There is a real irony to the title of this post. One of the dads at Saturday’s NISIG conference in Limerick had everyone in stitches with his reference to telling children about the birds and the donor bees, but the sadness is that none of the sperm or egg donors used by families at this event (unless they are a relative) is Irish. Because of the lack of legislation around donor conception in the Republic any donors recruited there would be legal parents to children conceived from their gametes. This means that all parties – clinics, donors and prospective parents – are reluctant to use home grown eggs and sperm, thus sending women needing eggs abroad and all sperm being imported from Denmark or the USA. There is one Dublin clinic that sends partner sperm to the Ukraine where embryos are made with donor eggs and then flown back to Ireland for implantation. I’m not quite sure why I find this so distasteful, but I do.
This was a general infertility conference but of the eighty or so people present over half either already had children by donor conception or were hoping and planning to do so. There is apparently an ‘explosion’ of donor conception parenting in Ireland with single women and lesbians now feeling that it is possible without the stigma and prejudice of the past getting in the way and heterosexual couples possibly feeling the old chains of the Catholic Church dropping away as a result of the appalling child abuse scandals. Walter and I ran two very different workshops, as well as offering a presentation in the morning, and felt that the questions and issues raised by prospective and actual parents were no different from those that arise at DC Network meetings in the UK…is bonding with a DC child different? Will the child be accepted by the rest of the family and by schoolfriends etc? Are they likely to be teased at school? At what age should you start to tell? How can you tell at a young age without exposing a child to inappropriate information or language about sex? If the donor is anonymous and parents have very little information, is it right to tell the child they are donor conceived? Luckily there were many parents there who were happy to share their experiences of bonding with a non-genetically conceived child and beginning to share the DC story with a child without talking about sex. Few had children older than 5, although there was one man with a 20 year old daughter who very much wanted to know about half siblings.
There were many other presenters, mostly doctors or embryologists, some of them really excellent speakers with informative slides presented with a light and humorous touch well suited to the audience. Others were ponderous over-scientific talks, too reliant on crowded slides filled with impenetrable data. The one that raised my hackles, however, was a woman from a Spanish clinic whose talk was nothing more than a blatant advertisement for the egg donation services of her clinic. She spent some time trying to convince the audience that Spanish and Irish genetics came from exactly the same roots so there would be absolutely so problem about a child conceived in Spain fitting in with an Irish family. She was clear that the only information she could give prospective parents about a donor was her age and her blood group (this is not true, Spanish legislation allows all non-identifying information to be given) and that they would just have to trust her to make a good match for them! She then went on at length about how wonderful and altruistic all Spanish egg donors were but that anonymity not only didn’t matter but it was an actual asset for parents and children alike. Children growing up in a family where they were loved and wanted would have no trouble with identity at all and parents would not have to worry about the donor interfering in family life. Simples! I was delighted to discover in the first workshop we ran that no-one was taken in by her sales pitch.
A group of parents in our second workshop had been in touch with each other on Rollercoaster, the Irish equivalent of Fertility Friends and were keen to stay in touch and set up events for and with other DC parents. There was much discussion of whether this should take place under the umbrella of DC Network or NISIG. We shall see how this works out but it was great to see the commitment to keeping in contact.
Ireland is a fun place to visit and although Limerick is not as attractive a city as Cork we enjoyed our time there and can highly recommend a meal at the Cornstore on Thomas Street and a walk by the fast flowing Shannon on the way home. Thank you Helen and all at NISIG for your hard work and your welcome.