Birthdays are celebrations—small or grand, a time to reflect back on the year behind, and the year ahead. Fertility patients may approach birthdays wondering ‘is age affecting my fertility?’ or wishing to celebrate in the future with their own child.
July 25th marks a very special birthday, the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first IVF baby in Bristol, England. The advances in the field of reproductive medicine and IVF have come a long way since her birth 34 years ago.
Some Historical Perspective
Like many infertility patients, John and Lesley Brown struggled with trying to conceive for nine years. Suffering from fallopian tube damage, Lesley was referred to Gynecologist Dr. Patrick Steptoe in 1976.
Dr. Steptoe was working with college professor Robert Edwards, a physiologist at Cambridge University. For the previous ten years, they were working on human conception. Advances were made when they discovered a way to fertilize the human egg outside of the body. Setbacks were encountered when transferring the embryo back to the woman’s body. The Edwards-Steptoe team let the embryos divide in the lab for 4 or 5 days. By 1977, the 80 or so pregnancies resulting from this procedure only lasted for a few weeks.
With Lesley and John Brown, laparoscopy surgery retrieved one mature egg from her ovary. This egg was combined with John’s sperm, and fertilization occurred. The resulting embryo was transferred back to Lesley 2 ½ days later, and pregnancy occurred. Sonograms over time revealed the pregnancy to be proceeding normally. Near her due date, Dr. Steptoe delivered Louise via C-section.
From the very beginning, some themes of the current infertility journey were identified: the deep longing for a child, and the relentless pursuit of the science and technology to make this dream happen. So many hours and individuals were involved in this earliest IVF process many years ago, to culminate in the live birth of long-awaited first IVF baby, Louise. Since that time, over 5 million children have been born through the IVF technique. In 2010, Robert Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the development of in vitro fertilization. Thank you to all the early pioneers whose focus and dedication led to these developments.
Today, Louise is married with a child of her own. Happy 34th birthday, Louise!