Test-tube babies are still quite rare. Just seven have been born in the U.S., and the pioneer, Britain’s Louise Brown, is now only 4. But 2-month-old Kerry Ellen Flanagan is unique even in her exclusive club. She was the first in America born in a normal delivery, not by cesarean section, and the first born to a professional baseball player, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan. With sportsmanlike timing, Kerry was conceived in vitro and implanted in her mother’s womb during the 1981 World Series (the Orioles did not make it), and born just before this year’s All-Star break so her dad could be around to help out. “Everything she does is wonderful,” says her mother, Kathy, whose maternal pride is more justified than most. The battle to give birth to Kerry was 20 months long, cost $7,000 and, like a winning season, it evolved out of great emotional stress, physical pain and a dose of good luck.
The Flanagans, both now 30, married in 1976, shortly after Mike moved up from the minors to the Orioles. They put off trying to have children “until we were more settled,” says Kathy. But when they did try, trouble intervened. One morning during the 1979 Orioles-Pirates World Series, Mike found Kathy passed out in the bathroom of their Cockeysville, Md. town house. She had had a pregnancy within one of her fallopian tubes, which had ruptured. Four months later came disaster: a second ectopic pregnancy, which ruined her other tube. By the time Mike got to the hospital, the doctors were preparing to do a complete hysterectomy. Flanagan called a halt. “She’s 28 years old!” he insisted. “You can’t take all our hope away!”
Kathy became depressed about her inability to have children. “I was nervous and I took it out a lot on Mike,” she recalls. She stopped meeting him at the airport with the other Orioles wives: She couldn’t stand to see the kids running to meet their fathers. As for Mike, his pitching sank far below his 23-9 peak of 1979, and he began to avoid the Orioles’ annual father-and-children games, finding them “too difficult to watch.”
The two talked of trying a surrogate mother or adoption, but Kathy demurred: “If there was any way, I wanted my own.” Then a friend showed her a newsclip about the work in in-vitro (literally, in glass) fertilization being done at Norfolk’s Eastern Virginia Medical School by the U.S. pioneers in the procedure, Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones. The Flanagans went to the Joneses’ clinic and were accepted. They were also told that though Kathy was a prime prospect—well under the 35-year age limit and in good health—their chances of success were still only 15 percent. “But all we wanted,” says Mike, “was a chance.”
In October of 1981, after the baseball season, Mike and Kathy booked into a Norfolk hotel for three weeks. The first week she went to the Joneses’ clinic at 6 a.m. daily for blood tests, a shot of a fertility drug and sonograms to determine her day of ovulation. When that time came, doctors “harvested” two eggs from her ovary. Then Mike’s sperm were added to Kathy’s eggs in a petri dish. “For 48 hours you pray there’ll be fertilization,” says Mike. On the second day he and Kathy went to the clinic to get the results. “Dr. Jones had this door with slats,” Mike remembers. “I was looking through those slats, waiting for his feet to walk up. I thought if he was walking fast, it would be positive.” Jones’ feet moved fast. “Go right to the hospital,” he said. “We’ve got an egg.” Soon after, it was found, the other egg also fertilized.
At the hospital, the two eggs were inserted into Kathy’s uterus. While she lay on her stomach absolutely still for six hours to help the eggs implant, the Flanagans watched the Dodgers-Yankees World Series. Two weeks later they went home, where Kathy’s obstetrician did a pregnancy test. When he called with the results, remembers Mike, “Kathy started crying right away. I took the phone and the doctor said, ‘She’s pregnant.’ I said, ‘You sure?’ and he said, ‘I’m sure, I’m sure, I’m sure.’ ”
Mike cracked open a bottle of champagne even before hanging up.
As it turned out, the Flanagans would not have twins. In Kathy’s second month a sonogram confirmed that one of the eggs had not survived; she was carrying just one child. While Kathy was rather relieved, Mike was disappointed—as he also was by the fact that he rarely could join Kathy at her Lamaze classes. Indeed, when her labor pains began Mike was off in Seattle. After pitching a 4-3 loss against the Mariners, he took an overnight flight to Baltimore. He helped Kathy through her seven hours of labor—while talking baseball with the doctors between contractions. Since the complications which had required cesarean births in previous cases did not develop, it was decided to go ahead with the planned natural delivery. Kerry finally arrived, at a robust eight pounds eight ounces. Recalls Kathy: “Once I saw her and her 10 fingers and 10 toes, I knew everything was okay.”
Though the Flanagans had kept quiet about the fact that their child had been conceived in vitro, they weren’t upset when the news leaked a month before the birth. “Older women who hadn’t been able to have kids told me they wished they could have done it,” says Kathy. On the road, Mike was often asked how to reach the Joneses’ clinic. But Kathy says her mom, who had 10 children, “was upset at first. It was hard for her to understand how you could have a baby like that.”
Ohio-born Kathy is the daughter of a Marine captain and a WAC who settled in Manchester, N.H. in 1958. Mike, the son and grandson of former pitchers for Boston Red Sox farm teams, quit the University of Massachusetts to play pro ball in 1973. Kathy, who left the University of New Hampshire after her junior year, met Mike through a friend in 1974, when she was waitressing in Manchester. Says Mike: “We seemed to hit it off right away.”
Mike, who has signed a new five-year Orioles contract for $3 million, had no problem paying the $7,000 (including roughly $4,500 for the fertilization treatment) it cost him to become a father. Today he’s less worried about his pitching (he was 12-10 as of early last week) than his parenting. Kathy remembers finding Mike weeping and Kerry howling in the car one day after she had done an errand. “Mike said he’d been trying to change her diaper and she’d been screaming for 25 minutes.” Admits Mike, “I felt so helpless.”
The Flanagans advise childless couples to see a doctor “if you have any problems or doubt at all, and don’t give up hope.” The odds that in-vitro fertilization will work are now up to one in five, report the Joneses, who treat 200 patients a year (at present 17 are pregnant) and have over 5,000 names on their waiting list. Experts estimate that 600,000 women in the U.S. with tubal difficulties might benefit from the procedure. But Howard Jones warns that few can hope to achieve pregnancy on their first try, as the Flanagans did. “Couples have to realize there’s a greater degree of disappointment than success,” he says. The Flanagans, he adds, were “super patients,” and he has told Kathy she’s welcome to try again. Says she: “We’re thinking about it. I might.”