Why did American IVF research fall behind? Public pressure and fear. Some critics questioned the ethics of creating and destroying human embryos. Others worried about the health of any children created by the technique, predicting they could have serious deformities. And some objected on religious grounds, claiming that, in the words of Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell Sr., researchers were “delving into an area that is far too sacred for human beings to be involved in.” After the failed Columbia University IVF attempt in 1973, the federal government instituted a freeze on funding for IVF research.
But after Brown’s birth in the U.K. demonstrated just how normal a test-tube baby could be, the resistance in the U.S. began to drop away. In 1980 the Joneses, who had reached Johns Hopkins’ mandatory retirement age of 65, opened the country’s first IVF clinic, in Norfolk. As Dr. Howard once told The Washington Post, “We thought it was an alternative to fading away.” Within a year, my mother had become one of their first patients.
My parents, Judith and Roger Carr, both came from close families. Married young, they started trying for a baby as soon as my mom graduated from college with her teaching degree. But Judith, now 68, experienced three ectopic pregnancies — the fertilized eggs grew outside her uterus — leading to miscarriages and damage to her fallopian tubes that left her unable to conceive naturally. My devastated parents first learned about IVF from my mother’s primary care physician. “The doctor said he didn’t understand much about it,” my mother recalls. “Although I had no idea how complex the process would be, Roger and I were willing to explore the possibility.”
As one of the first 50 couples admitted to the Joneses’ new clinic at the Eastern Virginia Medical School, my parents commuted via airplane for hormone treatments, the harvesting and fertilization of the egg that would become me, and prenatal checkups. The fee at the time, not covered by insurance, was not insignificant for a young couple: up to $4,850 in lab fees and doctor fees for each attempt. But at ages 28 (Mom) and 30 (Dad), my parents made history as the parents of the first IVF baby born in the U.S.
I realized at a very young age that my birth was momentous. I was the only kid in my class who’d been on the cover of Life magazine and the subject of a Nova documentary. The Joneses helped me memorize a two-sentence explainer of my origins for anyone who asked: “The sperm and the egg were combined and fertilized in a petri dish. Once the egg was fertilized, it was put back in the womb, and nine months later, I was born, just like every other baby.” I remember Dr. Georgeanna once telling me, “Your parents wanted you so very much. They just needed a little help from science.”