Elizabeth Jordan Carr grew up reading and rereading a letter her first doctor wrote to her the day she was born, telling her that in spite of her unusual conception — in a petri dish — she was a normal human being. That four-page letter, she says, got her through the tough times of feeling insecure. On Tuesday, for the first time since her birth, America’s first test-tube baby met the doctor who cared for her after she was born 21 years ago in Norfolk, Va.
“She was perfect. She did everything exactly right. She was pink, she cried at the right time,” Dr. Fred Wirth, 62, said. “When I wrapped her up in a blanket, she relaxed, her eyes opened up and I was the first person she saw.”
He also determined how people perceived the nation’s first test-tube baby, Carr said, by proclaiming her healthy and normal at the first news conference, which the nation watched eagerly at a time when such medical technology was new and scary.
Tuesday’s meeting, at Simmons College where Carr is now a senior majoring in communications, came after years of missed calls, lost e-mails and phone tag.
Carr only knew Wirth from a television image of a masked doctor carrying her as a newborn down the hallway, “holding me like a football.”
That, and his handwritten words to her.
“That letter was a comfort. When you’re an awkward teenager, wearing braces, probably overweight at some point, it was a nice thing to have — to have someone other than your parents tell you that you’re a normal human being,” she said.
Earlier this year, when Carr was a reporting intern at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, she, with the help of a colleague and the in-house library, began trying to track down Wirth.
They found a Web site for Wirth’s company, and Carr sent him an e-mail in May.
“Twenty-one years ago, he held me like a football and declared I was a beautiful baby,” she wrote. “I would like so much to contact him and talk to him to thank him for the beautiful letter he wrote me 21 years ago that I have read so many times on the days where things seemed tough.”
“It just touched my heart to have her go to all this effort to reach me,” said Wirth, who’s now a neonatologist at the Reading Hospital and Medical Center in Pennsylvania. “I’ve saved hundreds of children’s lives, and none of them have bothered to even call me. I’m overwhelmed.”
At their meeting, Carr brought Wirth a signed copy of an infertility book for which she wrote the foreword, and a newspaper column she wrote about her life and connections to Virginia.
Wirth gave her a necklace bearing his company’s logo — a round plate with the heads of a parent and child — and this month’s issue of Time magazine, which had a photo of a diapered Carr in a list of greatest innovations in the last 100 years.
Carr was born on Dec. 28, 1981, three years after the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in England. About a million test-tube babies have been born since.
Wirth says he always wondered what kind of a woman Carr had become.
“She’s incredible, not just intellectually, but more important, emotionally. When she talked to me on the phone last week, I went ’ka-ching’,” Wirth said. “To me, she’s a testament to the power of the reproductive energy that we have in the human race.”