Former Boston Globe writer Elizabeth Carr has been in the spotlight more than once since her birth 42 years ago. Why? Because Elizabeth is the United States' first baby born through the in vitro fertilization procedure, and the 15th in the world. And as she writes in her recently published book, “Under the Microscope: The USA's First IVF Baby,” she has been in the media spotlight since she was three cells old. Carr joined GBH’s Henry Santoro in the studio to talk about her life, her book and new federal legislation on IVF procedures. The interview below has been slighted edited for clarity.

Henry Santoro: Let us not start in 1981. Let us start in 2024 — March 7, to be exact. You were a guest of honor at President Biden's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill and you were invited by Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine. How and why did that come to be?

Elizabeth Carr: Oh, my goodness. Well, let me start out with a story. My family and I were on vacation on the Cape. It was my son's school vacation week and we had just been walking around all day, relaxing, scrolling the news. And the Alabama Supreme Court verdict comes down, ruling embryos are people. And my first reaction is, “Oh my goodness, I must read this aloud to my family because I need to. I need to hear somebody else's reaction to this.” And they went, “This is ridiculous. This is insane.” And then in the next moment, the only thing I could think was, “OK, what can I do? How can I help fix this situation? People need to hear from me.” And I immediately started pitching and writing pieces to local media. And one of those pieces Tim Kaine happened to read and said, “You know what? As the senator from Virginia, I think I should invite you to the State of the Union. And I want to help. I want to help advance IVF in this country and protect it.”

Santoro: And it was Virginia because that is where you were born.

Carr: That's right. So, IVF was illegal in Massachusetts at the time. So my parents had to fly down and back, from Massachusetts to Virginia, just to try out this program. It was the only program in the country at the time.

Santoro: How frightened were they?

Carr: My parents always joke that they were a little bit blissfully naive. They did not know what they didn't know. And the doctors just made them feel so comfortable that they said to themselves, “Well, what's the worst that we can have happen is that we just still don't have a child. So worth a shot. Let’s try it out.”

A black and white photo of a woman and man holding an infant while sitting on a cough.
Judith Carr of Westminster, MA, holds her newborn daughter, Elizabeth. The chld was born at the Norfolk General Hospital on December 28th. Carr and her husband, Roger, resorted to the invitro method of conception because Carr's fallopian tubes had been removed.
Bettmann Archive Getty Images

Santoro: You spoke on IVF your entire life. Even when you were 5 years old, people were interviewing you about being America's first IVF baby. What was it like when Tim Kaine invited you to the State of the Union?

Carr: It's funny because originally, his office called me just for some background to learn more about IVF and what was going on around the country. And then when they spent some time talking to me, they said, “He'd also like to put you on the shortlist for the State of the Union.” And I was like, “Well, how short is the list? ... There's no way they're going to have me come and attend.” And then a few days later they said, “He really would like you to be there as his guest.” And it wasn't just meet and greet and shake hands. ... We spent three solid days together trying to work on this new access to IVF bill. Sen. Kaine is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Screenshot 2024-04-13 at 9.36.51 AM.png
Author Elizabeth Carr's book, Under the Microscope, outlines all the details of her birth as the USA's first IVF baby
Elizabeth Carr

Santoro: Did you speak in front of Congress? Did you speak on Capitol Hill?

Carr: I didn't speak in front of them, but I had meetings with 20 different senators before the State of the Union — which, if you've ever tried to do that, is not something I had on my bingo card. It was crazy, but wonderful to do.

Santoro: Were some of them in agreement with what was happening in Alabama?

Carr: Yes. It was interesting because I've had this phenomenon kind of happen my entire life where people say they might be ethically against IVF, but then they meet me, and they don't have a problem with me being here or existing on this Earth as a person. It's always this kind of push and pull of, well, you're not for this, but you're not against me. I spent a lot of time doing education. Because most people, truthfully speaking, still don't understand what the IVF process really is or what it consists of. I did a lot of educating even with the senators.

Santoro: And even something as crazy as being called “a test tube baby” ... I mean, you dispelled that immediately.

Carr: That term was coined by somebody — a member of our media — and it's wildly inaccurate. No test tubes are even used during the process.

Santoro: You were born Dec. 28, 1981, and in November the following year, at 11 months old, you were on the cover of LIFE magazine. Now, I suppose that if an IVF baby was going to be on the cover of magazine, LIFE magazine is the one you want to be on the cover.

Carr: Yes, but if you ask my mom, she was so mad about that cover shot because they only had me half naked and in a diaper. She dressed me up in the cutest outfit that day, and they immediately strip me down.

Santoro: So, your mother has her own story, and you tell that in the book? Can you share that with us?

Carr: My mother and father both came from big families, three and four kids. And when they got married, they were young and wanted to start family immediately. And they found out very quickly, sadly, that she could get pregnant but not stay pregnant because she had scar tissue from an appendix surgery. ... And after her third pregnancy that caused so much internal bleeding, the doctors said, “We need to take your fallopian tubes. And that also means you will never have children of your own.” So, as she is recovering from surgery that removed these tubes, her OB-GYN walks in and says, “Well, I just came back from a conference, and I got this one-page flier on this thing called IVF that was successful in England. I don't know, maybe it's something you should apply to.” And that was it. Off to the races.

29 (1).jpg
Judith and Roger Carr pose for a photo.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Carr

Santoro: You recently told our public radio colleagues up the street that when this craziness broke in Alabama, that you suddenly felt like an endangered species.

Carr: Yes, absolutely. But it wasn't a shock, it was a real blow to me as a person where I thought, “Oh my goodness, what if I am the last ever first of something?” And I just didn't want anyone else to feel that terrible feeling. It's a feeling I can't explain to anybody to have someone think that you shouldn't be on this planet.

Santoro: What do you do now with discussing IVF, and how we should be advocating?

Carr: I'm very vocal and I won't stop talking about it. I've done a lot of press and media and writing and people I think need to understand that it's not just for people that have infertility issues. It's for anybody who wants to build a family that's LGBTQ. It's for people who want to go through genetic testing. It's for people who want to preserve their fertility before go undergoing chemo. It's not a small portion of the population anymore. And when people can understand that concept, it really changes the conversation.

Santoro: The day that you were born ... your mom and dad weren't the only ones at the hospital. Somehow PBS was involved. And our very own show NOVA documented the whole thing. How did that even happen?

Carr: When my mother was found to be pregnant and they said, “Yes, you are indeed pregnant, Mrs. Carr. You have the option to stay private and not share your name.” And my parents felt very strongly that people need to know that this is an option. But my parents were very selective about what media they would do. And when this NOVA crew approached them, they said, “Yes, NOVA is educational and it's all about science. People can learn the science and see that it's a viable option.” And they followed my parents throughout the whole pregnancy, and they were in the delivery room. And, you know, it's a little weird when you're a 6-year-old kid watching yourself be born on film. It's a very odd thing.

Santoro: Elizabeth Carr chronicles her story in her book, “Under the Microscope: The USA's First IVF Baby.” Elizabeth, thank you so much for sharing your story with GBH. Thank you so much for sharing your story with the world, and the United Nations.