I’ve just seen Walter off to do his stint on the DC Network stand at the Fertility Show today. I can be something of a control freak sometimes so he has strict instructions to keep the stand organised and tidy – something I struggled with yesterday under the pressure of so many people wanting to talk to us and buy books. But that was really the least of our concerns. As the day went on we became increasingly worried by the number of people coming to talk with us after they had done the rounds of the foreign clinics where they had had the hard sell of ‘of course we can get you a baby’, ”why wait two years when we have masses of donors’…and no talk at all about the differences for the child between being conceived abroad and in the UK. All that is down to us. And we found ourselves not just having to give the child’s perspective on donor information and contact but also to put the case for ‘telling’ in the first place. It was an eye opener to find ourselves having to do this and a sharp reminder that it is easy when only moving in like-minded circles to forget that many people still do not understand – or have not before been exposed to – the very positive moral and practical arguments for openness being best for the whole family. I was shocked to hear from one man that he had been told by two British doctors that the best time to share information with ‘children’ was when they were in their twenties! His wife actually thought that the best time might be when they were 15. The doctors had apparently said that the reason you wouldn’t want to tell children when they are very young is because they might go and tell other people. Well yes they might. Of course the attitude that fuels this sort of talk is that infertility and donor conception are something to be ashamed of and you wouldn’t want others to know about because of what they would think of you. Also because of possible discrimination against the child. The couple I was talking to were Asian and I wonder now if the doctors they were talking to were Asian as well. Issues of infertility and donor assisted conception seem to be much more complex for minority ethnic families, even if they are well integrated into UK society as this particular couple appeared to be. He seemed to be very open to thinking about new ideas, but was anxious about older relatives and his wider community. I had to break it to his wife that 15 was probably the very worst time to share donor conception information but she was adamant that they couldn’t do it when a child was young because of the issue of the child talking with others. They left their names and email address with us and I’m hoping that they will join the Network so that they can have contact with member Asian families who have embraced openness in defiance of their community – a not inconsiderable thing to do. Of course not all our conversations about openness took place with people with minority ethnic backgrounds, but some of my most memorable ones did. I particularly recall a single woman currently living in the UK but from a minority ethnic community in another English speaking country. She found herself between a rock and a hard place in wanting to return to live in that community but knowing that being a single mother by donor conception would be completely unacceptable there. If she stayed in the UK she would be isolated from her family but if she returned as a single mum she would be ostracised. I felt like weeping with her.
I did my usual talk on Donor Conception: Openness and the Family which was well attended and well received but for the first time this year I attended one of the other seminars. In fact DCN had booked tickets for all the seminars that might remotely be about donation, particularly abroad, so that we could hear what others were saying. My colleagues returned from their events feeling pretty dissatisfied. It was clear that if a clinic was involved in a presentation it didn’t matter what the title was, the content was a sales pitch for that particular clinic. The issue of anonymous donors abroad, if addressed at all, was brushed over lightly and the child didn’t get a mention. I was lucky enough to hear Nic and Nigel Dawson talk under the title Successful Treatment Abroad’, not only about their experience of going to Barcelona to conceive their now five year old twin daughters by double donation, but more importantly from my perspective, be a wonderful example of a very open family. They were very clear about the fact that there are now egg donors available in the UK and that if they were making their decision again today they would choose to stay here because then their daughters would have the choice open to them to have information about and/or contact with their donor. It is their one regret that these choices will not be available for their girls. However, as a lovely, warm open family I have no doubt that they will have little difficulty in managing any sad or angry feelings should they arise in the future and being there fully for their daughters. They positively ooze the comfort and confidence (but without smugness) that DCN is always advocating as the key to successful donor conception families.
It was a long day and an exhausting one, but… I overcame my fear of the PayPal Gizmo DCN has invested in in order to be able to take card payments for books and membership fees. I had some wonderful as well as some rather difficult conversations and very much enjoyed the company of my colleagues on the stand and seeing so many other good friends from the assisted conception world. Most of all I was touched once again by the heartbreaking stories so many people had to tell and their continued optimism in the face of so much loss. It was a privilege.