It took Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe ten years to progress from their first successful in vitro fertilizations (IVF) to the birth of the first test tube baby, Louise Brown, in July 1978, and another three years passed before America’s first test tube baby was born. But soon thousands of couples were rushing to try IVF, and its growing success was documented by the many test tube baby reunions that took place.
The world’s second test tube baby followed Louise Brown by about five months, and for the first few years, the rate of IVF births remained slow. But after the arrival of the fourth test tube baby in Australia in the summer of 1980, the pace quickened. Elizabeth Carr, America’s first and the world’s 15th, was born in late December 1981; by September 1982, there had been 87 babies born in England and Australia alone, with another 60 on the way. At Howard and Georgeanna Jones’ clinic in Norfolk, Virginia, where Elizabeth had been born, each baby was assigned a number corresponding to when there had been a “vital initiation of pregnancy,” or VIP for short. Elizabeth had number one, and after numbers 38, 39, and 40 rolled around, their parents decided to organize a test tube baby reunion. It was held about five years after Elizabeth’s arrival, and a picture of the gathering was taken at the grand central staircase of Norfolk’s Omni Hotel, with the Joneses surrounded by all the happy families they had helped create.
Where Do Babies Come From?
For Elizabeth’s mother Judy Carr, that first reunion “was perhaps the most special to me,” but later ones had their own fireworks. Every year Elizabeth and her parents would fly down to Norfolk for the Mother’s Day events, and when she was seven, Elizabeth wondered aloud where babies came from. Georgeanna Jones promptly arranged a screening of a NOVA documentary that had aired on public television about Elizabeth’s conception, pointing her out as an embryo and explaining how she had developed. By the time Elizabeth was ten, the Jones Institute had helped usher 1,000 children into the world, and the Joneses were considered honorary “grandparents” of them all.
Louise Brown’s Birthday Bash
In the first years, the test tube baby reunions served the dual purpose of providing a support network for the parents (at Jones Institute events, VIP numbers were used as icebreakers) and showing the world, through pictures of smiling families and healthy children, that IVF would not produce the “Frankenbabies” that many had feared. But the world soon needed little convincing — the rate of IVFpregnancies grew exponentially, and by 1998, 28,000 test tube babies were being born annually in the U.S. alone. As their numbers grew, so did the reunions. In 2000, a Connecticut gathering that commemorated the 10th anniversary of the New England Fertility Institute drew almost 1,500 parents and children. But the event that may have topped them all took place in late July 2003, on the occasion of Louise Brown’s 25th birthday. More than 5,000 test tube babies were invited to celebrate Louise, a postal worker who had recently become engaged, at the English IVF clinic founded by Edwards and Steptoe. Families came from three continents, and at the end of a party that featured clowns, cake, and a brass band, 1,000 white balloons were released into the sky.