Before 1978, women having Fallopian tube blockages had no hope of becoming pregnant. Dr. Patrick Steptoe, a gynecologist at Oldham General Hospital, and Dr. Robert Edwards, a physiologist at Cambridge University, had been actively working on finding an alternative solution for conception since 1966. Though Drs. Steptoe and Edwards had successfully found a way to fertilize an egg outside a woman’s body, they were still troubled by problems after replacing the fertilized egg back into the woman’s uterus. By 1977, all of the pregnancies resulting from their procedure (about 80) had lasted only a few, short weeks.
Lesley and John Brown were a young couple from Bristol who had been unable to conceive for nine years. Lesley Brown had blocked Fallopian tubes. On November 10, 1977, Lesley Brown underwent the very experimental in vitro (“in glass”) fertilization procedure. Using a long, slender, self-lit probe called a “laparoscope,” Dr. Steptoe took an egg from one of Lesley Brown’s ovaries and handed it to Dr. Edwards. Dr. Edwards then mixed Lesley’s egg with John’s sperm. After the egg was fertilized, Dr. Edwards placed it into a special solution that had been created to nurture the egg as it began to divide. Previously, Drs. Steptoe and Edwards had waited until the fertilized egg had divided into 64 cells (about four or five days later). This time, however, they decided to place the fertilized egg back into Lesley’s uterus after just two and a half days. Close monitoring of Lesley showed that the fertilized egg had successfully embedded into her uterus wall. At 11:47 p.m. on July 25, 1978, a five-pound 12-ounce baby girl was born. The baby girl, named Louise Joy Brown, had blue eyes and blond hair and seemed healthy.
Louise’s birth made headlines around the world and raised various legal and ethical questions. The Browns had a second daughter, Natalie, several years later, also through IVF. In May 1999, Natalie became the first IVF baby to give birth to a child of her own. The child’s conception was natural, easing some concerns that female IVF babies would be unable to get pregnant naturally. In December 2006, Louise Brown, the original “test tube baby,” gave birth to a boy, Cameron John Mullinder, who also was conceived naturally.