Tomorrow, Saturday, I am co-leading a day of reflection and planning for the facilitators of our Preparation for DC Parenthood and Telling and Talking workshops. At the end of the day I will be handing over management of the workshops to Jane Ellis, colleague, friend and all round lovely woman who also happens to be mum to two donor conceived young men. This is part of my so-called handing over or standing back from the front line of DC Network.
We are meeting at Family Futures in Islington, an organisation I have mentioned before, and this building will be where all our London workshops are run after April 2012 when our Department of Health grant runs out. Sadly, because of this projected shortage of funds we are having to cut in half the fees we pay facilitators and speakers. This does not make me happy because everyone running our workshops bring exceptional skills and qualities from their professional lives as well as the experience of being parents by donor conception. They and the speakers work hard and deserve to be paid properly for their time and we are very lucky that they have all agreed to continue at the reduced rate. What they all say is how much they enjoy being part of these unique workshops and how much they learn every time they run one. Both facilitators and speakers are certainly appreciated by participants. In the research into the effectiveness of our Preparation workshops conducted by Marilyn Crawshaw there was strong support for the rentention of facilitators with personal experience. They were described variously as open, experienced and excellent both for bringing their experiences into the workshop in an appropriate way but also for their skills in facilitation, including between group members
–‘experienced facilitators were the key to an excellent workshop – allowed everyone to have confidence’
‘The woman leading the group was terrific – and it was fab that she was able to talk from personal experience – it was great to think that we might be in her position in the future’
‘The openness and emotional honesty of the facilitators who have had personal experience of donor conception was invaluable……..(their)skilled and appropriately sensitive approach to handling an evocative subject which can bring up a lot of strong feelings in those that attend’
Further areas appreciated by participants were the opportunities to talk with others going through the same thoughts, feelings and processes; the films of donor conceived children , young adults and parents talking about their experiences and particularly the chance for heterosexual couples to split into gendered groups so that thoughts and feelings that are difficult to discuss with a partner could be shared with other men or women. I recall one of the early workshops I ran when there were several men present who definitely looked like they had been dragged there by their partners under threat of divorce. During the introductions they sat with their heads in their hands and I’m sure would have done anything to have been anywhere other than in that room. A transformation occurred, however, following the session where men and women met separately. Wide grins accompanied their lightness of step as they returned to the meeting space and full participation resulted from then on. I never quite learned what went on behind their closed doors, as my male co-faciliator just tapped his nose to indicate privacy…and progress.
I am quite clear that one of the main reasons for the success of both sorts of workshop is our facilitators. They are very special people. I very much look forward to spending the day in their company tomorrow and know that they will continue to bring the very best of their personal and professional skills to supporting would-be and actual parents by donor conception as they face the responsibilities (as well as the joy and hard work) of parenting.