Friday, July 25, 2008

Happy Birthday, In Vitro Baby

Louise Brown, the world's first in vitro baby, turned 30 today. According to New York Times journalist Peggy Orenstein, she's married, lives in Bristol, England, and has a naturally conceived toddler of her own (you can read Peggy's musings on I.V.F. here). She's living a normal, ordinary existence, having a life and a family, and that's as wonderful in its own way as her extraordinary conception was.

Before I say anything else to mark this occasion, first of all, to Louise: You go, girl.

For all those parents who have struggled with infertility, and those who aren't yet parents, but desperately want to be, I remind you today of Louise, who gave her parents a very happy ending.

I.V.F., for many, means hope.

It doesn't always work; in fact, it takes even those who are lucky enough to conceive with it an average of three tries -- tries that are costly financially, physically, and emotionally. But those parents are still the lucky ones compared to those who've tried and tried and had no luck with it.

Peggy Orenstein's article goes into various ethical questions swirling around how I.V.F. is currently administered in the U.S. I'm not going to address those.

But I do want to say thanks to I.V.F.'s pioneers and its current, compassionate practitioners for giving hope -- and putting thousands and thousands of lovingly welcomed bundles of joy -- into the hands of so many who wanted to give love so much they've been willing to try something that was brand-new just thirty years ago.

For later-in-life moms, I.V.F. can mean the difference between having a kid or having no kid. To a generation of women including many who put off having children for a long time, taking time to find themselves, make careers, or wander through years of unlucky relationships until they found the right partner, I.V.F. has made family life possible.

"In Vitro" translates as "in glass," because the eggs are fertilized by sperm and left to grow for a few days in a glass dish in the laboratory. I think there's something marvelous about this method: it allows us to see the miracle of the cells dividing, a process that would otherwise take place deep inside a woman, and lost from view. While you'd think letting it all happen out in the open would demystify the miracle of creation, in fact, if you've ever seen photos or film of cells dividing at this part of the process, the effect is the opposite. It invites you to marvel at the wonder that is human biology, in its elemental form.

To those who thought. 3o years ago, that the sky would fall in, thanks to what they thought a hubristic act of meddling with nature, I say, hey, look: all that happened was a bunch of very, very wanted kids were born ... and continue to be.

Ain't nuthin' wrong with that.
Happy Birthday, Louise.

No comments: