No. 4 Hassell Drive is an ordinary white row house in the English port city of Bristol, but there is nothing ordinary about baby Louise Joy Brown, who came to live there four months ago. No royal princess has ever received more fanfare and stirred up so much controversy as Louise, the world’s first authenticated “test-tube” baby. Even before she was born on July 25, the infant was the object of charges ranging from yellow journalism to medical fraud. Louise’s scientific godfathers, gynecologist Patrick Steptoe, 65, and physiologist Robert Edwards, 52, achieved her conception in a glass lab dish. A pinpoint-size ripe egg from the ovary of her mother, Lesley, 31, was mixed with the sperm of her truck driver father, Gilbert John Brown, 38, and two and a half days later the fertilized egg was implanted in the mother’s uterus.
In the postnatal uproar, Steptoe was snubbed by colleagues who complained that he was tardy in publishing details of his work (he will explain all at a San Francisco conference in February). Others criticized him for delivering Louise by cesarean section. According to Steptoe, Lesley Brown was suffering from toxemia, or blood poisoning, and the procedure was necessary. Others suggest it was for the gynecologist’s benefit. In films shot during the birth, Steptoe takes the extreme precaution of opening wide the incision to show that Mrs. Brown’s fallopian tubes had been surgically removed. This eliminated any suspicion that the baby might have been conceived normally.
At Hassell Drive, meanwhile, the furor has subsided. The large man who guarded the Browns’ front door—to protect the reputed $600,000 investment made by the Associated Newspapers Group for exclusive rights to the family’s story—has disappeared. The Browns have bought a new car, spruced up the front of the house and shopped for a bed and a hall carpet. “We won’t change, because if we do we’ll change for the worse,” John said, and went back to work. Lesley now lets neighbors peek at Louise, who has doubled her 5-lb., 12-oz. birth weight.
“She’s going to be an ordinary girl,” Brown pledges. He wants Louise to be like her teenage stepsister Sharon, who has earned pocket money by working in a local grocery. “What I’m hoping is that by the time she goes to school, there will be hundreds like her.” He may get his wish: Jim and Grace Montgomery of Stirlingshire, Scotland expect their baby, also engineered by Steptoe & Edwards, on Valentine’s Day. A third pregnancy has been confirmed by the doctors, and Steptoe has announced that “test-tube-baby” clinics will open in England and Norfolk, Va. in 1979.