Sorry if any of you have been looking out for a new post from me – although really it’s too hot here in London and over most of the UK to be bothered to do anything – but I’m completely pre-occupied with writing a contribution to a book. As I don’t have the space in my head to concoct wonderful, new and original thoughts, here’s a bit of what I’ve been writing. It’s on that good old topic, difference (sorry, I had promised that I had said my very last word on that a few months ago), but fears and worries about this are often at the heart of parent’s reluctance to ‘tell’ their children, family and friends about donor conception. I came to the conclusion that routine preparation for donor conception parenthood really is the only reasonable way to tackle this. I’m not the only one. At the meeting of the British Infertility Counselling Association prior to the big ESHRE bunfight, Jenny Hunt the senior counsellor at the Hammersmith Hospital also advocated routine preparation, even suggesting that the word ‘counselling’ should be abandoned in favour of this term. DC Network has of course run Preparation for Donor Conception Parenthood workshops for the past five years but funding is tight. How wonderful would it be to be able to run these workshops, or something like them, for everyone contemplating egg, sperm or embryo donation.
“At the heart of many parents anxieties about sharing information with their children and with others is the issue of ‘difference’. Despite the integration of IVF into everyday life as a way of conceiving a child, using donor conception remains a ‘different’ way for a child to come into a family. And whilst acceptance of donor conception as one of the many ways modern families are formed is a goal of DC Network, acknowledgement of the use of donated gametes is likely to remain an important part of preparing for the responsibilities of donor conception parenthood for the foreseeable future. Parents and potential parents have to face and decide how they are going to manage this ‘difference’ at some point in their journey or have it hanging over them forever.
Difference of course 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 people feel threatened by it or someone is threatening us because of it.
How people manage difference will depend on many things. The culture and background they come from, how they were raised and the experiences they have had will be important influences. If their parents were fearful of change or difference in others and perhaps inflexible in their attitudes then this approach to life may be picked up by their children. This is not inevitable for people brought up in cautious families, who can find themselves challenging the narrow boundaries in which they were brought up.
How does the capacity to become comfortable with difference come about? Individual personality and temperament of course play a significant part, but an ability to face and go through difficulties rather than around them, being able to take the perspective of others, a flexible approach and confidence without arrogance are all components that could perhaps be summed up in a word… maturity. If these are indeed the qualities needed by parents of donor conceived children it raises the question of what happens when people presenting for donor gamete treatment do not seem to fulfill them? Unlike adoption, where parents are chosen for existing children, there has never been any question of selecting those suitable to conceive using donated eggs, sperm or embryos. The needs of adults dominate fertility medicine which has always taken a pragmatic approach to baby-making with only a cursory ‘welfare of the child’ clause to rule out people like convicted paedophiles or current hard drug users from receiving assisted conception.
The acknowledgement of ‘difference’ is at the heart of telling children about donor conception. Because of the expectation in the UK that parents will ‘tell’ and modern DNA testing that is set to allow simple and cheap access to information about genetic inheritance, what may be more important than focusing on selection, is taking seriously preparation for donor conception parenthood. Requiring potential parents to attend preparation sessions as a routine part of their donor conception treatment journey would help shift the focus to ‘family’ rather than ‘baby’ making and support those who are reluctant to ‘tell’ in understanding why and how openness can promote healthy family relationships.”