First Test Tube Baby Born
IVF – in vitro fertilisation – is now regarded as almost commonplace, though with many ethical issues still hotly debated. But when Louise Joy Brown was born, a healthy baby weighing 5lb 12oz, it was world news. She was the first so-called ‘test tube baby’.
Patrick Steptoe, a consultant gynaecologist, and Robert Edwards, a research physiologist, had been developing their techniques in the field of in vitro (in glass) fertilisation since the mid-1960s. They had found a successful way of fertilising eggs outside the womb, but once the egg had been returned to the mother the pregnancy would last a matter of weeks at best.
The medical team in this specific case decided to return the egg to the mother’s womb much earlier than previously, after two and a half days rather than twice that time, as they had done previously.
Lesley Brown, the 29-year-old mother-to-be, had been unable to conceive because her fallopian tubes were blocked. She and husband John, 10 years her senior, had agreed to the experimental procedure, desperate to have a child. The egg successfully embedded on Lesley’s uterus wall, as many had in other women undergoing the procedure before. But this time the egg stayed in place, grew, and the pregnancy continued with little or no concern until nine days before the expected due date, when Lesley Brown developed high blood pressure and it was decided to deliver the baby by caesarean section. So at 11.47pm on July 15 1978 Louise Joy Brown came into the world, a gift for headline writers at the time, and a greater gift for her parents, who later had a second child, Natalie, by the same method.
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