It’s the DC Network London conference on Sunday. My rather enviable job has been to organise the speakers in the main morning and afternoon sessions. I say enviable because this is the fun bit. All the really hard work is being done by Nina and her team in the DCN office. There are definitely upsides to being semi-retired.
The morning plenary is a panel of children and young people between 9 and 16 years answering questions about their experiences of being donor conceived but within the context of the story contained in DC Network’s new book for 8 – 12 year olds, Archie and Jemima: Family Detectives. The book will not be published until early summer but all the young people have been given the current draft to read and the text will be adapted in the light of their comments and feedback from others in this age group. The questions will be put to the panel by donor conceived young adult Peter age 19 and I met with him yesterday to prepare for Sunday. Peter is the son of a solo mum and came to our notice when he put himself forward to be a member of our first children and young people’s panel in Nottingham when he was just 14. His comfort and confidence, both with being donor conceived, and in being articulate in front of a large audience impressed us and when we wanted new faces for the films DCN are currently making and to chair the conference panel, he was a natural choice. When I thanked him for all he was doing he said something that I know is quite controversial in donor conception circles. He said he was happy to give something back as he is grateful to DC for being alive in the first place. He is even considering becoming a donor himself when he is a bit older. Although a techie by inclination Peter does not hang out in DC circles on the internet and he was completely unaware of the controversial nature of what he was saying to me…and was surprised when I told him. I know these sentiments do not come from his mum, a lovely, sensible and unsentimental woman who would never expect her son to be grateful for his existence. Peter is very like her – sensible, mature, articulate and well able to make up his own mind about anything. He of course acknowledges the contribution the donor will have made to his make-up – his height for instance – but currently has little interest in finding out who this man is or even registering with the HFEA to be in touch with half-sibs. He also knows that this could all change as he gets older, but for the time being he is enjoying his life and is not troubled by anxieties to do with the manner or means of his conception.
Whilst the morning panel will be fascinating I am also particularly looking forward to hearing Kate Bourne from VARTA in Melbourne, State of Victoria, speaking in the afternoon. Kate, who is a counsellor and used to work for Melbourne IVF clinic, has possibly one of the most interesting jobs on earth. As Senior Community Education Officer she has contact with all members of the DC triangle and their families, runs a bi-monthly group for donor conceived adults and liaises with Victoria’s fertility clinics about the making of connections between donors and offspring. She also hopes that very soon she will be able, once again, to take an active role in facilitating connections between donors, offspring and half-siblings (this role was removed from VARTA but a review decided to reinstate it and they are currently awaiting the legislation to allow it to happen).
Kate and I have been mutual fans for years but I only met her in person today for the first time. She is just as a lovely as I knew she would be. Over lunch we talked about how very fearful parents are, particularly those in heterosexual couples, about the donor becoming a real person. How important it is, she stressed, that the donor should not be seen as ‘the enemy’. He or she donated in order that other people should become parents. They do not want to take our children away from us. We discussed how it might best be possible to help parents think about what might happen if/when their children want to have further information or make contact. As we have learned from Generation Cryo teenagers remain very sensitive to how their parents feel and those who can, in a matter of fact way, help and support their children in thinking about the many potential scenarios, both positive and negative, can play an important role in helping their children make good decisions. But they have to get their own heads around the donor potentially becoming a ‘real person’ first. Kate had not seen, or known about, Generation Cryo so was delighted to hear that it is currently available in Australia (thank you Eliza). I am sure we will have many more fruitful collaborations in the future and in the meantime I am much looking forward to Kate’s presentation on Sunday afternoon. I think we will all learn a lot.