Mother of Norfolk's first IVF babies - whose daughter has had IVF baby herself - remembers procedure pioneer
PUBLISHED: 16:11 03 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:59 03 May 2019
The woman who gave birth to Norfolk's first IVF babies has remembered one of three pioneers of the procedure as a blue plaque is to be placed at his home.
Patrick Steptoe, along with Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy, achieved one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in modern times, the birth of the world's first test-tube baby Louise Brown.
The trio launched Bourn Hall after their success, where many Norfolk women continue to travel for fertility treatment today.
Dr Steptoe died in 1988 just after receiving the news that Bourn Hall had achieved its 1,000th IVF baby. And now a second generation of women, like Amy Harris - Norfolk's first IVF baby, who has just given birth to her own IVF baby, are benefiting from his work.
Lesley Smith, 71, from Norfolk was one of the first patients at the new Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge. She remembers meeting Louise Brown's mother, who was also having IVF treatment at the time, and said Dr Steptoe “was a lovely man”.
She said: “He was how you would imagine a lovely grandfather would be. He was very visible at Bourn Hall and would chat to everyone. I was really upset when he died, he meant a lot to me.”
Mrs Smith, from Old Costessey, was 36 when she had her twin daughters Amy and Katie – Norfolk's first IVF twins - after she and her husband Brian had been unable to conceive naturally.
“The doctors think that my cervical mucus was 'killing off' Brian's sperm,” she said.
And she particularly remembered the kindliness and compassion of Dr Steptoe towards her husband Brian.
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She said: “We lived an hour and a half away and Brian received the call to come in and produce the sperm which was needed. But when he got there he couldn't do it. Patrick Steptoe took him for a walk around the beautiful grounds and said to him, 'don't worry, lots of people have this problem it happens all the time.' That was the sort of man he was, he was lovely.”
She said: “Things were so different years ago. I didn't tell many people that Amy and her twin sister Katie were IVF babies. In those days people just didn't understand and I didn't want them growing up with a stigma.
“When I couldn't get pregnant I felt like I wasn't a proper woman, all my friends had got pregnant easily, I thought it was just me that struggled.
“These days with social media I would have realised that I wasn't the only one but it wasn't until I went to Bourn Hall and met all the other girls having treatment that I realised it wasn't just me.”
In the early days women had to stay at Bourn Hall to gain treatment and were treated like invalids after IVF.
Mrs Smith said: “We were told to sit in the back of the car on the way home with our feet up and we were not allowed to iron or wash the windows. If we used a kettle it could only be half full.”
In contrast her daughter Amy Harris, from Norwich, who had her IVF treatment last year at Bourn Hall's state-of-the-art clinic in Norwich, was in and out the same day after her treatment and carried on commuting to London to work and going to the gym.
Mrs Smith, whose other daughter conceived naturally and is expecting her second child in September, is eternally grateful to Bourn Hall and the legacy of Patrick Steptoe for making her family complete.
“I still can't believe my luck sometimes,” she said. “If I hadn't had my Bourn Hall twins I wouldn't now have two gorgeous grand-daughters and another grandchild on the way.”
The childhood home of Dr Steptoe, in Oxfordshire, is due to be marked with a blue plaque on Saturday
For the second year running Bourn Hall will have a stand at the Royal Norfolk Show on June 26 and 27.