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First test-tube baby in US reflects on the death of an IVF pioneer

Posted by Elizabeth Comeau  April 10, 2013 10:14 AM

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If it weren't for Robert Edwards, among other brilliant, determined doctors, I would not be here.

It's really that simple. And that overwhelming.

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Robert Edwards, 87, happens to be one half of the duo who pioneered in vitro fertilization (IVF). He is a Nobel prizewinner, and was part of the team who, in 1978, helped the parents of Louise Brown give birth to the first IVF baby.

Edwards was not my doctor. However, I will always be connected to this man. In 1981, I was born as the first "test-tube baby" in the United States.

To date, more than 4 million babies have been born world-wide using IVF, which involves the fertilization of an egg with a sperm in a petri dish outside a woman's womb.

It sounds so simple now, but back then, when Edwards and Dr. Patrick Steptoe were first attempting such a procedure it was controversial, very risky, and quite frankly, an unproven technology.

Edwards and Steptoe were the ones who pioneered the procedure in the U.K. Their work prompted Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones to found the clinic in Norfolk, Virginia where I was born.

In a way, I owe these doctors my life.

I was a teenager the first time I met Edwards. He was brilliant, and his laugh could fill a room. He was the most quintessential British man I had ever met. He stood with his hands in his pockets when he was listening to medical research, but he gesticulated wildly when telling a story; he drank tea; he made carefully-crafted and subtly witty jokes.

As with all of the doctors who worked tirelessly to perfect the procedure, which brought me into the world, I am forever grateful to this man.

There are simply no words to express the overwhelming sense of loss I feel -- not just for myself, but also for the world of assisted reproductive technologies.

In my "status" as the first IVF baby in the U.S., people in the media have often looked to me for a comment when prominent reproductive news happens. Today is one of those days.

What can I possibly say to all of the couples he helped? What could I possibly say to those who happen to be children of assisted reproductive technologies?

The truth is, despite being a writer, I have no words. He created life. And he created hope for those who thought hope was lost.

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CONTRIBUTORS

Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at Boston.com. She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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