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30th birthday for first IVF baby

14 July 08 17:52 GMT
By Fergus Walsh
Medical correspondent, BBC News

It is 30 years since scientists held their breath as they waited for news of the world's first test tube baby. When Louise Brown was born - so was IVF treatment.

Today, more than three million babies have been born around the world thanks to the technology which was pioneered in Britain.

Louise's birth has been celebrated by IVF families and some of the clinical staff involved in the breakthrough.

The celebrations were held at Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Cambridgeshire - set up by the fertility pioneers Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards - the team responsible for Louise's birth.

Families of 30 children - one from each year since 1978 - gathered to mark the event.

Louise's birth was one of the most remarkable medical breakthroughs of the 20th Century, and not surprisingly it generated worldwide media interest.

Media star

Louise says as a child in Bristol, she got used to all the media attention.

She was recognised in the street and got used to some strange questions.

She said: "When I was growing up they would ask things like how do you fit in a test tube and things like that!"

These days she rarely thinks about her iconic status as the first of more than three million IVF babies born worldwide.

"It's quite scary to think I'm the first of them all, but it's also a nice feeling that perhaps if I hadn't been born then all those people wouldn't be here, and IVF has helped so many couples."

Louise is now a mother herself, to 18 month old Cameron, although he was conceived naturally.

Patrick Steptoe died in 1988 but Professor Edwards joined the celebrations and helped Louise cut the cake.

Professor Edwards remembers how, once the news of the pregnancy leaked out, Louise's mother had to go into hiding.

"We were concerned that she would lose the baby, the fetus, because the press were chasing Mrs Brown all over Bristol where she lived.

"So secretly Patrick Steptoe hid the mother in his car and drove her to his mother's house in Lincoln - the press didn't know where she was."

Louise's mother said that once she was in Oldham hospital reporters tried a variety of methods to sneak into her room from a bomb hoax to posing as cleaners.

Once Louise was born it made front-page headlines all over the world.

Mrs Brown went on to have another daughter by IVF and is delighted that Steptoe and Edwards helped her.

"I'm just so grateful that I'm a mum at all because without IVF I never would have been and I wouldn't have my grandchildren."

Routine

Since Louise Brown's birth IVF has become a routine procedure.

More than 30,000 women a year in Britain now undergo IVF and eleven thousand babies annually are born.

IVF was a British breakthrough, but the majority of treatment in the UK is still paid for privately and costs couples between £4,000 and £8,000 a time.

Professor Edwards is saddened that IVF is not more widely available on the NHS.

"Every couple should be allowed to have three babies on the health service because this is the greatest gift that you can give any man or woman."

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