In December, we held the second of three conferences linked with the IVF Histories and Cultures Project, co-organised by Sarah Franklin, Martin Johnson and Nick Hopwood. This conference focused on the early years of IVF in Oldham, Lancashire.
We were delighted to welcome some of the clinical staff who worked alongside Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards at the time as well as members of Robert Edwards’ family. We were also very lucky to have Grace Macdonald, the world’s second IVF mother, attending and sharing her experience. Her son Alistair also joined us for the conference dinner. It was a real privilege to hear these and other first-hand, personal accounts, which have added a new dimension to our understanding of the advent of IVF in the late 70s.
Given my current research on media representations of IVF, I was excited to chair the first session with Peter Williams, producer of three documentaries about IVF. We screened the first of these films, ‘To Mrs Brown, a Daughter’, which was shown on national television when Louise Brown was just six weeks old and which inspired a lively discussion 36 years later. Another highlight of the conference was the public lecture by Martin Johnson and Kay Elder, in which they shared some of the insights from their recent research in Robert Edwards’ archives, which has recently been published in the new journal, Reproductive Biomedicine and Society Online. All of the sessions were extremely stimulating and it is hard to think of an aspect of IVF – emotional, physical, legal, cultural, ethical, historical, sociological – that wasn’t covered in our conversations over the short time we were all together.
Thanks to the ESRC for funding this series of conferences and to Rhiannon Williams for, as ever, providing quietly efficient administrative and logistical support for all the guests and organisers. Thanks also to the team at Christ’s College, including especially Sue O’Donnell, for hosting the conference.