On July 25, 1978, Louise Brown, the first baby conceived via in vitro fertilization, was born in Manchester, England. Although highly experimental at the time, IVF births are a common practice today. According to a 2017 report released by the U.S. Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology, between 1987 and 2015, one million babies were born through the use of IVF or other assisted reproductive technologies. Today, there are close to six million IVF babies around the world.
Leslie Brown and her husband, John, had been trying to conceive for nine years. However, Leslie suffered from infertility due to blocked fallopian tubes. In November 1977, she decided to undergo the then-experimental IVF procedure. Her IVF doctors, British gynecologist Patrick Steptoe and scientist Robert Edwards, removed a mature egg from her ovaries and combined it with her husband’s sperm in a laboratory dish to form an embryo. Then, they implanted the embryo into her uterus a few days later. The procedure was a success and Louise was born nine months later.
Louise’s birth was a groundbreaking moment, giving hope to many women suffering from infertility. However, her birth also attracted its share of controversy, with many questioning the legal and ethical repercussions of the new scientific breakthrough. Religious leaders expressed concern about the use of the artificial intervention. They feared scientists creating “Frankenbabies.”
In her 2015 autobiography, Louise shared how her family was swamped with countless letters and packages after her birth. Many of them were menacing and threatening. For example, one package contained letters covered in red liquid, a broken glass test tube and a plastic fetus.
However, there were also many letters from women who felt inspired by the new medical breakthrough. One Australian woman sent the Browns a letter, saying, “I fear that you will find yourselves on the receiving end of all the usual criticism and condemnation that follows any medical breakthrough, so am writing to try in a tiny way to even things up.”