Seven years before the birth of Louise Brown made history, the Observer of 31 October 1971 asked: ‘What would you do if the doctor said you couldn’t have children?’ With limited options (and the ‘test tube baby’ still only theoretical), three couples told their stories. Sheila hoped an operation to clear a fallopian tube blockage with a 15% success rate would deliver a miracle; two years later, she and husband Sidney were advised to adopt. Even so, Sheila ‘always felt happy’ on hearing other women who had had the procedure were pregnant: ‘I thought it would eventually be my turn.’ After trying for five years, improbably, it was. She conceived naturally, going into labour during ‘a plate of whelks at the local pub’. A peep at her hospital notes revealed the gynaecologist had written of their son ‘This is a very precious baby…’

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William and Gwen tried for 12 years. Gwen had a child from a previous marriage and a clean bill of health, but William refused medical examinations, insisting ‘I must be able to produce children… If you can’t reproduce, you’re not a man.’ He blamed Gwen; Gwen felt guilty: ‘I thought I was doing my husband a wrong.’ Their marriage suffered: William drank; Gwen was hospitalised with a nervous breakdown. Despite it all, when their daughter finally arrived after hormone treatment, Gwen said she was ‘born of true love’. William, apparently, ‘changed his mind about doctors’,

There was no longed-for ending for Sylvia and Richard. Artificial insemination failed: ‘a kind of hell,’ Sylvia said. Richard refused to adopt: ‘I felt it was like shopping for a child.’ They had ‘four beautifully kept and carefully trained miniature dachshunds,’ which Richard called ‘definitely some kind of substitute, though Sylvia did not align herself with other dog people they knew: ‘The worst is the woman whose beribboned poodle has to be a baby, and that seems pathetic.’ The couple skied, trampolined and were planning to climb the Matterhorn: ‘Although I couldn’t create a life, I had so many other things to do,’ said Sylvia.

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