Louise Brown is used to the public eye — her birth having been televised for all the world to see.
What made her arrival so special, was her revolutionary conception. Brown, who turns 41 on July 25, was the world’s first baby born by in vitro fertilization (IVF), a procedure that implants a fertilized egg into the uterus.
“Britain’s historic test-tube baby, 5-lb. 12 oz. Louise Brown, has the entire world goo-gooing,” read a feature story in PEOPLE magazine’s Aug. 14, 1978 issue.
Last year, around the time of her birthday, Brown sat down with TIME to reflect on the media frenzy surrounding her delivery, and the public criticism her parents, Lesley and John, faced after allowing doctors to film her caesarean section birth.
Brown told TIME that the birth needed to be public, to prove that the masterminds behind IVF, British scientist Robert Edwards and his gynecologist colleague Patrick Steptoe, had in fact found a way to conceive life outside of the human body.
“My parents didn’t have a choice about making it public,” Brown said. “If they didn’t, they would have had people asking ‘Why can’t we see her? What’s wrong with her?’ “
“Had there been anything at all wrong with me, it would have been the end of IVF,” she added.
Her successful birth marked a new era in reproductive technology — and for many struggling with infertility, a new era of hope.
“A few months ago I was in the supermarket with my husband and sons and I heard footsteps running up behind me,” Brown told TIME last year. “It was a woman and she had a 4-year-old — the same age as my son — and a tiny baby in a pram. She said that she’d always wanted to thank my mum and me because without us she’d never have had those two. It makes you tear up.”
As of 2018, it was reported that 8 million babies have been born worldwide as a result of IVF since 1978.
In recent years, many celebrities have come forward with their fertility struggles, opening up to fans about their experience with IVF. Among them Chrissy Teigen, Tamron Hall, Courtney Cox and Gabrielle Union, and more recently, dancer Julianne Hough.
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He revealed that he and Hough began the IVF process shortly before she turned 30 last July.
“Knowing she has endometriosis, it could potentially make things challenging in the future to conceive naturally,” Laich, 36, said of their decision to start IVF. “That was just a looking at the big picture and what we want as a family.”
In addition to starting IVF, Hough, 30, also froze some of her eggs last year, and “the commitment that she made to us having a family is something I’ll never forget,” he added.