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This Brave, New World

Posted Jul 25 2012 10:56am

TIME Magazine Cover July 31, 1978

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.

“And this,” said the Director opening the door, “is the Fertilizing Room.”

“I shall begin at the beginning,” said the D.H.C. and the more zealous students recorded his intention in their notebooks: Begin at the beginning. “These,” he waved his hand, “are the incubators.” And opening an insulated door he showed them racks upon racks of numbered test-tubes. “The week’s supply of ova. Kept,” he explained, “at blood heat; whereas the male gametes,” and here he opened another door, “they have to be kept at thirty-five instead of thirty-seven. Full blood heat sterilizes.” Rams wrapped in theremogene beget no lambs.

One egg, one embryo, one adult-normality.

The above is from some of the opening paragraphs from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In this opening scene, he describes a human hatchery, where embryos are created in test tubes. Here, Huxley sets the stage for the rest of his dystopian novel about technology, class and love.

He wrote Brave New World in 1932. The world was not yet at war again. We had not seen the horrors of the atom bomb. And yet, this science fiction novel predicted an assisted reproductive technology we wouldn’t see work for another 45 years.

(Brave New World is in the public domain; you can read the full novel here online . For the record – it’s one of my favorite books.)

. . .

She was born on July 25, 1978. Her parents named her Louise Joy Brown. Today, she turns 34.

She was the world’s first baby born via in vitro fertilization – IVF – in England.

Louise would get a sister – Natalie, also via IVF – in 1981. Six years ago, their father, John, passed away. Six months later, Louise gave birth to a son of her own, without any conception assistance, but by then she was already an aunt; her sister had already given birth to a daughter (again, naturally) in 1999. The doctor who performed the IVF procedure that conceived Louise, Dr. Robert Edwards, received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2010.

And just last month, Louise’s mother Lesley passed away at a very young age of 64.

It is astounding to me that a technology that was successfully developed just a few years before I was born will now help me conceive my own future children in just a few short months from now.

For another point of reference, in terms of time and technology: Elizabeth Carr was the first IVF baby born in the United States. She was born just days before my husband, in 1981. That fact right there very succinctly demonstrates the efficacy of IVF in our very lifetime.

I am as old as the oldest IVF baby in America.

Another point of reference: the first donor egg baby was born in 1984. I’m two years older than the oldest donor egg conceived baby.

Happy Birthday, Louise.

. . .

Since then, the IVF procedure has been refined and honed. I know someone who had IVF done back in those very early days who had over a dozen embryos transferred at once. Now, the ASRM guidelines for a woman my age and with my diagnosis recommend a maximum transfer of two embryos.

We have GIFT and ZIFT and ICSI and a whole host of other acronyms and abbreviations. ICSI is one of the newest in the group (1992) – intracytoplasmic sperm injection – and is another technology we’ll be using in conjunction with our IVF procedure.

It’s just amazing to think that I only first really learned about the concept of “test tube babies” in high school while reading Huxley’s Brave New World – a piece of speculative fiction that basically predicted a technology that is essential to my own family building journey now.

IVF has become commonplace as heart surgery or just about any other medical procedure you can think of. And it’s a procedure that results in enough births to account for just slightly more than 1% (!) of all births in the United States (Source: 2009 CDC Assisted Reproductive Technology Annual Report ).

Since Louise Brown came into this world in 1978, she’s been joined by five million other people born as the result of IVF.

A brave, new world indeed.

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