Louise Brown – the world’s first baby to be born via IVF recently celebrated her 40th birthday and in doing so, marked 40 years of the extraordinary reproductive technology. Her birth was a groundbreaking development in the medical world and a momentous example of hope for millions of people dealing with infertility all over the world. Today, 6 million babies have been delivered thanks to IVF. SIX MILLION! That’s more than the entire population of Norway…
The London Science Museum, in honour of this anniversary, is showcasing a new exhibition featuring all things IVF. Visitors will learn about the earliest experiments that began in the late 60’s, the miraculous birth of Louise in 1978 and – 40 years on – what it really takes to make a baby the IVF way. With our names now firmly on an IVF waiting list, it seemed like THE MOST opportune time for my husband and I to learn about what we’ll need to do – or more specifically what me and my organs will need to do – to get us good and pregnant. So we paid a little visit to the Science Museum… and the Natural History Museum next door… and a wonderful éclair shop just around the corner. But I’ll try and keep the focus of this post more on the IVF stuff and less on the éclairs.
Although maybe one picture is fine…
Maitre Choux, South Kensington
Anyway, back to the IVF exhibition. It’s a small exhibition that makes up part of the “Who am I?” section and it’s verrrry likely that you’ll want to wander off around the museum admiring vintage cars and lumps of moon rock before you eventually make your way to the IVF bit.
I sort of thought the exhibition would be a bit empty… but it wasn’t. As well as visitors wandering through absent-mindedly, there were couples who were clearly there to learn about IVF and families who had taken their children along to teach them about how they were made. I heard one woman explaining her pretty complex (but absolutely amazing) conception story to her bewildered looking daughter and for the first time, I felt a sense of normality about it all – these were our people. We spent time listening to audio clips of people who had gone through the IVF process – some of them with remarkable success against all odds and others who, devastatingly, it had not worked for despite multiple attempts. It was important for us to hear all of these stories so that we begin our own IVF journey feeling positive and hopeful but also aware of the potential for a heartbreaking failure.
The most interesting bit for me was a glass cabinet displaying all the medication needed for one round of IVF. It detailed every injection, every supplement and every procedure on a day by day basis starting from the first day of the menstrual cycle all the way through to the day of a pregnancy test. Up until this point, the self-administered injections were the focal point of my IVF fear but there was something weirdly reassuring about seeing everything neatly laid out like a to-do list. It had the exact opposite effect on my husband who was suddenly dumbstruck taking in the volume of needles that I’ll soon be shooting up with and then the dawning realisation that the extent of his contribution to this process and the only physical responsibility he has is to spend some alone time with a plastic cup.
Reading through the press coverage and the letters that Louise’s mother received in the days after Louise’s birth show just how much hope this baby girl gave to so many people and I left the museum feeling inspired and strong. Definitely worth a visit.
Thank you to the incredible pioneers behind IVF – Robert Edwards, Patrick Steptowe and Jean Purdy – their hard work and dedication has created 6 million precious lives and made the dreams of millions more come true. The exhibition will be on display until November 2018.