Woman who was the world's first IVF baby (37) reveals family was bombarded with hate mail
Published 24/07/2015 | 14:05
Louise Brown, the world's first test-tube baby, has spoken for the first time about the "sick" blood-splattered hate mail her parents received after her ground-breaking birth.
Miss Brown, 36, was born at Oldham General Hospital on July 25 1978 after her parents Lesley and John became the first people to successfully undergo in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
Her birth attracted controversy, with religious leaders expressing concern about the use of artificial intervention and some raising fears that science was creating "Frankenbabies", but also paved the way for millions of women to undergo IVF.
Ms Brown has described how the news provoked revulsion among some members of the public and the bitter hate campaign launched against her parents, John and Lesley Brown.
In her autobiography, published next month, she reveals that her family received post-bags full of mail, including one package containing letters covered in red liquid, a broken glass test tube and a plastic foetus, accompanied by menacing notes.
Ms Brown, who turns 37 on Saturday, said: "A parcel arrived addressed simply to 'Louise Brown, Test Tube Baby, Bristol, England' it had been posted in San Francisco and the customs sticker on it said it contained a novelty item.
"Inside, mum found a small jewellery-style box with the words 'Test Tube Baby' printed on a sticker with an image of some baby footprints.
"She thought maybe it was another gift from a corporate anxious to be associated with my birth but when she opened it there was red liquid that looked as if it had spilled and a carefully folded letter."
The letter was accompanied by a piece of paper, again splattered in red, with a "test tube baby warranty card", she said.
There was also a typewritten booklet with "sick little questions and answers".
"There was one suggesting that you could keep a test tube baby in a toilet bowl or fish tank," she added. "It was menacing and scary and considering the time the people must have taken in putting this thing together then sending it across the world to a three-month-old baby I would say a completely sick act by some sick minds.
"Imagine how worrying this was for mum.
"For a while she was even more careful when taking me out in the pram."
But Ms Brown, a mother-of two living in Bristol with her husband, Wesley Mullinder, said the massive media attention surrounding her birth also resulted in fan mail.
She added: "Many letters were from women who couldn't have babies.
"One woman from Christchurch, New Zealand, wrote with her story of operations that hadn't worked, treatments that had failed and her desire to be a mum."
Another letter, from Heather Spackman from New South Wales, Australia, read: "I fear that you will find yourselves on the receiving end of all the usual criticism and condemnation that follows any medical breakthrough, so am writing to try in a tiny way to even things up."
Mr and Mrs Brown spent nine years trying to conceive before they were treated by the Bourn Hall clinic in Cambridgeshire as part of the work of Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, who are seen as the pioneers of IVF.
They went on to have a second daughter, Natalie, after another round of IVF.
Mr Brown, a former railway man, died in 2007 aged 64 and his wife died in 2012, also aged 64, after a short illness.
One in six couples in the UK has problems conceiving. The medical fertility industry – clinics offering IVF, donor insemination and other treatments – was worth an estimated £500 million in 2008. Unofficially, experts believe it is now worth well in excess of £600 million.
There are thought to be close to six million IVF babies across the world.
Bourn Hall continues to collaborate with the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre to develop the science behind IVF.