To the Norfolk, Va. husband-and-wife physicians who supervised her birth on Dec. 28, five-pound 12-ounce Elizabeth Jordan Carr is inspiring proof of medicine’s progress in combating infertility. To Charles Dean, president of the Tidewater chapter of the Virginia Society for Human Life, Elizabeth is the product of irresponsible scientists tinkering with sacred functions. To her parents, Roger and Judy Carr, the first “test-tube” baby born in America (and 21st in the world) is the miracle child they had feared was impossible. “The others have their opinions,” says Judy. “We have our baby.”
Judy Carr, 28, a fifth-grade teacher in Westminster, Mass., lost her fallopian tubes as a result of complications from three tubal pregnancies after her marriage in 1973. (An estimated 600,000 American women have similar reproductive tract problems that prevent normal conception.) In October 1980 Judy’s gynecologist referred her and her 30-year-old husband, Roger, a mechanical engineer, to the new In-Vitro Fertilization Program at Eastern Virginia Medical School, run by Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones. Out of more than 5,000 applications that year, Judy’s was one of about 50 accepted.
The in-vitro (Latin for “in glass”) technique was pioneered by British doctors Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards and first used successfully with the birth of Louise Brown in July 1978. A mature egg is extracted from a prospective mother’s ovary, using a tiny tube inserted in the abdomen. It is fertilized by sperm from the father in a glass dish and, if all goes well, a four-or eight-cell embryo matures in about 48 hours. This is implanted in the mother’s uterus by catheter and, with luck, the baby grows normally in the womb.
The Joneses had tried 46 implantations that failed to produce pregnancies. Then last April Judy was successfully impregnated on the first attempt. After the birth she said, “I think God was a little bit involved too.” (The Carrs belong to the Congregational Church.)
God’s position on test-tube babies is a hot issue in Norfolk. Dean, a lumber dealer, has led the often bitter protest against in-vitro fertilization, charging that many eggs fertilized in the laboratory fail to develop into fetuses and are destroyed. His group, which has no organized religious affiliation, opposes in-vitro programs, as well as abortion, as immoral. Responding to Dean’s accusations, Jones observes, “Loss in the lab is far less than in nature, where only about one-third of the eggs exposed to sperm develop into viable pregnancies.”
After a four-month battle with right-to-life lobbyists, the Joneses and Norfolk General Hospital won a state certificate in 1980 authorizing the in-vitro program, a requirement for any new hospital service. “Busloads of demonstrating yahoos arrived in Norfolk,” one program staffer recalls. Georgeanna Jones, 69, a gynecological endocrinologist, says, “It was aggravating.” Adds her husband, Howard, a 71-year-old GYN surgeon: “We were able to cope with it because we had no qualms, no inner doubts about what we were doing.”
Natives of Baltimore, the Joneses met as young doctors and have been married for 41 years. Both taught gynecology and obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine until Howard reached mandatory retirement age in 1976. Two years later they moved to Norfolk at the invitation of Dr. Mason Andrews, a principal founder of the rapidly growing Eastern Virginia Medical School. “We came here to provide instant faculty,” explains Howard. “It was an alternative to fading away.” They had not been involved with in-vitro research, but after the birth of Louise Brown, a reporter called and asked Howard if such a birth were possible in the U.S. “Why not?” Jones replied, and set about to prove the point.
For Roger and Judy Carr, the Norfolk program was a godsend. In their small (pop. 5,139) hometown, 60 miles west of Boston, a friend, Brenna Herteux, observes, “Most parents in this neighborhood have young children, so when a couple can’t, you really empathize.”
The families in Westminster’s two-year-old Evergreen Estates could also feel for the Carrs when they arrived home last week with the media in full pursuit. After overhearing one TV newsman report that Judy had been trying to have a baby for 12 years, neighbor Herteux noted wryly, “Since Judy’s only 28, I’m sure her mother was surprised to hear that.” Pattie Mitchell, a teaching colleague of Judy Carr’s, adds, “I’m absolutely delighted because I know how much they wanted a baby. And they’re so selfless. I asked Roger before they left for Norfolk whether they’d consider having another child. He told me, ‘We’re just excited to be having the first one. The waiting list is so long, we think other couples should have the joy we’re experiencing.’ ” (Five other women in the Norfolk program are currently pregnant, and the odds of a successful conception have risen to 21 percent.)
Because she became pregnant on the first try, Judy’s hospital fee for the fertilization was only $2,500, plus costs of about $3,000 for the cesarean delivery and recuperation. (The in-vitro program itself charges no fees. It is supported entirely by private contributions, and is currently seeking additional funding to treat more would-be parents and support further research.)
The birth of a healthy Elizabeth has by no means stopped criticism of the program. Moral Majority leader Rev. Jerry Falwell accused the Joneses of “delving into an area far too sacred for human beings to be involved in.” The medical school’s OB-GYN chief, Dr. Andrews, responds: “Any manipulation gives you pause. But I’d say that seeing the picture of that four-cell embryo that went into Judy Carr’s uterus, and then seeing that baby now, is a most inspiring religious experience.”