For those of you who are kind enough to look out for my regular postings, I’m afraid it’s been a bit of a lean time recently. I have been up to my eyes finishing the two booklets on talking with friends and family – one for parents, the other for them to give to their relatives and friends – but I’ve also been unwell. Still struggling with a cough that anyone who didn’t know I was a lifelong non-smoker would assume I’d a 40 a day habit, but I no longer have to go round with a tissue clamped to my nose. Besides this vile cold, which has now lasted over two weeks, I seem to have developed a heart arrhythmia. Hopefully this will be corrected next week but in the meantime it has really slowed me down. The one advantage to this is that I haven’t felt like straying far from my computer (or my bed) and consequently the booklets have been finished before deadline!
I have rarely felt more disconnected from the DC Network office but am aware of much activity around producing the Annual Report and towards the national conference on 21st April. Although I am unsure if I will be able to be there I think it is likely to be a wonderful occasion. Top of the bill in the morning is a panel of donor conceived young people talking about their experiences of talking with family, friends and the outside world in general about how they were conceived. Then in the afternoon Katherine Wright from the Nuffield Council on Bio-Ethics will be presenting the findings of the Council’s report on Information Sharing in Donor Conception (to be launched on 17th April) and Walter will then, as part of DCN’s 20th Birthday celebration, show an edited version of the film Seeds of Secrecy made by the BBC in 1993 as DI Network (as it was called then) was being formed. Viewing this film again this week brought tears to our eyes, particularly when sweet six year old Zannah read from the book My Story and nine year old Will said how important it was that children were told. Most charming of all had to be four year old Lottie, daughter of co-founders Charlie and Maggie, who, when asked if she knew why she was special, said in a tiny whisper that she did know and it was because of her beauty spot.
It was also fascinating to hear Dr. Sheila Cooke from Sheffield speak, predicting that anonymity for donors would end within twenty years. In fact it took just twelve years for this to happen, but with an important bit of leverage from a decision taken in the High Court in favour of a donor conceived person and a DC child. Sheila was also asked about the reasons why (at that time) many parents did not tell their children. Her response was that families did not want to be perceived as different and were worried about their children being teased by others at school. I don’t think this anxiety has gone away but I do think that many DC Network members, through attending meetings and workshops, have come to realise that ‘difference’ isn’t all bad news. In fact many donor conceived children, including our daughter, enjoy their difference, even trading on it in the ‘cool’ stakes at school. Although children will differ considerably in the way they approach and handle the information, the key to them feeling comfortable is their parent’s acceptance rather than denial of having created their family in a different way.
When I wrote the booklet Mixed Blessings: Building a family with and without donor help I included a section on Difference as it was a topic that parents returned to time and again when wondering if it was OK to have a child by donor conception when they already had one without donor help. It’s too long to re-print in total but here are a few of the key points –
“Difference does not have to be negative. Difference can be exciting, stimulating, a cause of celebration or it can be relatively neutral…something that just is…and accepted as that. Difference is only worrying or dangerous if we feel threatened by it or someone is threatening us because of it.
How we manage difference will depend on many things. Our own background and experiences will be important influences. If our parents were fearful of change or difference in others and perhaps inflexible in their attitudes, then we may pick up their approach to life. This is not inevitable for people brought up in cautious families, who can find themselves challenging the narrow boundaries in which they were raised. Doing something ‘different’ like having a child with a non-genetic connection could feel exciting, even liberating, or it might bring back to the surface fearful feelings from an earlier time. If it is the latter, then this could be an indication that adding to your family by donor conception is not for you. On the other hand it could also be that some good, supportive counselling could help with thinking through what ‘difference’ means to you and whether it is possible to manage this without detriment to the family.”
If you’re interested in seeing the whole section or the booklet then it can be found on DC Network’s website and downloaded for a small fee.
On strict instructions from Zannah I’m off to see a Chinese doctor tomorrow to see if at least some of my ailments can be remedied from that particular way of looking at human functioning. I’m really hoping so.