There was an interesting article in the Education section of The Guardian yesterday by Kate Brian whose blog Fertility Matters is always worth a read. She was arguing that as around five children in each school class are likely to experience infertility when it comes to trying to conceive a family, they should have the opportunity to learn and understand about it as part of the curriculum in school. St. Marylebone School for girls in central London does just this, interestingly as part of religious studies where the ethics of fertility treatments are addressed alongside attitudes of different religions to family, family planning and relationships. This multi-ethnic, multi-cultural C of E school does not think that talking about infertility waters down messages about teenage pregnancy prevention but is in fact respecting the capacity of intelligent young women to see the bigger picture. Other schools might choose to address the topic as part of sex and relationship (PSHE) sessions but sadly infertility is not seen as a priority. Professor Michael Reiss of the Institute of Education says that the lack of coverage for infertility is not wilful, but that the content of sex education is largely determined by the agenda of previous generations. “The situation was always portrayed as if everyone wanted to be a parent by 15 or 16, and as if the major job was to stop them doing so or being infected with an STI and that has dominated the discourse. It’s just that people don’t think about infertility.”
It would certainly be helpful for children conceived by IVF and donor gamete procedures to have their way of coming into their family mentioned as one of the many ways that families can be created. As so many children are being conceived with assistance of one sort or another these days, sex and relationship education needs to include more than a passing mention of fertility difficulties and ways in which these may be resolved or by-passed. Within DC Network there are children who have been pleased to hear teachers talk about sperm and egg donation…sometimes then contributing to lessons by talking about their story…and those who have been puzzled by no mention being made at all. Of course many young teenagers, particularly boys, don’t necessarily want to be seen as different from their mates and may not say anything about their own conception but nevertheless be pleased to hear their story normalised by being part of the curriculum. It is of course very important for teachers to recognise that in their classes there are likely to be children conceived by IVF and donated eggs or sperm and to keep their language and references sensitive at all times. Yet another reason for choosing the right person with the right training to talk on these very personal topics rather than assigning them simply to a teacher who happens to have a gap in their timetable. Don’t get me on that hobbyhorse!
Of course discussion of assisted conception methods using donated eggs, sperm and embryos has the possibility of having a similar effect to biology lessons where inherited genetic traits in families are talked about. In DC Network I have come across families whose children have only really taken in at this point (age between 12 and 14) what it means not to be genetically related to one parent. Ken Daniels from New Zealand has also talked about biology lessons in early teenage years sometimes being a penny dropping moment. And of course this has an impact on those who do not yet know they are donor conceived as well. Some children suddenly realise that they cannot be related to their dad or mum because of eye colour, blood group, ear lobe or tongue curling differences that are not compatible with genetic connection. Doubts grow in young people’s minds, hard questions are asked at home and parents can find themselves lying or suddenly having to break news that would have come so much easier so much earlier.
Just another one of the many good reasons for openness in families from the beginning.
Find Kate brian’s blog at http://fertilityviews.blogspot.co.uk/