When they were born, Louise Brown and Elizabeth Carr graced the front pages of newspapers and the covers of magazines worldwide, and their parents were flooded with requests to appear on television with everyone from Phil Donahue to Oprah Winfrey.
Last month, when Brown, the world’s first in vitro fertilization “test tube” baby, and Carr, America’s first baby born via IVF, finally met, there were tears as the women embraced with the realization that they’d probably never find anyone more understanding of what it’s like to go through life as the answer to a question in a Trivial Pursuit game.
“We instantly hit it off — I feel we’re already good friends,” Brown, 39, of Bristol, England, tells PEOPLE of their June 16 meeting. “I first knew Elizabeth’s name when I was around 10 years old and realized that we very much have a common bond. She had much the same media attention that I had just for being born. Although we’ve coped with it in different ways, we can understand each other completely.”
In June, Brown, who was born in 1978, was introduced to Carr, who was born in 1981, at Chicago’s Midwest Reproductive Symposium International, where the two women shared their stories in front of an audience of fertility doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals.
“My first baby photo showed me four cells old under a microscope, and my first press conference was when I was three days old,” Carr, 35, of Leominster, Massachusetts, tells PEOPLE. “Louise and I have so much in common that I’d always dreamed about meeting her. It’s nice to know that this weird life we call ours is something that somebody else shares.”
“Bringing together the first IVF babies in the world and the United States leaves a historical footprint,” says Dr. Angelina Beltsos, founder of the annual symposium and the CEO of Vios Fertility Institute Chicago.
“One in seven couples grapple with infertility and six million babies have been born so far in the world from in vitro fertilization,” Beltsos tells PEOPLE. “There are many choices today, including for cancer patients who want to freeze eggs. Continuing to educate is one of our missions so that people can know their options.”
It’s a mission shared by Brown and Carr, who hope to bring hope to couples struggling with infertility through their stories.
“A lot of people feel that infertility has a stigma — that it’s a taboo subject,” says Carr, now a single mother to Trevor, 6, and working as a marketing and communications director.
“People are afraid to talk about politics, mental health and infertility around the dinner table and that’s wrong,” she tells PEOPLE. ” I want people to know that it’s okay to talk about it in the open instead of whispering on the sidelines. Louise and I both feel comfortable taking on an advocacy role if it helps somebody else.”
“I believe that [infertility] should be regarded as a medical problem like any other,” adds Brown, who works as a clerk for an international sea freight company and has two children, Cameron, 10, and Aiden, 3, with her husband, Cameron Mullinder, a supermarket security guard.
“Elizabeth and I are both so grateful for the work of the scientists and doctors who brought about IVF,” she tells PEOPLE, “so if my existence gives them encouragement, that’s a good thing. Doctors gave me the middle name of ‘Joy’ because they said my birth could bring joy to many people. I want to live up to that name.”
IVF was a cutting-edge concept when Brown was born in England in 1978 to Lesley and John Brown, who had tried to conceive for nine years.
“When I was 4, my parents sat me down and showed me a film of my birth and explained that I had been conceived differently from others,” recalls Brown, “but I am just an ordinary person with an extraordinary beginning.”
In 2015, after her parents died, Brown wrote a book, My Life as the World’s First Test-Tube Baby, in their honor.
“I felt that their memories needed to be preserved,” she says, “and I thought it was important for people to know the story from the family’s point of view. I was thankful that my parents took me out of the limelight when I was young, so that I could have a normal upbringing.”
For Carr, whose birth was filmed by a PBS television crew, a desire to tell her own story led her to a career in journalism before she switched to marketing.
“Having my story in the limelight was a just a normal part of growing up,” says Carr, whose mother, Judith Carr, then a 28-year-old school teacher, was unable to conceive normally after earlier unsuccessful pregnancies required the removal of her fallopian tubes.
“When I was in the fifth grade and we were learning about conception,” Carr tells PEOPLE, “I was the kid who raised my hand and said, ‘That’s not how I was born.’ “
Now that she and Brown have met, they touch base regularly via social media and plan to get together soon — hopefully, in England.
“I’d love to go over and visit her and have her meet my son,” says Carr, “and I’d love to meet her family.”
It’s not every day, she says, “that you meet somebody else who is also a ‘Jeopardy’ answer, along with being in the Guinness Book of World Records.”