It was an experience that was extraordinarily common, and yet so uncommonly extraordinary. This experience, enjoyed by my wife and me, was the arrival of our first-born, a son. A miracle of human existence perhaps, but a miracle that happens millions of times each year around the world.
By a happy coincidence, within a fortnight, came the birth of “my” first test-tube baby. It was also the first birth resulting from in vitro fertilisation (IVF) at the new Sheffield Fertility Centre. It was not, of course, “my” baby. As an embryologist I merely helped facilitate a modern approach for helping childless couples.
Together with the other embryologist Dr. Nicky Monks, we were responsible for the fertilisation of the woman’s egg with her husband’s sperm and culture of the resulting embryo. And we felt, perhaps, the same sort excitement that Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy must have felt when the first test-tube baby in the world, Louise Brown, was born in Oldham in 1978. But this amazing result of modern medicine could not have occurred without the expertise of the whole team of clinicians, nurses, counsellors, technicians and secretarial staff. Dedicated teamwork was essential for the subsequently happy outcome. And incredible fortitude shown by the potential parents.
The Sheffield clinic is the brainchild of Professor Ian Cooke and Dr. Elizabeth Lenton. For many years they have investigated and researched infertility at the Jessop Hospital for Women. Four years ago they set up a small research directed IVF programme, and in 1988 the first baby was born. IVF success does not happen overnight, and it is a credit to the then embryologist Dr. Jeremy Osborn and clinician Dr. Helen King that test-tube babies were born. Following this early work at the hospital it was felt that a separate IVF clinic would be preferable. So the Sheffield Fertility Centre was set up as a charitable trust, and in May 1988 the doors opened to patients.
The mother of our first test-tube baby, Kim Mumby, stated in an interview with the Sheffield Star (4th March 1989) “I will never forget the pain and anguish I felt when it was thought we could never have a family. My heart goes out to any other couples who are suffering what we went through”.
Although still in its infancy, IVF has successfully treated thousands of couples. However, they represent only the tip of the vast, sad iceberg of infertility. For many childless couples IVF can give hope, but that is not enough. And failure at IVF may, for some, serve to fuel feelings of anguish. It is only by continued medical and scientific research that the techniques might be improved, such that hope can be turned into “little bundles of joy.” Just like the one recently delivered in Sheffield.
Sheffield March 1989