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The World’s First “Test-Tube Baby” Looks Back On Her Life At 40

Central Office Of Information / ABC News

Ask Louise Brown about her historic birth and she'll tell you there were no test tubes involved - but a large glass jar did play a crucial part.

Brown, a mild-mannered mother of two from southwestern England, earned one man a Nobel Prize and changed the world forever.

That's because she was the first child born using in vitro fertilization (IVF), or as the press dubbed her in 1978 - a "test-tube baby."

One For The History Books

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Edwards (left) and Dr. Steptoe (right), two of the scientists behind the birth.Duncan Baxter

In 2016, American parents welcomed 70,000 new babies with the help of IVF treatments.

But the idea sounded like science fiction when British scientist Robert Edwards and gynecologist Patrick Steptoe began work on IVF in the 1960s.

They first fertilized an egg outside of the womb in 1969, and gradually started more ambitious projects.

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Embryologist Jean Purdy.Press Association

Along the way, they were joined by Jean Purdy, who became the world's very first embryologist. They also faced protests and critics who said the team was tampering with nature.

But their treatment was a godsend for John and Lesley Brown of Oldham, England, who had never been able to start a family because of Lesley's blocked Fallopian tubes.

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John and Lesley Brown.OneDio

After the fertilized embryo was inserted in Lesley's womb, the team kept their fingers crossed for a successful birth.

"Had there been anything at all wrong with me, it would have been the end of IVF," Louise said.

"And Here She Is: The Lovely Louise"

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Louise was a healthy baby girl.Louise Brown

With news of Lesley's incredible pregnancy shared with the media, the world was waiting for Louise's birth.

Reporters from far-off countries, including America and Japan, were camped outside Oldham's small hospital waiting for news.

In fact, there were even cameras in the delivery room. Lesley's Cesarean section was filmed as proof that Louise's birth wasn't a hoax.

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Central Office Of Information

Photos of the healthy baby (just "a little small") appeared on newspaper pages around the world.

Louise's birth was a gift, but Lesley and John were savaged by critics for accepting help from the doctors.

"By turning the birth of their child into a media event, the Browns have […] degraded and institutionalized the child,” Time reader Grant Parsons wrote.

"My parents didn’t have a choice about making it public," Brown argues. "If they didn’t, they would have had people asking ‘Why can’t we see her? What’s wrong with her?"

A World-Changing Legacy

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Millions of babies are born with the help of IVF each year. Servy Massey Fertility Institute

Plenty of people saw the bright side of Louise's historic birth.

"A glorious day for women afflicted with the type of sterility Mrs. Brown has overcome," wrote another Time reader.

It was, and many more happy days followed in quick succession.

The first IVF baby born in America arrived in 1981. Louise's sister, Natalie, born in 1982, was the world's 40th IVF baby.

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Louise Brown poses with the desiccator jar that held her fertilized embryo.Press Association

Millions and millions more have followed, and Louise says women have publicly thanked her for her mother's pioneering birth.

Today, she's a freight worker who says she lives a "very normal life," and is married with two children of her own.

In an anniversary essay for her birth, she wrote that IVF "brings hope for people in despair that they will never have a child."

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Press Association

"Not long before mum passed away," she told Time, "she said that without IVF she wouldn’t have anybody left in the world."

"Even up to her last days she was proud of who she was and what she did."

Did you know about Louise and her historic birth?

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[H/T: Time, USA Today, BBC]

I write about all sorts of things for Shared, especially weird facts, celebrity news, and viral stories. CONTACT: zachary@shared.com