Louise Brown


 

English: Blastocyst on day 5 after fertilizati...

English: Blastocyst on day 5 after fertilization Courtesy: RWJMS IVF Program (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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.

 

Until today.

 

“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.

 

 

 

 


I hadn’t thought about blogging again until August but my novel is going so well (I am on a second revision and well ahead of schedule) that when I ran across this article on the first IVF/test tube baby, Louise Brown, I decided I had a few things to say.

I didn’t realize that Louise and BabyDaughter had birthdays so close together. Ms.Brown was born thirty years ago today, and BabyDaughter six years ago this coming Sunday. They only thing they have in common, aside from gender and being Leos, is that they were conceived outside of the uterus. Ms. Brown’s parents experienced infertility due to blocked fallopian tubes. Will and I had trouble due to the fact that his yet undiagnosed terminal illness was destroying his sperm.

Too much information you say? You forget where you are. You also likely don’t know someone who has endured the infertility road to parenthood. We can speak/write with ease, and at length, on reproductive topics that leave the average person squirming.

I remember when the news about the first “test-tube baby” broke in the fall of 1978. I was in 9th grade. It was religion class with Sr. Mary Judgemental*. She yammered on for half the class about the end of civilized society as we know it and the coming of the Brave New World before breaking us into small groups to discuss little Damienette and her nose-thumbing parents**.

In an interesting twist, I clearly remember being quite relieved to discover that science had finally come up with a way to help couples have children they might otherwise not have. Interesting really, given that twenty some years later, I would be half of one of those couples.

Sister was appalled by my lack of moral compass. Clearly I was in need of spiritual retooling. Thankfully I had her***. But she didn’t change my mind about IVF. I thought it then, as now, a good thing.

In 1978 the world yakked on about the possible ethical problems of IVF, and it needed to do so. The potential for abuse and discrimination certainly existed. Today with post-menopausal women using IVF to perform end runs around Mother Nature’s time limits and couples with means by-passing traditional baby-making for reasons that aren’t tied to infertility, the fact that the world gave a nod to ethics and morality when Louise Brown’s birth became widely known should be seen as a good thing.

Without Louise, there would be no BabyDaughter. That is reason enough for me to celebrate the day and wish her a long and happy life.

 

*Sr. Mary Judgemental went on to even more spiteful heights after a summer trip to the Wailing Wall brought her even closer to spiritual enlightenment. The low point of this was reached during my senior year when  classmate showed up during open study hall one morning to show off her new baby and Sister refused to even look at the child because she was “a product of sin”. As a product of sin adoptee, that didn’t sit well and I wish I had been the person I am now because I would have given that woman a piece of mind she’d still be chewing on.

**According to the Catholic Church, which actually turns a blind eye to most things it professes to abhor, infertility is “god’s will” and faithful couples will just suck it up and accept – adopt perhaps – and be good little puppets.

***In the end my time spent with Sr. M.J. helped me begin to define my differences with Catholicism and organized religion in general. If it weren’t for her, I might still be one of the “faithful” who plop down in the pews every Sunday and holy day and then ignore teachings during the week. I would rather object and abstain then be a hypocrite.