A meeting with IVF history

Today the initials IVF are well-known and hardly need explanation, even though “In Vitro” is a Latin phrase meaning “in glass”.

I am proud to have been the first person in the world to be born through IVF but when I was born I was introduced to the world as “the test tube baby”. My friend Alastair, who was the second in the world, was born six months later.

My mother hated the term “test tube baby”. Many people only read the headlines and imagined this baby had somehow grown to full term in a glass jar, rather than naturally in my mother’s womb after the initial fertilisation!

Mum always said it was a term made up by the press, but it is a phrase I have lived with all my life.

A few weeks ago I visited Manchester in the UK, not far from Oldham General Hospital where Patrick Steptoe successfully carried out the first IVF procedure, which resulted in me being born. I was there as a guest of CARE Fertility, to cut a ribbon to officially open their £5 million refurbished clinic.

As I stood outside in the evening sunshine suddenly I was approached by a newspaper reporter. That is not unusual for me, but this man, accompanied by his wife, was waving a yellowing newspaper cutting.

His name was Peter Harris and he was formerly the Health Correspondent of the Manchester Evening News, now retired.

It turned out that he was the very man who coined the term “test tube baby”. To prove it he showed me a report he wrote in 1970 – eight years before my birth – and it is the earliest reference to the term I have ever seen.

He said it came about in discussion with Patrick Steptoe when he was looking for an easy way to describe this world-changing technique to the public.

The term was picked up three days later by the Press Association – a national news agency – and after that it became a common phrase.

It was lovely to meet Peter and I said to him jokingly: “I ought to slap you” and we had a laugh together. Although my family had incredible pressure from the media they also played a vital role in getting the message out to the world that there is hope for infertile couples.

Peter Martin played a major part in getting that message out to the world and it was fantastic that after all these years our paths finally crossed.

 

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