Milestones in IVF: 1968 – the first human fertilization outside the body

As part of The Queen’s Green Canopy seven lime trees have been planted at Bourn Hall Cambridge, one for each decade and each dedicated to a milestone in IVF – one of the greatest scientific and medical achievements made during The Queen’s reign.

Tree 1 – The starting point

The first tree in Elizabeth’s Wood was planted by Beth, a Bourn Hall baby, together with Jenny Joy, daughter of IVF pioneer Professor Robert Edwards.

It marks the start of the IVF story in December 1968, when a paper in Nature authored by physiologist Robert Edwards, gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, and scientist Barry Bavister described IVF in humans convincingly for the first time. But it would take ten long years before Steptoe, Edwards and Jean Purdy gained a breakthrough with the world’s first test-tube baby.

Jenny Joy, Professor Edwards’ daughter, says: “Our father’s passion for planting trees and nurturing them until they flourished took place in every location we called home, and was a big part of our life as a family from the start.

“They were part of the landscape of our childhood, and we can still see them today in many of these places as part of our father’s legacy, including at his farm in Dry Drayton where there are still hundreds of his trees.

“A tree seedling, like a human embryo, is a tiny beginning for something that needs to be nourished and cared for to grow into something unique and wonderful.”

Jo, Rob and Beth with Mike Macnamee, Julie Spence and Jenny Joy
Jo, Rob and Beth with Mike Macnamee (Bourn Hall), Julie Spence (Lord-Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire) and Jenny Joy (daughter of Robert Edwards)
Jo and Rob with Beth
Jo and Rob with Beth

Elizabeth (Beth) from Southend was born following NHS funded IVF treatment at Bourn Hall. She is named after her great-grandmothers and is a big fan of the Royal family.

Her mum Jo says: “We felt so lucky when we got to Bourn Hall and they took us seriously. I was in my early thirties at this point and some of my friends already had several children. I can’t believe that I survived that time.

“If it hadn’t been for IVF, we wouldn’t be parents. We were happy before as a couple but having a baby makes you a family.”

More information

Read more about the planting of Elizabeth’s Wood at Bourn Hall as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy Initiative here.

Find out more about the history of IVF and Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic.

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