Judy and Roger Carr with their daughter Elizabeth Carr.

They were a young couple desperate to have children, so when fertility doctors Howard and Georgeanna Jones said they could help, the Carrs jumped at the chance. Only later did Judy and Roger discover they were also becoming pioneers.

Stricken With Infertility
Judy and Roger Carr met at the University of Maine and married in 1973. Judy, who was majoring in child development, and Roger, who came from a large family, both wanted children, and as soon as she graduated, they started trying. Judy became pregnant right away, but suffered from an ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo begins to grow in the fallopian tubes rather than the uterus. The condition requires surgery and can be life threatening; in Judy’s case, her doctor estimated that internal bleeding had left her about ten minutes from death. The surgery also involved the removal of the affected fallopian tube, leaving her with a single healthy one. Judy and Roger tried again, but a second ectopic pregnancy cost her part of the remaining tube, and a third resulted in another ambulance ride and more emergency surgery. “I have good news and bad news,” the doctor told Judy. “The good news is, you’re alive. But the bad news is, you will never have children.”

New Hope in Norfolk
Ironically, the very thing that prompted the doctor’s statement — the removal of Judy Carr’s last fallopian tube — also made her a good candidate for the emerging field of in vitro fertilization (IVF), since she could no longer conceive naturally. The Carrs had heard aboutLouise Brown, the world’s first test tube baby, but they didn’t connect her birth circumstances with their own situation. In Judy’s words, it “wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen.” Furthermore, IVFhad never been successfully attempted in the U.S. — and was in fact illegal in Massachusetts, where they had settled. While recovering from her surgery, Judy was given a pamphlet about a new clinic formed in Norfolk, Virginia, by retired Johns Hopkins doctors Howard and Georgeanna Jones. The pamphlet didn’t give many details, but Judy and Roger were willing to try, so she got her doctor to write a recommendation and then one day received a phone call at the school where she taught fifth grade. “How soon can you be in Norfolk?” the voice said.

From Petri Dish to Womb
From the first day they spent at the Joneses’ clinic, the Carrs felt “like we were in the right place at the right time.” They particularly hit it off with Georgeanna and Howard, who picked up Judy at the Norfolk airport. The Joneses agreed to try IVF and started Judy on powerful fertility drugs like Pergonal, whose side effects made the normally easygoing Judy weep at a moment’s notice. To the Jones’ surprise, the egg surgically removed for fertilization began to mature rapidly, making Roger race to get down to Norfolk in time to donate sperm. On April 17, 1981, Judy’s 28th birthday, the fertilized egg was implanted in her uterus. As Howard Jones brought it into the operating room, he turned to Judy. “Should I be singing Happy Birthday to you?” he said.

Blessed with a Daughter
The implantation resulted in a successful pregnancy, and the Carrs settled down to wait for the birth. Until a clinic doctor told them, they hadn’t realized that theirs would be the first test tube baby in the U.S. The Carrs decided to share the news with only close family and friends. Judy believed her child would be healthy, but she was acutely aware that any problems would “certainly set back the future of IVF in the United States.” So she and Roger did what they could to avoid publicity. Still, the historic nature of what was happening couldn’t be ignored, and when Judy was wheeled into the delivery room on December 28, 1981, she saw it was “standing room only,” with most of the clinic staff and a film crew to boot. Roger hadn’t been able to sleep, but Georgeanna Jones made sure he got a muffin and some orange juice, and she stationed a “prop man” nearby to hold him up, just in case. When little Elizabeth Carr arrived at 7:46am, beautiful and healthy, “there was clapping and cheering in the room,” Judy remembered, “and a lot of tears.” Roger had “such a feeling of relief, such a feeling of joy, that the journey had finally ended. We’d finally been blessed.”

 

My American Experience

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