In 11 days time, Louise Brown will be 30. She has her own son, Cameron, who was conceived spontaneously just over two years ago. She comes across as a nice, thoughtful, sensible and articulate woman, very aware of the role she's played but in no way starry because of it.
We owe a lot to her parents, to Mr Steptoe and Dr Edwards, and I'm sure a lot of unsung nurses, embryologists, researchers and other doctors without whom the good gentlemen would not have been able to treat Mrs Brown, who had blocked fallopian tubes. It's hard with scientific progress to disentangle the multiple threads that come together into the tapestry which is an individual breakthrough, but these articles give you a sense of the long line of clinical and scientific progress without which IVF would not have been possible. I did not previously know that the first IVF pregnancy ended in an ectopic, for example, although I was aware that Mrs Brown's pregnancy resulted from harvesting a single egg, caught just after ovulation, since the drugs to produce controlled ovarian hyperstimulation and to control ovulation were not yet well developed (hyperstim was already in use, just not put together into the edwards/steptoe protocol).
If we think back to all those many pieces of work, the century (at least) of work on human fertility which led to Louise's birth, we can marvel all the more at what's been developed since. The drugs to help us to produce multiple eggs in one go. Agonists, antagonists and recombinant chorionic gonadotropin (hcg) to control when ovulation happens. ICSI. The understanding that many women need progesterone support after artificial induction of ovulation to support a pregnancy. The use of trans-vaginal needle aspiration rather than laparoscopy to retrieve eggs. Laser surgery for endometriosis. Hysteroscopies to remove fibroids. The ability to freeze embryos. The use of estrogen therapy to support frozen cycles. Progesterone suppositories to replace nasty intra-muscular injections. Automatic dispensing pens for FSH rather than having to mix powders. The understanding of the role of blood clotting in recurrent miscarriage. And so on.
It is extraordinarily difficult to deal with the fact that - and oh so much more so to experience - after all that progress there are still some of us for whom the technology doesn't work, and some of us whose infertility has no apparent cause. In the next 30 years I believe many of those situations will be treatable. Probably not all, but more than today. Roll on progress.
Until more of the causes of our infertility are treatable - and until women's fertility is no longer over at 42 or so - thank you for all that progress has already given us. Thank you to Mr Steptoe and Dr Edwards. Thank you to Mr and Mrs Brown. To Louise and to her sister Natalie - the first IVF-conceived woman to bear a child. Thank you to all those couples who participated in early work on IVF, who agreed to be guinea pigs. Thank you to those who agree to be experimented on today - trying new drug protocols, participating in randomised trials. Many of our children would not be here without you. Thank you.