I guess that by today’s standards, Louise Brown lives what can be best described as a pretty uneventful life. After all, she’s just a twenty eight year old postal worker living Bristol, England, happily married and getting ready to have her first kid of her own in the next couple of months. Being a big fan of kids, I wish her well.
All was not the same for her on her birth date back on July 25, 1978. Back then, it seemed that entire world was tuned in to see if she would be normal or if she would arrive to us as some kind of abomination against God or some kind of freak of nature. You see, Louise Brown was a pioneer of sorts, the first of her kind to come along the way she had and as we all know, when things happen for the first time, things can either go terribly terribly wrong or tremendously tremendously right.
Louise Brown was the world’s first “test tube baby”.
The “Early” Years
Like millions of couples before them, Louise Brown’s parents had had trouble conceiving a child on their own. After trying nature’s way for over nine years and failing in their attempts, they contacted a Dr. Patrick Steptoe (gynecologist) and a Dr. Robert Edwards (physiologist) who were respectively doing research on the matter of conception at both Oldham General Hospital and Cambridge University since around 1966. Although the good doctors had found a way to fertilize an egg outside of the woman’s body, they had run into the problem of replacing the egg back in to the woman’s uterus. All in all, they had attempted the procedure about eighty times and while initially successful, all of the “pregnancies” ended up in miscarriages after only a few weeks of being implanted.
For some reasons, Louise Brown stuck in her mothers womb and the world was about to change.
Questions that had never been asked before now demanded an answer. On the religious side of the coin, clerics were wondering aloud if we mere mortals were messing around with God’s plan. That maybe we had overstepped ourselves this time and had no right to alter from His chosen path? What fire and brimstone might He rain down upon us for mucking up his grand design?
On the ethical side of the equation were the scientists. What if the baby was born deformed or arrived horribly disfigured. Who would bear the brunt of the responsibility in rearing such a thing? Were the parents to be blamed or was the procedure in and of itself faulted?
Then there were the doomsayers. The fatalists that predicted dire scenes of babies rolling off assembly lines as alluded to in Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World. Was the normal way of conceiving a child bound to give way to the cold, sterile environment of a factory?
All of those questions would be answered on 11:47 p.m on July 25, 1978
Nine days before her scheduled birth date, Louise’s mom began experiencing toxemia and a decision was made to deliver the child via Cesarean section. The operation itself was taped to ensure any errors in procedure or abnormalities in the baby could be immediately detected.
All fears were put to rest when a perfectly normal five pound, twelve ounce baby girl with a full head of a hair and a full complement of ten toes and ten fingers emerged pretty much unscathed from her mothers womb. The doctors, parents and scientists along with most other members of the human race could now breathe a sigh of relief. The ones with stronger than most religious convictions and who claimed they had the ear of The Almighty would have to move on to other causes. (see stem cell
Since then, the term “test tube baby” and all of the horrible connotations that go with it have thankfully been put to rest. Today, with some tinkering here and there, the procedure is known as in vitro fertilization and while there are no exact numbers in place as to how many children have been born via the procedure, estimates have it that it’s well over two million.
One last thing, for those of you who might be wondering, Louise Brown’s child, the one she is expecting shortly, was conceived naturally.
I wish her and her family Godspeed on their journey.