Today, in vitro fertilization, or as we all know it – IVF is a common practice through which mothers that cannot remain pregnant can have babies. Nearly 350,000 IVF babies are born every year around the world. But how did such an idea emerge and what does it feel to know you are the first baby ever born via in vitro fertilization? We’ll learn a lot more details in this article, where we find out about the Brown family and their baby girl Louise, who is now 41 years old!
20. ‘I Was the World’s First IVF Baby, This Is My Story’Last summer, Louise turned 40 and told her own story in an article for the Independent. ‘I was the world’s first IVF baby, this is my story,’ wrote the headline. Every year, on her birthday, Louise and the rest of the world celebrate together the anniversary of the procedure that led to her birth! Her story began in 1978, when she was born. However, it wasn’t as dreamy as most of stories are now…
The ones that made it all possible are fertility pioneers Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards, and Jean Purdy. Without their groundbreaking studies and procedure, the population on this planet would have had 6 million children less.
“My mum, Lesley Brown, went to the doctor suffering from depression. At the heart of it was her inability to have a child with my dad, John,” explained Brown. They then heard of an experiment that could have helped them conceive a baby.
Lesley and John Brown have tried to have a baby for almost a decade before they had Louise through the IVF procedure. Lesley’s fallopian tubes were blocked and that’s why she couldn’t conceive naturally. Thanks to British gynecologist Patrick Steptoe, scientist Robert Edwards, and embryologist Jean Purdy, Lesley would finally hold her first baby…
It was November 1977 when doctors were able to remove one of Lesley’s eggs. They fertilized it with John’s sperm in an incubator and waited Jean Purdy for hours to see if their work was successful. As soon as the egg was fertilized, the doctors transplanted it into Lesley’s uterus.
Lesley was about to give birth on July 25, 1978. Being the first mother that would give birth to a baby through IVF, the Oldham General Hospital was invaded with reporters who wanted to photograph the baby. The hospital had to evacuate everyone, fearing bomb threats!
When hearing what happened and that patients had to leave their beds, Lesley was horrified. One family acquaintance that was there said: “Everyone had to evacuate the hospital. Lesley was so mortified, she said she felt she was to blame for people having to leave their beds.”
As with any new science experiments and procedures, people doubted IVF children were going to be fertile as adults. However, the Brown family would debunk all those speculations when their second IVF child Natalie (and the 40th in the world), had her own baby in 1999, without requiring a special procedure. Natalie’s baby was healthy. But as Lesley and John Brown were happy having their first baby, they faced countless mean people…
Although a successful and groundbreaking technique that would only help women like Lesley was an incredible leap in medicine, not all people agreed with it. For instance, the Brown family received hate mail after Louise’s birth…
Louise wrote an autobiography, describing that her family discovered some parcels that were filled with disgusting things. For instance, one contained a small jewelry box with a sticker that had baby footprints. Lesley opened it, thinking it was a gift, but then she saw a spilled red liquid on a folded letter and a test tube baby warranty card.
Louise shared in her book that her parents received some sick letters, one telling them to keep the baby in the toilet: “There was one suggesting that you could keep a test-tube baby in a toilet bowl or fish tank… It was menacing and scary and considering the time the people must have taken in putting this thing together then sending it across the world to a three-month-old baby I would say a completely sick act by some sick minds.” The parents were terrified…
Considering Louise and her parents were under the spotlight for being the first family with a baby conceived through IVF, Lesley was always frightened. She had seen how mean the people were because of the way she got pregnant and was afraid to take her baby out in public.
Lesley lived in fear, worrying to reveal who she was or to let people approach her. Louise said in her autobiography: “Imagine how worrying this was for mum. For a while she was even more careful when taking me out in the pram.” But among all that hate, Lesley received many letters from women that were having the same fertility issues…
Lesley’s one letter from a woman in Australia said: “I fear that you will find yourselves on the receiving end of all the usual criticism and condemnation that follows any medical breakthrough, so am writing to try in a tiny way to even things up.” A lot of people were horrified by IVF, but many others were encouraged by it and were happy there was finally a way to have babies.
The Catholic Church objected to this process, and one spokesman for the Roman Catholic Cardinal Heenan said that scientists were murderers because in the method, they could destroy the fertilised human eggs. However, the Pope John Paul I was less critical of the Browns’ choice.
Pope John Paul I did argue that there was a religious and ethical debate on IVF, but he did not condemn the parents for wanting to have a baby. Louise grew up, and when she turned 4, her mother told her how she came in this world.
Lesley told her little girl how she was conceived, hoping that when her child is asked questions, she would know how to react. Louise recalls one kid asking her ‘How did you fit in the test tube?’ Then, she also faced a lot of mean reaction, even after she turned 40!
“People put cruel and ill-informed comments on the internet just about whenever there is a story about me. But I just ignore it,” said Louise. She’s had her fair share of hateful commentaries, and this is why she is an advocate for IVF.
Louise tried to keep a low profile, since she was uncomfortable talking to others about the circumstances of her birth: “When I was younger, it could play on my mind that everyone knows my name.” However, she overcame her fear!
As she grew older, Louise realized she had nothing to fear and she became an outspoken advocate for IVF. She goes to IVF conferences across Europe to hold speeches and encourage families that cannot conceive.