Spent a fascinating hour this afternoon in a rather cold cafe on the Gray’s Inn Road talking with Professor Marcus Pembrey. He is the speaker for the DC Network national members meeting to be held on March 17th and the title of his session is Nature/Nurture: How Much Do We Really Know? Professor Pembrey is a distinguished geneticist but has never before approached his discipline from the perspective of donor conception and he is clearly intrigued by this. Before we even reached the cafe door he had brought up the question of the language that is used to refer to all parties in the donor conception triangle…this was when I knew we were in good hands. Sitting down with a cup of mint tea and Marcus with a mango juice, I gave him some background on the organisation and the situations that people attending the meeting were likely to be in. We discussed the language question and how the sensitivities of donor conception parents and parents of children with disabilities are strikingly similar and then moved on to some of the questions and issues that are likely to be raised by DCN members. He listened with interest, scribbled some notes and asked if I could leave him my notes. But then he started to tell me about about recent findings on responsiveness of genes to environmental influence, how the epigenetic influences on a woman’s eggs are much greater than on sperm and the beginnings of some research on the impact of grandparental nutrition on the health of children two generations hence. He then moved on to talk about how information about genetics and the impact of genes on disease processes or behaviour has become over-medicalised, almost always given a ‘bad news’ slant, rarely the more positive side of the coin. And in layman’s terms the positive news does seem to be that nurture has the capacity to massively modify nature. As Marcus says enigmatically “DNA is not livingness”. I cannot wait to hear more on 17th March.
I could have done with the train back from Bristol not being 50 minutes late, making it 1am before I was able to climb into my bed back in London, but it was a good trip West yesterday and worth the very long day. My colleague Chris and I talked with a group of about 12 people, most of whom were planning egg donation. One couple already had a child conceived this way but were frozen with anxiety about beginning to share information with him and others. I was glad that Chris and I were bringing the experience of sperm donation as there was just one couple present that this situation applied to and they seemed a bit lonely, saying little during the evening. This ratio very much mirrors our experience at the Network where new members needing egg donation are outnumbering those requiring sperm donation, although in overall numbers, sperm donor families are still in the majority. On the whole participants at the meeting were very willing to share their experiences and anxieties and if that group represents the people having donor conception treatment in Bristol, then Wendy the counsellor is doing a great job as there was no resistance to openness at all.
One last thing about Bristol. I can highly recommend the cafe at the Arnolfini art centre on the very picturesque waterfront. I can’t recommend the art, it was dire, but the shop has some lovely children’s books (I bought two for my grand-daughter) and can’t speak highly enough of the Sicilian eggs (lunch fare) and the coconut cream and lime cake. Delicious with a mug of Earl Grey tea and a wonderfully warm insulation for the trudge back to the station with my sister in the icy air. Great day.