It was thirty-four years ago today that the first baby of IVF was born. Inaccurately dubbed a “test-tube baby” (it was really a petri dish but that doesn’t have the catchy ring to it), the little girl known as Louise Joy Brown became the first of the estimated five million children who would follow her.
I clearly recall the news of the day. The wonder and the fearful predictions of a future where babies need no longer be created or born the “natural way”.
However, aside from the lack of intercourse, nothing substantial changed in the way babies were made. Mom’s eggs, Dad’s sperm, fertilization, cell division and a womb to implant and grow in were still basic requirements. Then. And now.
That fall, sitting in Sr. Kay’s freshman religion class, I listened without comment as she railed against little Louise’s existence in defiance of God’s will. Now, of course, I realize that if there is such a thing as G0d’s will, no way would some puny mortal be allowed to circumvent it. At the time I thought only that it strange that Sister didn’t recognize a miracle when it was leaping off the headlines at her. And I also began to suspect that the woman had been drawn to her vocation by something unhealthy in her psyche.
Personally I was a bit sad that my parents, who’d suffered greatly through six fruitless years of trying to conceive, were now too old to give IVF a go themselves but wasn’t it a lucky thing to have been discovered just in case I needed to use it myself one day.
That thought took on no small amount of irony when it proved to be prophetic twenty plus years later.
Today as I was watching the Today Show clip from July of 1978 about Brown and IVF, Dee wandered into the office.
“What’s a test-tube baby?” she asked after listening for a few moments.
“You are,” I told her.
Her face screwed up in that curious non-verbal “what?” she has, and I continued, using the smallest but most accurate wording for a girl who is days away from ten and going to enter grade five come September.
“I see,” she nodded as her forehead wrinkled in thought for a nano-bite of time before lightning struck.
Grade four marks the beginning of sex ed here in Alberta. Dee was already versed in plumbing and menstruation, so little of the curriculum was new to her. She also knows the bare bones of where babies come from minus the actual sex part. I’ve answered truthfully every question she’s ever put to me but not felt it was necessary to explain the exact mechanics. She’s a kid for whom “just enough info” has always sufficed.
“So if that is how babies are made if you can’t make them the normal way, what is the normal way?”
Too clever by half. She’s been devious in her meanderings around this topic for a year or so, but having genetically bequeathed her the clever genes, I have gracefully avoided “going there”.
The look on her face was a mixture of “Success at last!” and “Oh my god that’s the most disgusting, horrifying thing I have ever heard in my life. Please hand me a scoop for my mind’s eye.”
“Do you have any questions? I asked, pretty sure what the answer would be.
“No,” she said in her “this conversation is over until such time as I have fully digested implications of this most unexpected bit of knowledge”.
Be careful what you ask, Pandora. And Happy Almost 10th birthday.
- July 25 1978 World’s first “test tube baby” born (craighill.net)
- This Day in History: The First “Test Tube” Baby is Born (todayifoundout.com)
- IVF Babies Now Number 5 Million and Rising (fox8.com)