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Parents and their IVF babies born over the last four decades gathered in the grounds of BCRM’s clinic at Aztec West in Bristol on Saturday (20 April) to celebrate 40 years of ‘Made in Bristol’ babies.

The group was brought together through a public appeal by the clinic last year which aimed to find the earliest people conceived and born in Bristol as the result of IVF, and attendees included some ‘brave and remarkable pioneers’ according to BCRM’s medical director Valentine Akande

The party was attended by over 150 people, including current and retired practitioners as well as patients who underwent the then ground-breaking fertility treatment and many of their IVF babies, plus parents with much newer babies born thanks to assisted fertility treatment.

While the younger guests enjoyed face-painting and ice creams, their parents listened to contrasting accounts from two mothers who had experienced IVF treatment at the clinic 37 years apart. One of the earliest patients to be treated, Caroline Harvey, gave birth to one of Bristol’s first IVF babies, daughter Clare on 13 June 1985, while Emily Glennon’s daughter Olivia arrived on 10 December 2021.

Caroline Harvey said: “I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been childless can ever begin to understand what it’s like not to be able to have children.

“We heard about the birth of Louise Brown and that was obviously exciting: our doctors had mentioned that Bristol was starting with IVF treatments, but it never entered our heads we would have a chance.

“After 11 years of infertility, we have since had more than 38 years of wonderful parenthood and have loved every minute. Clare is everything to us.”

Like Caroline and David Harvey, Emily and Will Glennon’s fight to have a family took a whole decade, so Emily was clearly thrilled to share the news that the couple are expecting their second BCRM baby in October.

Emily said: “When we got the invitation to come along today, and I thought about the place being full of people who had lived the IVF journey just like us, I felt really emotional. It's such a powerful image and thought: that all these families only exist because of fertility treatment. That without it, this site would stand empty.

“We know how lucky we are: for the science, and medicine, and learning and advancements and dedication of everyone working in this field exist, which in turn have allowed our family to exist.

“Our lives could have been so different. There are probably people all of us know, in our own families, amongst our friends or colleagues, for whom IVF wasn’t an option. One, now in her 80s, described it to me once as ‘her greatest sadness’. And those three words, understated as they were, will stay with me forever.

“We’re lucky too to have found this clinic. We’re lucky everyone here cares so much: like the fertility nurses who see us at our most vulnerable, but never make us feel anything of the sort and are our greatest cheerleaders, whilst bearing witnesses to the highest highs and the lowest lows.

“And the embryologists who somehow know we’re about to pass out from fear when they call us with updates from the lab, and how important it is to just get straight to the news.”

“Don’t ever think we don’t notice or appreciate that,” she said.

BCRM’s medical director, Valentine Akande, paid tribute to all those who have worked in and experienced fertility treatment over the past four decades and spoke of how glad he is that his own working life has been dedicated to helping couples like the Harveys and the Glennons to have the families they dreamed of.

Valentine Akande said: “We were overwhelmed by the amazing response to our appeal and delighted that so many of our past and present patients, their IVF offspring and the healthcare professionals involved in their care over the last 40 years have been able to join us today to celebrate this remarkable milestone.”

For guests who had not visited the clinic since it moved to its new state-of-the-art premises at Aztec West in 2022, there were guided tours to demonstrate some of the advances in the high-tech work done in the embryology lab, including techniques such as timelapse microincubation and preimplantation genetic testing.

Although the world’s first test-tube baby Louise Brown, born in July 1978, had Bristolian parents and has lived in Bristol all her life, Louise was neither born nor conceived in the city - it was 1984 before the first IVF baby was conceived and born there.

The first fertility centre in Bristol, where the earliest IVF treatments took place, opened as the result of a joint research project between the University of Bristol and Southmead Hospital in 1983, and eventually evolved to become the Bristol Centre for Reproductive Medicine (BCRM).

BCRM is now one of the UK’s leading fertility clinics and the longest established in Bristol, helping people from throughout the Southwest and Wales with fertility treatment for both private and NHS patients. The new state of the art clinic is involved in innovative research and has one of the best success rates with IVF and other fertility treatments in the UK.

Statistics recently published by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology show the number of babies born worldwide through IVF as exceeding 12 million.