As the baby pushes its tiny, wet head out into the universe, the birth of a child makes us gasp at the wonder of the creation of life. But that wonder is denied to between 3 million and 4 million American couples who cannot achieve pregnancy. They are infertile.
I am amazed that our species has survived the delicate balance of fertility. Before conception takes place, a dozen different organs in the husband and wife must mesh their output.
Despite recent successes with surgery and drugs, one couple in five still fails to have children. Undaunted, scientists are developing newer, bolder techniques that have given babies to thousands of childless couples and offer hope to thousands more. In less than a decade, doctors have achieved breathtaking results with the following techniques:
• Microsurgery that opens blocked or destroyed egg and sperm ducts
• Radioactive tests of sex-hormone levels to treat the lack of eggs and sperm; new hormone preparations that induce the sluggish ovary to ovulate – that is, to produce and release eggs
• The sonogram, a sound-wave picture that enables doctors to see eggs sprouting and to monitor drugs’ effects on the ovary
Many of these advances are part of a new era of infertility treatment, which burst on the world on July 25, 1978, with the birth in Oldham, England, of 5-pound, 12-ounce Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby. She was conceived in the laboratory, where her mother’s egg joined her father’s sperm in a glass petri dish. The fertilized egg was then implanted in Mrs. Brown’s uterus, where it grew normally for 9 months. Scientists call this method in vitro (meaning “in glass”) fertilization, or IVF.