July 25, 1978 is a significant day in the history of fertility medicine. It was on this day that Louise Brown, the first baby to be conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF) saw the light of day.
Her earth-shattering story begins with the fervent desire of her parents, John and Lesley, to have their own child, which unfortunately could not be fulfilled in a natural way. For nine years they tried in vain to have a baby. The gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe and the reproductive health professional Robert Edwards finally brought hope - and, soon, the Brown's wish was fulfilled. In 1977, the doctors succeeded in fertilizing the couple's ovum and sperm outside the uterus via in vitro fertilization.
Their work earned the doctors a Nobel Prize in 2010. This new treatment method gave millions of couples with fertility problems hope of having their own child.
Today, over 40 years later, Louise herself is the mother of two children who were conceived in a completely natural way and shares her experiences with interested people all over the world. She gives lectures and has even written a book on her life story. Through this commitment, Louise educates couples worldwide about fertility disorders and artificial insemination and motivates them to seek medical help and not to give up planning for the future in the event of involuntary childlessness. She is the living proof that fertility medicine can help on the way to have a healthy, planned child.
Dear Ms. Brown, your birthday is a day of great importance in the history of reproductive medicine and was a sensation 40 years ago. Your birth as the first person conceived by in vitro fertilisation (IVF) has given hope to millions of people with an unfulfilled desire to have children and triggered a revolution in reproductive medicine. Today, you yourself are the mother of two children and are actively involved in educating people about IVF through your life story. We look forward to learning more about you and your special past.
LB: My mum and dad sat me down when I was four years old and showed me the film of my birth. They simply said that mum needed help from Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe in Ryder for me to be born. That film is now on Youtube! I was about to go to school, and they knew others would mention it. I think I was around 10 years old before I appreciated just what it meant. I don't think my mum and dad could ever have imagined the way that IVF has developed. Latest announcements say there are eight million IVF babies in the world. I am just an ordinary person with a job, a husband and two children, and it is a bit scary to think that people all over the world know about me.
LB: After a few years of travelling around the world, my parents took me out of the spotlight so I could have an ordinary life. Most of the time I am just at work or with my family, and then suddenly, there is a press enquiry, or invitation to an IVF clinic or a student wanting to question me. These days I have someone to handle the constant attention and interest, which is worldwide. The 40th anniversary has meant I have had invitations from four continents where I have seen firsthand the amazing work being done to help people with fertility problems. I set out the full story of what happened to my family in the book Forty Years of IVF – My Life as the World's First Test-Tube Baby, so that people can read all the crazy things that happened to us – and still keep happening to me because of the world reaction to my birth. Mostly, people are friendly and polite, but there are still some negative comments, especially online, about IVF.
LB: My mum always believed she would have a child. Even though the technique had never worked before, she kept her belief and hope. She always said that helped her a lot. All I can say to people is to keep believing that it will happen for you.
LB: Really it is my mum and dad who should get the praise. All I did was be born a healthy baby! My name is always the first one people think about when IVF is mentioned but the real pioneers are Robert Edwards, Patrick Steptoe, their assistant Jean Purdy and my mum and dad, Lesley and John Brown. They changed the world.
Thank you, Ms. Brown, for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you all the best for your birthday and many more successful and happy years together with your family!