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Assisted Reproduction

Lesley Brown, First IVF Mother, Dies

Louise Brown celebrated her 30th birthday in 2008 with her mom Lesley, son Cameron and IVF pioneer Prof Robert Edwards

What a legacy she leaves behind:

Lesley Brown, 64, who lived in Whitchurch, Bristol, made history in July 1978 when her daughter Louise was born at Oldham General Hospital. Mrs Brown had been trying for a baby with her husband John for nine years before she became the first woman to give birth following IVF treatment. She died at the Bristol Royal Infirmary on 6 June with her family by her side, it has been announced.

She successfully conceived following pioneering treatment by Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards. She leaves behind daughters Louise and Natalie, who were both born following IVF treatment, her stepdaughter Sharon and five grandchildren.

Her husband died five years ago. A private funeral service was held in Bristol on Wednesday morning.

Louise Brown said: “Mum was a very quiet and private person who ended up in the world spotlight because she wanted a family so much. “We are all missing her terribly.”

Dr Steptoe and Prof Edwards set up the Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge two years after Louise Brown’s birth. It is now a leading centre for IVF treatment. Lesley Brown is part of medical history. When in 1978 she gave birth to her “test tube baby”‘ she also gave birth to IVF treatment and gave hope to millions of childless couples. Her daughter Louise was the first of what stands at around four million children born through in vitro fertilisation.

It is a technique which has transformed fertility treatment. Fertilising an egg with sperm outside of the body and later implanting the resulting embryo into the mother, means being infertile is no longer a barrier to having children.

Prof Robert Edwards won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2010 for devising the technique, which was described as “a milestone of modern medicine”.

One marker of the success of IVF is how the technique has gone from being a medical marvel attracting media attention from around the world to one which seems so normal, so day-to-day, that people barely bat an eyelid when it is mentioned. Speaking on behalf of Mr Edwards and the team at the clinic, chief executive Mike Macamee said: “Lesley was a devoted mum and grandmother and through her bravery and determination many millions of women have been given the chance to become mothers. “She was a lovely, gentle lady and we will all remember her with deep affection.”

Speaking in 2008, Mrs Brown said she had been so desperate to have a baby that she was willing to put up with anything to give birth. At the time, she said: “I’m just so grateful that I’m a mum at all because without IVF I never would have been and I wouldn’t have my grandchildren.”

Her blocked fallopian tubes meant getting pregnant naturally was impossible. In 1976, she heard about new research and was referred to Dr Steptoe, after which she agreed to the experimental procedure. Although other women had been implanted with fertilised eggs, Mrs Brown was the first to achieve a pregnancy which went beyond a few weeks.

The attention around the pregnancy brought with it concerns for her baby’s safety. Mr Edwards said in an interview in 2008: “We were concerned that she would lose the baby, the foetus, because the press were chasing Mrs Brown all over Bristol where she lived. “So, secretly Patrick Steptoe hid the mother in his car and drove her to his mother’s house in Lincoln – the press didn’t know where she was.”

Mrs Brown recounted that once she was in Oldham hospital reporters tried a variety of methods to sneak into her room from a bomb hoax to posing as cleaners.


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