Thursday, July 24, 2008

Happy 30th Birthday, "In Vitro Baby," Louise Brown!

Note: This post originally appeared on Stamps of Distinction on June 4, 2008. I have pulled it from the archives because Friday, July 25th is the 30th birthday of Louise Brown, the first in vitro baby.

As this post describes, Portugal has issued what is thought to be the first stamp explicitly addressing the heartbreak of infertility faced by numerous couples. The design of their stamp is a poignant reminder of the feeling of emptiness that many couples have to endure.

Portugal, 2008
Is this the world's first
infertility-themed stamp?

In March, 2008, Portugal's postal authority CTT Correios de Portugal, S.A. may have made postal history when it issued the stamp shown on the left. It is thought that this stamp was the first ever stamp specifically issued to raise awareness of the struggles of infertility. In a March, 2008, article in Linn's Stamp News, the de-facto industry standard for philatelic news, suggests that this is, in fact, the first stamp on this topic.

Infertility is the inability of a couple to conceive a child or, if conceived, the inability to successfully carry the child to delivery. The condition is usually associated with strong emotions such as angst, grief, anger, a sense of incompleteness, and depression. The emotional impact to the affected individual or couple can be devastating.

For years, there were only three primary options available to infertile couples. One was to try home-remedies and "quack" cures, which had successes rates attributable to simple luck. Another was to accept their childlessness, which many did reluctantly. The last, and in my opinion, most noble option, was adoption.

As doctors searched for additional options for this debilitating illness, a new technique, called in vitro fertilization, or IVF, was successfully pioneered by British doctors, Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards. On July 25, 1978, their technique led to the birth of Louise Joy Brown, the first baby to have been conceived outside of her mother's body.

Louise's parents had tried for a number of years to conceive a child, but with physically blocked Fallopian tubes, Louise's mother was unable to conceive through natural methods. By removing her eggs, fertilizing them outside of the body, and then implanting them, Louise's mother was finally able to become pregnant and bear a child.

This event became a watershed event in the efforts to find a cure for infertility. It meant that couples who had previously been unable to conceive due to physical impairments stood a much-greater chance of conception. While in the best case, it offers about a 50% success rate in younger women, such a percentage is a marked improvement over the miniscule success rates without IVF. It offered a ray of hope and led to more attempts in finding a cure for the illness.

Unfortunately, the high cost of in vitro fertilization has kept the procedure out of reach of many infertile couples. But each year advances are made and many procedures have come down in cost.

The stamp issued by Portugal is beautifully designed and conveys the hopes of infertile couples with its imagery. The stamp shows a stylized silhouette image of a man and woman embracing a child. The image of the child is almost ghost-like in appearance, symbolizing the hope for the child, yet at the same time highlighting the fragility of conception for infertile couples.

The stamp is denominated as 0.30 Euro (approx $0.47 USD). It is currently available for purchase from Portugal's postal authority.

As an interesting side note, Louise Brown, the first in vitro baby will turn 30 years old on July 25, 2008. She currently works for Great Britain's Royal Mail postal authority. I wonder if she collects stamps?

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