Had a wonderful time on Monday afternoon this week talking over old times with Sheila Cooke and Jane Offord. Sheila is the doctor who brought together the families who went on to found DC Network in 1993. Jane and her husband Neil were one of the families, Jane having written the text to the My Story book for children that led to the rest of the families to contact Sheila Cooke following an article in The Times. The five families all met for the first time in Sheila’s clinic in the old Jessop Hospital in Sheffield, tentatively said we thought we might be able to start an organisation for others, and things moved very fast from there on. The real kick start was in April that year when Sheila was contacted by Debi Davies, a producer on the BBC Public Eye documentary series popular at the time. Debi wanted to make a film about donor conception and approached Sheila in order to find families willing to be interviewed. Sheila wasn’t sure that any of her patients would be happy to be on television but she did mention that this group might be starting. She contacted us to see if we would be willing to appear and astonishingly, given that it was twenty years ago, four out of five families said it was no problem at all. I now realise how extraordinary this response was as it remains difficult to find people willing to speak so openly, but the resulting film Seeds of Secrecy brought donor conception – actually sperm donation – out of the closet and resulted in over 100 letters being sent, via the Jessop, to the new organisation. DC Network, or DI Network as it was then, had started!
Sheila and Jane, who is also from Sheffield, were with us in London to take part in filming for two short features being made by DC Network to help celebrate the organisation’s Twentieth Birthday this year. One will be shown at a celebration at the Nuffield Foundation in June, which will also serve as the launch of the Telling and Talking with Friends and Family booklets, and both will feature on the web site.
To change the subject completely, I hope you will forgive this updating of my minor obsession with the Archers (long running Radio 4 farming based soap). Tonight’s programme featured Helen Archer, solo mum by donor conception to Henry, being dumped by her boyfriend. She had taken the risk of telling him on a third date about how she had conceived Henry and the guy’s ardour seemed to cool as the words were said (I heard that episode too). This is sad because Helen’s character is a lovely mum, well supported by her family and someone who has suffered pretty badly at the hands of unsuitable men in the past. Having talked with many single mums by choice I know that donor conception is rarely a first choice as a way to have a family. They would much have preferred to have had their children in a conventional relationship but time has passed, men have failed to commit, parents have needed caring for and eventually the end of fertility threatened and courageous decisions have needed to be made. This makes these women seem like sad people but my experience of them is very different. They mostly seem feisty, proud, attractive women who have achieved much but somehow not met the right person in their busy and interesting lives. Let’s hope Helen won’t be put off dating by this man who is clearly not up to much anyway.
This is likely to be the last blog for a couple of weeks. On Friday we are off to Bulgaria for ten days. Don’t ask why Bulgaria…it’s a long story, but who cares what it’s like, the sun is shining there and the temperature is 29C. Yippee….