Louise Brown: the world's first IVF baby
On 25th July, 1978, Louise Brown was born. Chris Smith met up with Louise in Grantchester, Cambridge, to find out what's it like to be the world's first IVF baby...
Louise - Louise Brown, and I’m the world’s first IVF baby.
I was four years old, just before I started school, and mum and dad thought it would be best to just say that I was a little bit different to everybody else - the way I was born and conceived. Because children can be quite cruel sometimes and they just wanted it to be so that I was aware that I knew if anybody said anything that I knew about it. I didn’t fully understand it but they showed me the video of my birth and said that was how I was born, slightly different, and they sort of left it there. And I picked up the rest of it listening to mum and dad being interviewed. If I have any questions for mum and dad I could ask them and they’d explain it to me.
Chris - Do you get a lot of attention?
Louise - On special occasions, yes. Whenever my birthday has a nought or five on the end of it people seem to get excited, so I’m semi-used to it.
Chris - When did it sort of dawn on you how special the process that resulted in you was?
Louise - I think I must have been between 12 and 14. It was mainly coming to events here at Bourn that brought it home. When you see all the children and people used to say yes Louise, and you’re the very first, and also the press wanted to take pictures or interviews. None of my friends did that.
Chris - I wondered when you said about 14 because that would coincide with sex education at school and that kind of thing. I wondered if that was what began to hone it down in your mind?
Louise - Yeah, definitely. Because I can remember we had, when I was in senior school, I went into the science lab and opened the science book and there was a big picture of me in there. And the teacher said yes Louise, you’re in this book and I was all embarrassed surrounded by test tubes and bunsen burners and things like that, so yes. My son’s 11 and he is aware now of the difference, the way I was born to the way he was born.
Chris - Are you an only child?
Louise - No. My mum went on four years later to have my sister Natalie. She was born in 1982 and she was the world’s 40th.
Chris - 40th test tube baby?
Louise - Yes, yes.
Chris - Do you like that phrase “test tube” baby because it doesn’t really involve a test tube does it?
Louise - I prefer IVF now. Everybody says IVF and I prefer that.
Chris - Now when you came to have your own kids did it cross your mind at all or even before you had them, you were born in a slightly special way, might there be consequences for your own fertility? Did that cross your mind?
Louise - I was always asked as I got older growing up would I consider IVF, and, obviously, yes I would, but I never actually thought I would need to. And this is the problem, you don’t think about it when you’re younger. And then, once I got married two years later, we had Cameron so I didn’t sort of think about it. I just assumed, like most people do, that you’ve got no problems.
Chris - And he came along naturally?
Louise - Yes.
Chris - Do you get asked by people about whether or not you’re healthy? Because one of the worries that was expressed, even James Watson DNA pioneer, was suggesting things like we are playing God. We are potentially damaging the genetic integrity of the human race. Do you ever get asked that sort of thing?
Louise - People do ask if I’ve had tests. I know I had a lot of tests when I was first born, but that’s it, I haven’t had anything since the day I was born.
Chris - And otherwise you’re pretty hale and healthy?
Louise - Yeah, absolutely fine. I don’t have any problems. Conceived naturally. Yeah, I’m fine.
Chris - What was the reaction of your parents to your arrival?
Louise - I don’t think mum got to see me until the 26th July because it was a C section, so she was knocked out. I think my dad, as I recall seeing on a video, I think he was shaking and had to give me back to the nurses because he was like... I don’t think he could quite believe it.
Chris - When you come back to Bourn Hall now, because obviously the people who made yourself - a bit of a strange concept that isn’t it, then set up Bourn Hall and have now helped tens of thousands of people since, what’s it like you come back?
Louise - It’s almost like my second home. I love spending time with the people here. It’s beautiful grounds and I’ve also got really good memories of all four people that are unfortunately no longer with us there. So I love coming back.
Chris - One of the staff at Bourn Hall said to me it’s quite unusual because when people come to have embryos put back they often bring their mum and it’s not normal that your mums present at your conception.
Louise - No, it’s a bit weird. My mum wasn’t present as my son’s conception…
Chris - Any parting message for anyone?
Louise - Yes. If you’re an IVF child then, we rock! And if you’re thinking of having IVF go for it. Mum believed it would work and there are now nearer I think 8 million of us. So yeah, go for it.