There’s no way I could keep this big birthday quiet, since it’s really a celebration of successful IVF.
I was the first baby born by this procedure 40 years ago today and since then millions more have been born – the numbers quoted range between 6 and 8 million.
Mostly I have a normal life working nine to five and looking after my two boys and my husband Wesley but as IVF has grown into a massive industry worldwide I get more and more questions about it.
I enjoy meeting people and the babies, of course, but it feels quite strange to know my birth made headlines around the world.
I was four and about to go to school when my parents sat me down and showed me the film of my Caesarian birth, which is now on YouTube. The main reason they told me then was in case my classmates mentioned it and they kept the explanation simple, though I don’t think any child of that age would understand much about it.
Mum said she needed help from doctors to have me but I don’t think I really understood the significance of it all till I was a few years older. Behind that simple statement lay nine years of heartbreak as my parents had struggled to have a family.
My mum was finally diagnosed with depression because of it, especially as investigations showed she had blocked fallopian tubes which meant she had no chance of having a baby.
Overnight my parents went from being ordinary, quiet people living in Bristol to being on TV and in every newspaper
Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, the two men who came up with the IVF technique, changed everything for my parents and gave them hope.
Other women were also being treated but my mum was the first to become pregnant and give birth safely and that completely changed my parents’ lives.
They were absolutely overjoyed to have had their much longed-for baby, but overnight they went from being ordinary, quiet people living in Bristol to being on TV and in every newspaper.
Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards suggested that my middle name be Joy because my birth would bring joy to so many people.
The hospital where I was born was overwhelmed with journalists so the corridors were lined with police officers as my dad arrived to see me for the first time
It offered new hope to infertile couples and you’d assume that everyone would be glad for them but as I grew up it came as a shock to find out that my birth had also caused controversy.
It seemed to bring out the worst in all the journalists.
This was hardly a story that needed sensationalising yet they seemed to revel in headlines like “Frankenbabe”. The hospital where I was born was overwhelmed with journalists so the corridors were lined with police officers as my dad arrived to see me for the first time.
Cardinal Albino Luciano – soon to be Pope John Paul I – told the press that he had no right to condemn my parents for desiring a child of their own but warned that doctors might find themselves struggling to contain the consequences of their actions.
He also argued that not all scientific advances are for the good of humanity, pointing to weapons of mass destruction.
They also received hate mail, including some really sick items like a broken test tube containing fake blood and a plastic foetus
I can’t imagine how my parents must have felt hearing something awful like that – all they wanted was a baby and suddenly they were at the centre of this huge controversy.
They also received hate mail, including some really sick items like a broken test tube containing fake blood and a plastic foetus, which must have been very upsetting and made my mum very protective when she was out with me.
However, they also got congratulatory letters and gifts from across the world, many of which Mum kept as momentos.
During the first two years of my life they travelled the world because there was such interest in me.
Mum always said she had to share me with the world but that they had the baby they wanted so much, so that was the main thing.
After that Mum and Dad took me out of the spotlight and apart from the media interest things were pretty normal and still are. When my sister Natalie was born, also by IVF, my parents were thrilled that their family was complete.
As I grew up I got used to the regular bouts of publicity but journalists sometimes forget I am just an ordinary person. I’ve had this all my life so I’m used to it, like having our wedding then the births of our two sons in the media.
Sadly, my dad’s funeral was the day before our eldest son Cameron was born
About a year into our relationship Wesley told me he had been outside my house after I was born, which was quite weird. I found out he lived across the road from my family home at the time. There was so much press interest, with 100 journalists at the door, and lots of children just wanted to see what was going on.
Sadly, my dad’s funeral was the day before our eldest son Cameron was born 11 years ago, so he never met either of our children.
Mum was fantastic with Cameron and a great help to me, but she died when he was five, so she never knew our younger son Aiden, who’s now 4.
I never worried about having difficulty conceiving and was lucky that it all went smoothly. Cameron understands as he has had lessons in school and has been with me to various events but Aiden is more interested in dinosaurs than IVF.
Since Mum and Dad, Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards are no longer with us I feel I need to keep the memory of what they achieved alive.
Any research that can help create a family is brilliant
It’s part of history now and their actions changed the world. That’s one of the reasons I was pleased to tell our family story in the book “40 Years of IVF – my life as the world’s first test tube baby”. It’s also why I donated my mum’s archive of momentos to a museum in Bristol so people can see what happened.
I believe we have to trust the scientists and doctors and the regulators to do the right thing and if genetics can be used for medical purposes then that is a good thing.
But I’m not a scientist or a doctor and not sure why the media keep asking an office clerk from Bristol about these issues, though I suppose starting life as “the most famous baby in the world” means they’re interested in my views.
So far as I’m concerned, any research that can help create a family is brilliant.
Louise Brown was talking to Joan McFadden