'We have a very special relationship': Spain’s first IVF treatment, 40 years on

Memories of a groundbreaking birth from the doctor who led the pioneering process

Victoria Anna Perea, the first person born by IVF in Spain, toasts her 40th birthday with biologist Anna Veiga and doctor Pedro N. Barri.
Victoria Anna Perea, the first person born by IVF in Spain, toasts her 40th birthday with biologist Anna Veiga and doctor Pedro N. Barri. / Pol Solà/Quim Vallès
Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | @pile_of_eggs | Barcelona

July 6, 2024 10:37 AM

July 6, 2024 01:57 PM

It took the team at the Dexeus fertility clinic two years from the first IVF cycles they worked on until the birth of Victòria Anna Perea Sánchez, Spain’s first baby born with assisted reproduction technology. After some failed attempts, Victòria was finally born on July 12, 1984, becoming the world’s sixth ever person born after IVF treatment.  

For Anna Veiga, a biologist and the leading doctor of that pioneering process, it was “very, very special to be faced with the initiation of life,” as she tells Catalan News. 

She describes a situation where medical teams were working “blind” as IVF had never been successfully carried out in Spain before. “We did not know how this worked in humans. We had animal models but it was not the same, so as a biologist for me this was not only a challenge but also a big opportunity to work on something that was really exciting.” 


The team’s objective was to replicate what was done in the UK in 1978, with the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first baby conceived by IVF: to combine oocytes and sperm to create an embryo, and then put that back into the uterus of the patient.

“Obviously there were difficulties because the process was completely new and we did not know some details that now we know a lot more about, but this is also why it was so challenging and exciting for us,” she adds. 

As the techniques were not well established, the Catalan doctor explains that it was very difficult to find training on the subject. “We were lucky to be able to go to Vienna in Austria, and also in France in Montpellier, and this is how we started. There were very few standardized protocols so it was quite a difficult time for us because we had to study things, to try to find out what were the best solutions, the best methodologies.”

Now, as Victòria Anna celebrates her 40th birthday, doctor Anna Veiga will be celebrating alongside her, as the two have shared a close relationship through the years. “Vicky is a very special person for me, as you can imagine. My professional life is [marked by a] before and after the birth of Vicky.” 

Dr. Veiga recognizes that Victòria is “obviously not [her] daughter,” but that they do have a “very special relationship” that goes beyond just friends. “In the beginning, Vicky's parents came to the Dexeus clinic a couple of times or three times every year, especially at her birthday so we could see her, and my contact was mostly with her parents. Now it's mostly with her and I think we love each other and we have a very special relationship.”

Additionally, the doctor remembers society’s reaction at the time of the procedure as positive. “At the beginning of life and at the end of life, these are the moments where people have more ethical concerns,” Veiga contemplates. “We were lucky because at that time there was not so much opposition, most of society understood what this was about, helping people that could not get pregnant.”

“We were also lucky because we got the first law in assisted reproduction in 1987 which was quite soon and that law provided the framework to be able to work in a defined environment. It was quite a liberal law, Spain has always been, with respect to assisted reproduction, quite a liberal country, and because of this, we did not face any special problem related to people that did not like what we were doing.”