It was horrid, cold and rainy outside but on Saturday afternoon we had a lovely warm event at our house. For just over a couple of hours about ten parents and their children between 7 and 11 sat around in large and small groups talking about what a book..or books…and/or a web based resource might best fulfil the needs of this age group of donor conceived children. Being completely out of the loop these days with what any child of these ages might need or like I was delighted not to be leading this workshop but simply to act as lunch provider/washer-upper and fascinated conversation listener. In charge were Nina, Manager of DCN and mum to a 10 year old son, and Liz, mum to two DI daughters, science teacher and author and wiz at explaining all things scientific in a simple way. Sam, donor conceived young adult son of Jane, one of the DCN Trustees, was also around to bring his personal perspective and that of a budding writer. The parents and children were representative of all the family structures in DCN, most of the donation types and had travelled from many parts of the UK, including Northern Ireland, with only a family from the South-West being unable to attend because they were cut off by floods!
With everyone sitting around in a circle, Nina started by introducing the project which is being funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Parents and children have long been asking for some kind of resource that can take over from where the very simple Our Story books leave off. However, by the time children reach 7 or so they have pretty clear ideas about the sort of thing that is likely to get and keep their interest so books need to be attractive to both boys and girls, those who like facts and diagrams and others who prefer stories and pictures. And that’s without taking into account making something that is going to meet the needs of children in all the family and donation types…including families where there are children not conceived by donor conception as well! A very tall order.
Liz then asked everyone in turn to say what their favourite book was and why (lots of Harry Potter and Roald Dahl from the children) and then we broke into two groups – parents and their younger children moving to another room with the older children and their parents remaining, but all tasked with talking about what a book/resource should definitely contain/be like and what should definitely not be part of it. Unsurprisingly, cartoons, humour and colour seemed important but it was also interesting that the older ones were very clear that they wanted hard information and pronunciation for some of the words used.
For the final half hour of the afternoon parents and children separated so that Liz and Sam could talk with the children about their favourite formats, rather than content, and parents were carefully led by Nina into thinking about topics and issues that might or might not sit comfortably with them or other parents, thus leading them into not buying or using any resource produced with their family. It was agreed that exactly how the sperm meets the egg in unassisted reproduction and the issue of half-siblings, both topics DCN knows some parents are very anxious about, would be mentioned in ways that could allow parents to use them as a peg for further explanation or for a child to ask questions about, rather than being addressed directly. Coy…well possibly, but it is important that as many parents as possible feel that this is a resource that is user-friendly for their family.
I found the most interesting question of the afternoon was to do with, ‘Why do I need this book’ or put another way, ‘Why is this book not the right one for my friend?’ which of course raises the issue of difference. Parents can get very frightened by this word (not this lot!), assuming that difference has to be a bad thing, but as one very bright nine year old put it, ‘Difference is interesting, I like being different’… or as I wrote about some posts ago, difference can be seen and experienced as more rather than less. And that’s what DCN wants to produce, a resource that supports and encourages children to recognise their difference…to know and understand about it…and then absorb it into a sense of who they are along with all the other factors that contribute to making them unique and wonderful human beings. The personal stories that are likely to make up one section will not avoid the difficult feelings that can arise sometimes…sadness, anger, frustration and disappointment are all very normal, but hopefully living in a family where donor conception is on the regular agenda (unlike so many of the families from the era when Walter and I had our children) it will be possible for these feelings to be acknowledged and worked through so that there a smaller danger of lasting damage.
DCN aims for this resource to build on the work started with the My and Our Story books and be another world first in supporting donor conceived children in being proud of their difference and who they are. It was a great afternoon. Thank you so much to all who took part.