History made with Worcester’s first IVF baby, who also saved the life of his father, who was born at the UMass Memorial


Alexis and Jonathan Peden made history last week when their son became the first baby born through in vitro fertilization treatments at UMass Memorial Medical Center’s new clinic.

Without their son James, things could have taken a dark turn for his father.

After three days of labor, James entered the world by C-section at 3:19 p.m., weighing 6 pounds 11 ounces and 20 inches tall. He is the first of a growing number of births that will take place in hospital using IVF treatment in the coming years.

The Pedens had been trying to get pregnant for three years, without success. Alexis, 30, told MassLive she thought there was something wrong with her.

Over the past half century, the number of children born has decreased. In 1950, women around the world had an average of 4.7 children during their lifetime, according to Lancet.

The global fertility rate nearly halved to 2.4 in 2017, researchers from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found. And their studies predict that it will fall below 1.7 by 2100.

Yanguang Wu, director of the IVF clinic’s laboratory, told MassLive that the declining birth rate is partly due to families choosing to have children later in life. He said that getting pregnant naturally after age 35 increases the difficulty of getting pregnant.

“Age is a key factor for man in a potential [pregnancy]”Wu said.

Jummy Ogundare, a junior endocrinologist working in the IVF clinic lab at UMass Memorial Medical Center. (Douglas Hook/MassLive)

A woman is born with all the oocytes, or immature eggs, she will ever have, according to Rachel Gurevich, registered nurse and fertility advocate. This number naturally decreases with age. Age also reduces the quality and genetic stability of eggs, which is why it is more difficult to get pregnant after 35.

Wu and his team of three doctors, four registered nurses and a medical assistant were able to fertilize three eggs, one of which turned into a fetus.

About 11% of women of childbearing age in the United States have experienced fertility issues, according to the National Institute of Health.

NIH studies suggest that after one year of unprotected sex, 12% to 15% of couples are unable to conceive, and after two years, 10% of couples still have not had a baby born alive. For generally healthy couples under 30, 40% to 60% are able to conceive within the first three months of trying.

But it turned out that Alexis’ worries about her body were unfounded and that Jonathan, 34, was among the 9% of American men who have fertility problems.

In a strange twist of fate, Jonathan’s sperm finally saved his life.

“I went to the urologist and just thought I was following the routine of everything. They sent me for an ultrasound that day,” Jonathan said. “Again I thought it was routine and found out I had testicular cancer.”

Doctors told the Pedens they were able to catch Jonathan’s tumor early and he would be fine after the operation.

To make matters worse, just two weeks before Jonathan’s surgery, Alexis contracted COVID-19. Fortunately, she suffered only minor symptoms and Jonathan avoided infection. If he had contracted the virus, the operation should have been postponed.

The operation was a success and the IVF treatment continued. IVF is a complex series of procedures used to help with fertility or prevent genetic problems and help conceive a child. During IVF, mature eggs are removed from the ovaries and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory.

Umass IVF Clinic

Gina Gardner shows off the shirt the family had made. (Douglas Hook/MassLive)

Three times a week, Alexis visited the IVF clinic at UMass Memorial Medical Center at 33 Kendell St. to have her progress monitored. She took one injection in the morning and two more in the evening.

“dr. [Shaila] Chauhan was working more on my medication side and Dr. [Armando] Arroyo worked more on my procedural side,” Alexis told MassLive.

Reproductive endocrinologist Chauhan told MassLive that the three injections Alexis took during her fertility treatment started in the morning with Cetrotide. In addition to the two hormone antagonists she took at night, including Menopur and Gonal-F, Alexis told MassLive.

All three drugs are follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH). Menopur also contains luteinizing hormone (LH).

“So you assessed LH levels and adjusted,” Chauhan said. “Let’s say the LH is too low, the eggs may not mature normally; then you would do a third injection to maintain that level.

After weeks of injections into her stomach three times a day, Alexis felt some discomfort. She would alternate between the left and right sides of her stomach to avoid this.

“Once you’ve done it in one place, you don’t want to do it again,” Alexis said.

Umass IVF Clinic

Reproductive endocrinologist Shaila Chauhan walks through the IVF clinic in Kendall Street, Worcester. (Douglas Hook/MassLive)

Alexis is not the first patent of the clinic, but she is the first to give birth thanks to the IVF treatment at UMass.

Robert Edwards began working in human IVF research in 1968 with the first baby born following successful IVF treatment 44 years ago in England. Three years later, IVF treatment was administered at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and America’s first baby was born at Norfolk General Hospital in 1981.

The first infertility clinic opened in 1926 in Massachusetts, according to the Reproductive Medicine Associates network.

Forming the IVF center is the dream of Julia Johnson, the former chair of obstetrics and gynecology at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

“With the addition of this IVF lab, our experts will be able to provide all services, every step of the way for patients on their journey to parenthood,” Johnson said in 2019.

“It will feature the most advanced technology and equipment, and it will be staffed by caring experts with decades of experience,” she continued.

The Worcester-based IVF center now has 35 expectant mothers at various stages of pregnancy, according to Arroyo. He proudly displayed the ultrasound wall on the wall of his clinic’s office.

Alexis’ nurse manager mother, Gina Gardner, first learned that she had become a grandmother during a call with UMass Memorial Health Care President and CEO Eric Dickson.

Gardner, who directs PICU and the pediatric floor at UMass, has regular calls with department heads at the hospital. As she received a message from her daughter that her grandson had been born at her hospital, Dickson congratulated the IVF clinic on her first successful birth.

She told MassLive she had no idea the IVF clinic offered fertility treatments — let alone her own daughter.

Umass IVF Clinic

Jonathan and Alexis Peden are grateful to the staff at UMass Memorial Medical Center for making the birth of their first child, James, possible. (Douglas Hook/MassLive)

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