Wednesday, July 25th, 2018 marks the 40th birthday of the first baby born via in vitro fertilization.
If you were to pass Louise Joy Brown walking on the street, you’d think that she’s just like every other late-’30s to early ‘40s woman. But rewind 40 years and you’d consider Louise to be very special, if not the most special human being born in the previous century.
You see, Louise was the first human being born using what was at the time a completely experimental technology. Her parents, Lesley and John Brown, had been trying to conceive for 9 years. Lesley suffered from blocked fallopian tubes, and after the diagnosis, the family believed they’d never have children of their own.
But then the Browns were offered something new. Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, two British experts in reproductive medicine at Royal Oldham Hospital in England, needed a volunteer to test a procedure that had never been done before but gave a chance for Lesley to conceive. She agreed, and after having an unfertilized egg surgically removed, Louise was conceived on a petri dish on November 12th, 1977.
About 110 days later, Louise was born by planned Cesarean At 11:47 pm on July 25th the following year. She was born a healthy and screaming 5 lbs 12 oz. Afterward, her parents did the same procedure again to conceive their second daughter, Nicole.
Headlines around the world reported the miraculous birth as the world’s first test-tube baby. The public outcry was swift, accusing both Edwards and Steptoe of playing god. However, thousands of desperate parents flooded the hospital with requests to have the same procedure done so they too could start a family.
Since 1978, research and funding into IVF continued to the point where IVF clinics literally dot the globe. In 2016, 76,930 babies were born via assisted fertility technology in the US, with the bulk of those being some form of IVF. The CDC estimates that 1.7% of all babies born in America are conceived via IVF.
And IVF is just the first step. Doctors are already screening babies for genetic defects, with promising technologies being researched to even correct those defects in utero. In the next 40 years, who knows what will be possible?