Belgian DC families get organised

Belgium has a very mixed reputation.  It’s the country that went for 589 days without a government in 2010/11 but without many people outside of that country noticing…and that seems to be because, despite the European parliament being situated in Brussels, Belgium is considered grey and boring by its neighbours, including Britain.  We are very happy to drink its beer, eat its chocolates and wolf down moules and frite, but apart from that most people are happy to let Belgian affairs pass them by.  But Belgium – at least the Flemish speaking part of the country – has a new distinguishing feature.  A group of parents by donor conception have formed and are gathering strength to challenge the orthodoxy of secrecy within the country.  Last Saturday Walter and I took the Eurostar to Brussels in order to meet with parents from eight different families and with the clinical psychologist who, as part of her research in this area, has brought the families together.  Walter and I have talked with DC parents in many countries but I don’t think we have  ever been as royally entertained as we were at the house of two of the parents, mum and dad to two sperm donor conceived young children.  The organisation is called Donor Families and has a web site http://www.donorfamilies.be but as yet none of the people involved has put their head above the parapet, so to speak, publicly.

I had been vaguely aware that Belgium was a country that had two languages, Flemish and French, but I had not realised just how wide the divisions are between the two languages and cultures.  With regard to fertility clinics, there are just four in the Flemish sector.  In only one of these clinics is it possible to have non-identifying details about a donor, but then only if you know to ask for them.  In the other clinics donors are chosen by the medical team and parents are given no information whatsoever.  All the doctors are hostile to any changes in the way their procedures operate.  They do not think that children need to know that they are donor conceived and certainly do not believe that ending anonymity for donors would be in anyone’s interest.  In other words, they like to be in control.  Challenging this orthodoxy is going to be extremely difficult but the parents we met are convinced that openness is right and best for their families.  Although some areas of Belgian Flemish society seem quite liberal – we were told of a spa where mixed sex nude swimming was available and popular – donor conception is kept under wraps with little written or spoken about it in the media.  There have been one or two articles over the last couple of years sparked by donor conceived adults speaking out about wanting to have information – there are two organisations for DC adults – but nothing about families with young children.  The new organisation know that the media would be very interested in writing about them but all the parents are anxious about exposing their children to stigma, prejudice or bullying.  One of the difficulties that those who pioneer new ways of doing things have to face is that of not knowing how they are going to be received and not having had others pave the way for them.  They are the first and will be blazing a trail for others.  This is not an easy position to be in but it is necessary for someone, or preferably a group of people, to take the plunge.  In the UK 20 years ago four of the five founding families of DC Network appeared on a film made by the BBC partly about the formation of our organisation.  In retrospect this seems rather a brave thing to have done but I’m not sure that any of us at the time thought that there would be a problem.  Our children appeared too, talking about being donor conceived and Zannah reading the very first story book for children to camera.  None of our children – or indeed the adults – ever had any adverse remarks made to us.  In fact we were admired.  All the children who appeared are now adults and getting on with their lives, donor conception taking it’s place along with everything they have experienced along the way, as contributing to who they are.

So Walter and I spent five hours in the company of a delightful group of people (all speaking excellent English as our Flemish is not up to much) telling tales of the beginnings of DC Network and how we had developed as needs changed over the years.  Sensibly they are planning to start small, concentrating on encouraging openness and to this end probably translating the Telling and Talking 0-7 booklet for parents, much as the German DI-Netz has recently done.  We wish Donor Families so very well and look forward to seeing some of the families at the DC Network national meeting in April.  I wonder which country will be next?

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About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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5 Responses to Belgian DC families get organised

  1. Eva says:

    Poland-hopefully 😉
    Good to see that people become more open about DC.
    Olivia -OT but im so waiting for the promised post about anonynous double donor or embryo donation 🙂

  2. oliviasview says:

    Hi Eva
    Poland of course has Nasz Bocian, the organisation DC Network has supported in coming into being. They too have translated the Telling and Talking 0-7 booklet and are currently translating the ones for family and friends. Like Belgium and to some extent Germany, they struggle with the culture of secrecy and very much like Germany the dominance of the Catholic church.
    Where did I promise a post about anonymous double or embryo donation? It’s a controversial topic to write about (not that I have flinched from controversy in the past).

  3. Eva says:

    Hi Olivia,sorry, I might have misunderstood-English is not my first language.I was referring to your post on the ambivalence (“When the conditions..”), where you said you were tempted to write about it so, indeed,no promise made..Nobody is actually touching this topic (unless you know of any sources), so I hoped you will, as you present your views in a balanced way- but if you find it just too controversial to write about, then no problem.
    Yes, I know Nasz Bocian-and I value it as a forum for people trying to conceive but I think it’s rather biased when it comes to presenting facts or opinions on reproductive choices people make.

    • marilynn says:

      anonymous double donation is probably controversial because the eastern block countries have what they call house donors and they company just mixes up batches of embryos with popular attributes for sale. Ultimately it is the person who reproduces that chose to reproduce with whoever they did – they have to take responsibility for whatever offspring they have in the world and that they agreed to produce their children for sale. As individual parents it is bad enough when only one does it but when two parents set out to make a child for sale it double sucks for the kid. If two parents set out to make and raise a child together and then are unable to do that and they go to court to relinquish custody its kind of a different ethical kettle of fish right? I mean anonymous to what extent? Like named on an OBC but known to the courts so there is proof they know they have a child and consent to relinquish? Or anonymous as in the gametes could be stolen from fertile unconsenting patients aned sold to infertile patients either as gametes or ready mixed embryos? That kind of anonymous is how hundreds an hundreds of people lost their children at the UC Irvine scandle. Doctors at UC Irvine fled to Mexico when it was discovered they were taking patients embryos and gametes and selling them to infertile patients as adoptible or donated. Sweet huh? Adoption in court makes sure that stuff does not happen

  4. oliviasview says:

    Your English is fantastic Eva! I will write about this topic but just need to think a bit more first. Perhaps in the lull after Christmas.
    Thank you for your feedback on Nasz Bocian. I think this is a trap it is very easy for groups to fall in to. DCN sometimes struggles with having a philosophy that endorses having information about and identifiability of donors and supporting those whose children have been conceived outside of the UK in places where donors are anonymous and there is little information or chance of future contact. The organisation sometimes has to balance on a very fine line. In the end we are there for all donor conceived children.

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