She was married two years ago and had a hard time conceiving a baby the natural way. Aged 24, her menstrual cycle is irregular. Her husband, who is 58, has a low sperm count.

As part of the IVF treatment, she had to go to the fertility clinic daily to have hormone injections in order to induce egg production.

Ang hirap, lagi akong bloated tapos hindi pa din pala, parang ‘Honey ano ba ’yan!’ Hindi biro ang gastos kasi every time I visit, I have at least P20,000 with me, eh every day ’yun,” she told BusinessWorld. (It’s hard because I feel bloated all the time and I thought that I was pregnant — but I was not. I’m like, ‘Honey, what’s happening?’ And it’s not a joke to bring at least P20,000 every time I visit [the clinic], which is every day.)

The price for the procedure depends on the hospital and patient’s age. According to Dr. Ancheta, at Medical City, it may start at P300,000.

Ms. Perez’s IVF failed. But she said they’re willing to try again after a year or two. Or maybe adopt. But surrogacy is definitely out of the picture, she said.

When age does matter: On IVF, surrogacy, and Obando

Surrogacy, according to the Web site IVF Australia, “is a form of assisted reproductive technology where a woman (the surrogate) offers to carry a baby through pregnancy on behalf of another person or couple, and then return the baby to the intended parent(s) once it is born.”

It’s a procedure that is accepted in some countries like the United States. Belo and Kho’s baby was carried to term through a surrogate in the USA. Other countries like Denmark, Ireland, Belgium, and United Kingdom, allow surrogacy is allowed but the surrogate should not be paid or just have pregnancy-related expenses covered.

But surrogacy is not accepted in the Philippines.

According to Dr. Ancheta, the Philippine Society of Reproductive Medicine (PSRM) has decided that it’s unethical.

“PSRM is a governing body among medical experts. There are no legal rules about IVF in the Philippines, but under our ethical guideline, which is a consensus among our members, we prohibit surrogacy and IVF with donation, or using donor eggs or sperm,” he said.

There are no legal or commercial surrogacy treatments in the country he said, attributing it to culture and religion.

“Plus it’s open to abuse of both parties,” he said.

For instance, the surrogate mother may overcharge the biological parents or decide to keep the baby. Or, conversely, the parents may suddenly decide not to accept the baby, especially if it has birth defects. In a highly publicized case in Thailand, an Australian couple allegedly left a newborn baby with Down Syndrome with his poverty stricken Thai surrogate mother, while they took the healthy twin sister back to Australia with them. This prompted the Thai government to ban surrogacy in 2014, according to a story in The Jakarta Post.

Dr. Ancheta doesn’t see the legalization of IVF using donors or surrogacy in the Philippines any time soon. “In the future? There may be attempts, but there will be blockings [sic] because of our culture.”

For those with faith, there’s another (cheaper) option for Filipino couples desperate to start a family: the Sayaw sa Obando.

The Obando fertility dance happens in May. Childless women, often with husbands in tow, flock to Obando, Bulacan to fervently pray and dance to the patron saints of fertility Paschal, Claire, and Our Lady of Salambao, in the hopes of bearing a child.

This tradition is deeply rooted in our culture and religion. Dr. Jose Rizal mentioned Sayaw sa Obando in his novel Noli Me Tangere, where his character Doña Pia Alba danced in Obando to conceive a Maria Clara.

One of the many hopeful women was Luzviminda Laluon, 53, from Laguna. She was 42 years old when she decided to pray for a miracle. “We thought of going to Obando. Wala namang mawawala (We’d lose nothing) if we try.” She said she had been trying to conceive a baby with his husband, Miguel, to no avail. A few months after a visit to Obando, she learned she was finally pregnant. The Laluons had a baby boy, Lemuel, now nine years old.

There is no science to explain Sayaw sa Obando, with couples believing subsequent conceptions are miracles.

Dr. Ancheta sees no problem with dancing at Obando. “Whatever works for you,” he said.

Starting a family takes a lot of preparation, he said.

“The money can be earned or borrowed,” he said, “but the mind-set and a good state of health are more important,” he said, especially of couples who want to try IVF. “They should be ready for a rollercoaster ride.”

Also, do not forget to pray, he advised.