PBS American Experience – Test Tube Babies (story of IVF research in the US)

IVF (test tube baby)Watched another great PBS show a couple of nights ago. I heard about it last week and kept walking around the house, audibly reminding myself to view it. The broadcast was a documentary on the history of in vitro fertilization (IVF) research in the United States. I was fascinated by the story behind the technique. At least a couple of my visitors here have mentioned IVF. I’ll write a little about the television program and then get busy creating a post about uterine fibroids and fertility issues.

First, some background from the Wikipedia entry on IVF:

In vitro fertilization involves hormonally controlling the ovulatory process, removing ova (eggs) from the woman’s ovaries and letting sperm fertilise them in a fluid medium. The fertilised egg (zygote) is then transferred to the patient’s uterus with the intent to establish a successful pregnancy. “In vitro” is Latin for “in glass”, referring to the test tubes; however neither glass nor test tubes are used, and the term is used generically for laboratory procedures. Babies that are the result of IVF have been called “test tube babies”.

Next are quotes from the PBS American Experience “Test Tube Babies” documetary web site:

She was described in the press as the “Baby of the Century.” When Louise Brown, the world’s first successful test tube baby, was born in Great Britain on July 25, 1978, the event was heralded as the beginning of a technological revolution in human reproduction.

Okay. Time to pause for my walk down geeky Memory Lane… I remember being completely excited. I really thought this was one of those “Star Trek” moments and science around the world would take a gigantic leap forward.

But the birth of Louise Brown came while frustrated scientists in the United States were at a standstill, hampered by a moratorium on federal funding for IVF research and opponents who warned the American public that success would create a “slippery slope.”

What are you doing US? I let you slide on the whole “flying car” and “transporter” deal. Stop dragging your feet. Bring on the science.

Yet after the birth of the healthy Brown baby, privately funded research gained momentum in the U.S. In the early 1980, Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones opened America’s first IVF clinic in Norfolk, Virginia. Finally, after more than a year of trial and error, Elizabeth Carr, America’s first test tube baby, was born on December 28, 1981.

Yet again, I was pleased. The fact that it occurred in my home state of Virginia made it all the better.

Since then, more than 400,000 babies have been born in America as a result of in vitro fertilization, and more than two million around the world.

I have to admit that I didn’t realize the true significance of IVF research until after I viewed the program. It really was a struggle on all fronts (social, political, and legal) but in the end, science triumphed. I’ll leave one last statement by Dr. Landrum Shettles which, to me, summarizes any research endeavor.

Great scientists advance science by defying conventional thinking.

For more information, visit:

Five families’ share their own experiences
Timeline of Reproductive Research
Resources for further reading

The Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine
(One of the doctors from the Jones Institute was featured in an article I discussed about robotic surgery. Please visit the related post at the end.)


Related Posts:
Get your fibroids on the dance floor and do the robot
Remaking American Medicine (great PBS series on the US health care system)


3 Responses to “PBS American Experience – Test Tube Babies (story of IVF research in the US)”

  1. fibroid free Says:

    THanks for posting about this !! You always put up the great relavent cool stuff!!!

    I saw this on Monday….For me the fibroids WERE the cause of my infertility and once removed via Abdominal Myomectomy IVF is one of the 2 options on the table for me. Try and see if it works for 3 months (once I am fully recovered) or IVF becuase I am a women of “advanced maternal age -40 LOL”

    My fertiltiy is fine “number wise” hubby to…its now the issue of age, statistics and recovering from surgery (ok why the 2 periods a month now HELLO??? week 11 – oh sorry I do digress). Luckily my RE who did the fibroid surgery is MR IVF (IVF is what he REALLY does – more than 5000 patients and aided in more than 2000 births so far)

    Let me add somethign to the sad, mad, glad list…Mad because the dang fibroids halted my fertility these last 2 years and are still impeding on the process….

    will save my novelette, rants, advice and all the thigns my doctor told me about fibroids and fertitliy for the uterine fibroids and fertility post … cause dont forget nonsymtpomtic fibroids can also be the cause of infertlity

    …ah but I look at my new neice and think….yes glad there is IVF!

  2. fibroid free Says:

    try and see if it works natually….is what I meant to add as an option

  3. EclecticGeek Says:

    Thanks fibroid free!

    I’ll just jump in here for a quick minute. I’m still trying to catch up responding to comments.

    When so many women started posting in the post-Abdominal Myomectomy thread, I realized that fertility is a major issue. I planned to write a post but found out about the PBS program first. How timely. Now, the uterine fibroids and fertility thread is here! Thanks for your willingness to step up and talk about this, too.

    If you want to add more to the mad/sad/glad about fibroids list, go right ahead! Return as much as you like.

    Congratulations on the arrival of your new niece! 🙂

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