1978: Louise Brown
There is no difference between her and any other little girl,” her dad has insisted. “We just helped nature a bit, that’s all.”
That observation by truck driver John Brown set a new standard for British understatement. The birth of his daughter, Louise Joy, on July 25, 1978 in Oldham, England was an event that signaled the world had changed—and it set people around the globe properly agog. She was a “medical miracle,” the first human ever conceived outside of a mother’s body, our first “test-tube baby.” The phrase was technically wrong—the procedure, developed by gynecologist Patrick Steptoe and physiologist Robert Edwards, calls for the mother’s egg to be fertilized by the father’s sperm in a petri dish—but its evocation was apt. She was a child of science.
Today John Brown, now 44, and Lesley, 36, have a healthy, feisty 5½-year-old blonde who, as her dad confided to a British reporter, “can be a right madam [brat].” She attends a primary school in the neighborhood and, like other kids in the middle-class area, makes a stop at the candy store on the way home. “Louise is very strong-willed,” says a local shopkeeper. “But she knows how to say please.” Meanwhile John still drives lorries, and the Browns still live in the $35,000 house they purchased soon after Louise was born. Much of the estimated $600,000 or more earned from story rights is in trust for Louise until she turns 28.
At Louise’s birth, John hoped “by the time she goes to school, there will be hundreds like her.” Today, in fact, the count of artificially conceived babies is over 300 worldwide; more than 50 clinics now use such techniques in the U.S. Steptoe and Edwards’ Bourne Hall Clinic alone has recorded 165 such births. Among the in vitro parents were, once again, John and Lesley Brown. On June 14, 1982 Mrs. Brown became the first woman ever to give birth to a second test-tube baby, Natalie Jane. She will be their last. “Two lively young daughters,” Mr. Brown observed, “is about all I will be able to handle.”