Alastair MacDonald: The world’s first IVF boy celebrates 35th birthday

“My friends all wanted to know how I climbed up the glass to get out the test-tube!” laughs Scotland’s first IVF baby and the world’s first “test-tube” boy, Alastair MacDonald, who celebrates his 35th birthday on 14 January 2014.

Alastair’s birth in 1979 was the best possible start to the year for his mother Grace MacDonald, who had never given up hope of starting a family.

“I would have done anything for a baby of my own”, she remembers.  “When I read in the Lancet about the work being done by Steptoe and Edwards I wrote to them and asked if I could be involved.”

Grace received IVF treatment at the same time as Lesley Brown, the mother of the world’s first IVF baby, Louise Brown. It was only when a reporter turned up on her doorstep after Louise’s birth that Grace realised that her son would be the second “test-tube” baby to be born.

She attempted to keep Alastair out of the spotlight as much as possible as a child to ensure he grew up a “normal little boy”.  It was only when Alastair, aged nine, saw television reports on the death of gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe – and images of his “Uncle Bob” Edwards and friend Louise Brown – that he put two-and-two together and realised he was an IVF baby.

He recalls: “You can let something like that put your head in a spin as it’s a big thing to think about, but I wouldn’t be here without IVF so I tried to understand it as best I could.

“As a child I was very inquisitive and asked my mum a lot of questions.  I also asked Bob things whenever I saw him and I could see he really enjoyed me taking such an interest in it as well.”

When Alastair’s friends discovered he had a pioneering past they were intrigued and asked the young Scot lots of questions, some more cheeky than others.

Alastair explains: “Some asked how I got out the test-tube or whether I was sponsored by Pyrex! Generally though, my friends were really interested in what IVF was and liked having someone who could explain it first-hand.  In the 80s, IVF was very new and there wasn’t access to the same levels of information as there is now.”

Robert Edwards with the first 'test-tube' boy Alastair MacDonald
Alastair remained close to “Uncle Bob” Edwards until his death in April 2013

Alastair’s relationship with Robert Edwards remained close over the years and he saw the physiologist regularly until his death in April 2013. Paying tribute to him, Alastair described him as “the greatest scientist the world has ever seen”.

He added: “Bob was the most selfless, honourable, kind and decent person you could ever wish to meet… I am extremely privileged to have grown up knowing him as a close family friend. He was always there for me throughout my life and has remained a true inspiration and mentor to me. Bob was and always will remain my hero.”

Alastair’s mother Grace could not be prouder of her son, who she fought so hard to bring into the world.  “He’s the best son any mother could ever wish for, very supportive, very loving and just the kindest lad I could ever have wished for.”

More information

To find out more about the history of IVF and Bourn Hall Clinic click here.

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