IVF Comes to America by Howard W. Jones, Jr., M.D.

Publisher’s Note

When Howard W. Jones, Jr., M.D. asked if this book could be published by Jamestowne Bookworks I was more than delighted: it was a wonderful privilege and opportunity. There were three reasons for my enthusiasm.

As an elder statesman of American medicine, a memoir of his role as a medical pioneer ought to be important. It took talent, courage, and diplomacy to succeed in launching in vitro fertilization for patients in this country. This is no ordinary story of medical progress, because it required a rare combination of circumstances, skills and people, and his team had to confront discouraging opposition for years. That they succeeded so well is told by the numbers of people who use the technology today and regard it as conventional medical practice and wisdom. We have added at the end of the book a complete bibliography of the works of the author and his equally distinguished late wife, Georgeanna Seegar Jones, M.D., as perhaps the only public source representing their vast and long professional endeavors.

The second reason for wanting to publish this book is my personal connection with its author. I first met the Drs. Jones at a scientific workshop at Bourn Hall, Cambridge, exactly thirty years ago in November 1984. They flew to England from Virginia to contribute to discussions about recent advances in reproductive technology, hosted by my late mentor, Bob Edwards. I remember the other participants were excited to meet the American pioneers. I had read papers about their IVF program in medical journals, but I would not meet one their co-authors (Lucinda Veeck) until nearly twenty years later when I joined the Jones Institute, and afterwards married her. Lucinda and I continue to be in regular contact with Dr. Howard since we live in the same state once more.

Lastly, I welcome IVF Comes to America because we published the life of the New York surgeon-naturalist, Robert Morris, last year. It is particularly fitting to follow with a story told by another remarkable medical innovator and thinker.

This book is not aimed specifically at readers of medical history; I believe that many patients, doctors, and students will enjoy Dr. Howard’s personal account of a medical breakthrough.

Roger Gosden

IVF_TOC

Elizabeth Carr

America’s first IVF team, Norfolk, 1981

Lucinda Veeck, Director of Embryology

Lucinda Veeck, Director of Embryology

Foreword by Elizabeth Carr Comeau

I own a heart-shaped sterling silver necklace with the number “1” on one side and my initials on the other. I only wear it on special occasions as a mini good-luck charm or when I go to Virginia to visit Dr. Howard Jones, the driving force behind bringing IVF to the United States. The necklace is a kind of silent reminder of my roots, and a precious souvenir of the work that went into my birth: from mastering the science to presenting a case for IVF at The Vatican. This book is a glimpse into those endeavors by the man who led the charge—my doctor.

Growing up, I knew Dr. Howard and his wife, Georgeanna, were the doctors who made IVF technology in the United States possible, but I never appreciated what that meant until I was older. To me, Dr. Howard was and always has been part of my family. He signs my Christmas and birthday cards, “Grandad Jones,” every year.

The first time I realized I was not like everyone else was when I watched the NOVA documentary of my birth—A Daughter for Judy. For all intents and purposes, it is my only “home movie,” although it went through months of professional filming, editing, and post-production.

The experience of watching it was not, however, like popping in a home-made DVD movie that makes you feel nostalgic for years gone by. Instead, I remember it felt like watching history unfold. I was just days old in the film, and the one making history.

I had seen the film only once before when I sat watching it seated between Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones, my legs dangling from the chair as the lights dimmed. We were not alone in the viewing room, but I recall that it felt like just the doctors and I were there. My parents did not attend. I know now it was because they could not think of better people to explain my conception than those two, determined, brilliant minds who had perfected the procedure. Throughout the documentary, I listened to the movie narrator, but paid special attention when Drs. Howard and Georgeanna explained what a Petri dish was, and when a doctor was performing a complicated task.

They explained, “The mother’s egg and father’s sperm are transferred to a Petri dish where they meet to divide and form an embryo which is put back into the mother’s womb until the baby is born.” They made it sound so simple, and it is how I explain my birth today.

There was no talk of how the Vatican published a document slamming In-Vitro, nor any mention of why I was born in Virginia rather than in Massachusetts, where my parents were living at the time. Nor did they say what would have happened if I had not been born a healthy baby. To my doctors and parents, it was a triumph that an infertile couple was able to have a child of their own, something they had all but ruled out after years of failed attempts. “There you are,” I remember Dr. Georgeanna saying. “A beautiful little girl.”

I never told my parents, but that was the day I realized the courage of that pioneering team of doctors. And it was when I realized that all the media attention I had gotten my entire life was misplaced, because I did nothing. I was just born! It was my doctors and parents who were special.

When I was ten, I got to meet and hold IVF baby numbers 1,000 and 1,001. They were twins, and symbols of how far the technology had advanced in just a short decade. I remember their parents telling me, “without you and your parents, our babies wouldn’t be here.” But, in turn, without Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones at the helm in Norfolk, Virginia, I simply wouldn’t be here.

Available in digital and print editions. Click cover image on side-bar.