Amazing Grace: mum of the world’s first ‘test-tube’ boy, who paved the way for IVF treatment

“I didn’t know that I was expecting the world’s first IVF boy until a reporter knocked on my door and told me!” says Grace Macdonald, mother of Alastair. When Grace was told she was infertile in 1974, there was nothing that medicine could do. Determined to have a chance of a child, she signed up in secret to a pioneering research programme led by Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy.  

Grace and Alastair will be speaking at a special event taking place at Westminster on 28 February 2024 celebrating 20 years of Fertility Network UK.

Grace MacDonald mother of world's first IVF boy

Grace continues: “I had been sworn to secrecy; my parents had no idea I was taking part in the programme – they thought I must be going down to England for cancer treatment or something and not telling them. They were over the moon when I told them I was pregnant! 

Desperately wanted a family

“I was one of six children and had always desperately wanted a family. We had been trying for seven years when I was told that I would never have children. I had ovarian cysts, blocked fallopian tubes and a lot of adhesions. 

“I have always been one of those people who follows the adage ‘never say never’ and it was sheer luck really that I came across an article in a magazine at a friend’s house about the pioneering work being done in Oldham by Steptoe and Edwards.

“I applied to be part of their programme and was accepted.” 

Do this for us Grace… do it for the girls!

“The marvellous thing about being on the programme was that I made some wonderful friends; the women I met were all going through the same thing. I keep in touch with some of them to this day. We called ourselves the ‘ovum club’.  

“We knew we were involved in something very special, and that taking part was about more than just us. The other women were very generous with their feelings.  I remember one of the other patients saying to me ‘if it doesn’t work for us Grace, it will work for someone else.’ 

“At one point I became close with the woman in the next bed to me while I was awaiting treatment, and when her treatment didn’t work, I was really touched by her last words to me as she left the hospital, which were ‘do this for us Grace, do it for the girls.’ 

World’s first IVF boy

“Bob Edwards and Jean Purdy, who I knew as Jeannie, went out of their way to support me and reassure me; I owe them so much. They were wonderful for just coming to see me on the ward and keeping my spirits up. 

“Jeannie was the person in charge once the eggs had been retrieved. She was responsible for putting them in the petri dish and watching them and bringing them on. And she was just amazing, very supportive. She used to stick her head round my door – I would hear the theatre door sliding, it made a noise, so I always knew she was on her way, and I remember her saying ‘looking good Grace’ and giving me the thumbs up. She was the kindest, loveliest person. 

“My second treatment worked. We all knew about Lesley Brown and shortly after I returned home to Scotland, myself two months pregnant, Lesley gave birth to Louise and made news around the world. 

“Alastair was born six months after Louise. His birth had proved once and for all that IVF worked and that Louise’s birth wasn’t a ‘one-off.’”

Jean Purdy and Alastair MacDonald
Jean Purdy with Alastair MacDonald, the world's first IVF boy

Alastair proved IVF was repeatable

It was only after Alastair’s birth that Steptoe and Edwards gave their first scientific lecture about their IVF breakthrough. At the time they had been criticised for withholding data about the trial and it was only with the publication of the book Presenting the First Test-Tube Baby, launched at Bourn Hall in 2023, that their reasons for the delay were revealed.   

The birth of Alastair proved that IVF was a repeatable treatment. 

IVF… most wonderful thing

Grace continues: “From there Bob, Patrick and Jeannie were able to open Bourn Hall as the world’s first IVF clinic. Just look at how many millions of IVF babies there are now in the world – that to me is the most wonderful thing. 

“Bob and Jeannie became great friends of mine and Bob and Alastair had a very close bond; he was Alastair’s hero and mentor. Patrick, too, maintained an interest in how Alastair was doing and regularly asked after him until he sadly passed away.” 

Grace is very close to her son.  

“Becoming a mum, when I had been told it would never happen, meant everything – it still does; it felt such a privilege. To me Alastair is the most wonderful son in the world and the apple of my eye. He recently celebrated his 45th birthday and I made him a birthday cake as I have done every year since he was born! 

Twenty years celebration of Fertility Network UK

“More than four decades on from my treatment I love the fact that IVF is now so ‘commonplace’, is accepted and regarded as totally ‘normal’ and that people talk about infertility and IVF so much more openly.”

Much of that openness has come about by the campaigning of Fertility Network UK and Grace is to speak at its 20th celebrations on 28th February 2024.

She says: “I think that it is great that there are organisations such as Fertility Network offering support to people facing infertility or going through treatment.” 

Grace and Alastair at Bourn Hall
Grace and Alastair at Bourn Hall
20 years of Fertility Network UK

Fertility Network UK

Fertility Network provides support for everyone on a fertility journey.  It provides useful resources on its website and a number of support groups.

The support line, run by two former fertility nurses, is open every weekday from 10am to 4pm and this provides a helpful source of emotional support and guidance.

The fertility groups across the country are now online with closed Facebook pages and all hold regular meetings on Zoom.

In addition to the regional groups there are some that focus on connecting those who are in similar circumstances. Such as Black Women’s group; South Asian group; Secondary Infertility; 40 and over fertility group….

More information

Find out more about the history of IVF on our blog.

Fertility Network is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. For more information about the support available go to

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