So what is a DC Network conference like?

Here’s a snapshot:  The venue – a huge ultra-modern secondary school (high school in US equivalent) situated in a mixed residential area in inner North London.  The people – 250 parents and potential parents of donor conceived children; 70 under 12s in the creche and 20 8 – 12s taking part in two workshops for this age group run by psychologists; a team of (non-DC) teenagers running a refreshment stall;  DCN volunteers (all parents) running a lending library and book sales shop; huge team of child-care staff from a local mobile creche outfit that has looked after our children for years; DCN staff and volunteers welcoming people as they arrive looking expectant, nervous, excited, reluctant – old friends meet up, new people are helped to make connections – swift toilet directions for those having travelled long distances, then grab a coffee, settle children in the creche, greet a familiar face and move into the auditorium for the first session.  And what a session.  Six 9 to 13 year olds chaired by the wonderful 18 year old Peter spent an hour answering questions and telling us just what life as a DC child is like for them.  Pretty straightforward for some, but less easy for others – the girl who feels she doesn’t fit in and whose religious education teacher at school told her that her conception was unethical; another girl who felt very confused when a friend she was trying to explain about DC to didn’t understand; more amusingly the friend of a boy conceived by embryo donation who thought he should be 15 rather than 11 because ‘he’ had spent four years in a freezer.  Also fascinating to see the differences in understanding between the 9 year old and those two years older.  Just a reminder that parents really do need to take into account their child’s (developmental) age when talking with them and recognising where they are in their understanding.  What was very clear from the accounts all the children gave is that schools must start to include assisted and donor conception as part of their curriculum wherever and whenever issues of family creation come up.  This can be in Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), biology, religion and ethics or even in English lessons.  A couple of the panellists had given talks to their class about donor conception but felt that because the topic had not been covered as a factual part of the curriculum this made it more difficult for their classmates to get their heads around the concept.  Despite two or three of the children saying they enjoyed being the centre of attention, all clearly found having to take on the role of educator burdensome.  None gave instances of being bullied about donor conception in or out of school, although one friend did ask a panellist if he was a robot, but all found that friends, up to the age of about 9 or 10 could not grasp what DC was about at all and the DC kids found this frustrating.  One of the questions was about who you include on a ‘family tree’ and did half-siblings and the donor belong there.  Four of the children felt that the donor and half-sibs were not part of the family and did not belong on the tree but two thought that they definitely did – one was the only child of a solo mum and the other from an opposite sex couple family with adopted siblings at home.  One of the 11 year olds, a lively and articulate boy who almost certainly has a future on the stage, summed up his feelings, clearly shared by others, that family were the people who loved you.  My sentiments entirely.

The next hour was spent in small pre-arranged and facilitated groups distributed around the many classrooms of the school with an agenda to make introductions and then talk about the topics and issues that had been raised by the children’s panel.  These are lovely intimate sessions where people usually feel safe and comfortable enough to share difficult and complex thoughts and feelings and yesterday’s session was no different.  A privilege to be part of.

Lunchtime brought organised chaos with parents and children finding places in the refectory and an outside courtyard to share picnics brought with them.  It is often a time for members to catch up with old friends and discover new ones…often people from the small group they had just been part of whom they found shared a situation or a particular perspective.   Walter and I grabbed sandwich, but there was hardly time to eat with so many people to talk to…particularly giving congratulations to the young people who had spoken so thoughtfully and articulately earlier.

Back in the auditorium it was time to see the little film DCN made last year to celebrate the 20th anniversary (this can be viewed from the front page of DCN website dcnetwork.org) and for Walter to conduct a whirlwind AGM, breaking the world record for the giving out of boring statistics and re-election of Trustees and Steering Group members.   Caroline, our Chair for the day, then introduced Kate Bourne from VARTA in Melbourne who introduced the Etiquette of Donor Linking, Australian style. I felt that Kate’s most important message was to very gently introduce parents to the idea that the donor was not an enemy and that they had nothing to fear from their children making contact.  Very helpful, very valuable.

Then on to the afternoon groups, this time themed according to people’s interests and situations.  I facilitated a group of people who wanted to talk about sharing donor conception information with family and friends.  All were intending or had already started to talk with their children but found it much more difficult to start a conversation with their own parents (in two couples), close friends (one person), work colleagues (one couple) and everyone (two couples).  One couple had four year old twins whom they had started to tell but they had not yet told their own parents and knew they had to get on with it before the children started talking to their grandparents.  Another couple were each from different cultural and ethnic groups but both living in the UK and theirs was probably the most complex situation.  I had great admiration for them for wanting to be open with their child as in their particular situation secrecy would be the much easier option.   We talked in both general and specific terms about who needed to know and why and the when and how of actually doing it.  One woman asked if I could come and hold her hand next time friends came round!

4pm came too soon but there was still half an hour to have a cup of tea and a biscuit, exchange email addresses and phone numbers, buy or borrow books and chuck a donation (money!) into the red buckets by the door.  Faces that had looked tense at the beginning of the day were now weary but relaxed and happy.  A DCN meeting had worked it’s magic once again.  So proud of what we helped start 21 years ago.

Unless anything extraordinary comes up tomorrow, this will be my last blog before going to New York on Wednesday.  Back next week.  Happy chatting in the meantime.

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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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30 Responses to So what is a DC Network conference like?

  1. My parent's donor is my father says:

    “What was very clear from the accounts all the children gave is that schools must start to include assisted and donor conception as part of their curriculum wherever and whenever issues of family creation come up.”

    Does that include books and curriculum like “Who Am I? Experiences of Donor Conception” (http://www.linacre.org/idreos.html) and “The Anonymous Us Project: A Story-Collective on 3rd Party Reproduction” (http://www.amazon.com/The-Anonymous-Project-Story-Collective-Reproduction/dp/1105936783) or just that happy stories?

    Does the UK allow homeschooling? It’s becoming very popular here in the US.

  2. My parent's donor is my father says:

    “What was very clear from the accounts all the children gave is that schools must start to include assisted and donor conception as part of their curriculum wherever and whenever issues of family creation come up.”

    Does that include books and curriculum like “Who Am I? Experiences of Donor Conception”and “The Anonymous Us Project: A Story-Collective on 3rd Party Reproduction” or just the happy talk stories?

    Does the UK allow homeschooling? It’s becoming very popular here in the US.

  3. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Have the public schools in the UK officially outlawed/banned “Father’s Day” and “Mother’s Day” yet? Have they replaced it with parent day or family creation day? This is an honest question.

    • oliviasview says:

      I think the curriculum should first of all contain factual information about donor conception but there is certainly a place for all literature that discusses the ethical basis of assisted conception from all points of view. Young people should be able to discuss the issues and make up their own minds.
      Homeschooling is definitely allowed in the UK.

      Like most countries, the UK has a Mothers Day and Fathers Day. No problem with that. Genetics do not necessarily have to come into it. Most schools celebrate all types of family, including two mums, two dads, single mums, step-parents, whoever is in the parental caring role.

      • My parent's donor is my father says:

        “but there is certainly a place for all literature that discusses the ethical basis of assisted conception from all points of view.”

        I’d like to believe that but I wonder how that would play out in real life school curriculum.

        • My parent's donor is my father says:

          Thinking more, I honestly don’t see how it would be possible to discuss the ethical issues surrounding ‘donor’ conception within grade school. Especially, when the children are dependent on their parent(s). I can see how it can be done at a University level – that is if the University allows honest debate on controversial issues – even if it hurts some peoples feelings. But even then, the offspring are not fully autonomous from their parents – yet. I think bias will always be a problem.

          • marilynn says:

            good point. the actual deviations from biological textbook standards could be addressed uncontroversial but that would not include post birth care giving arrangements. Like they just cannot be saying that parents conceived the kid when one of the parents is infertile or the same sex. It’s just a lie. Its fine for parents to lie at home and make it sound like they conceived using donor sperm, but for a biology or health class its just factually incorrect. It’s the same exact biological process it always was whether its done with intercourse or a doctors help and whether the couple intend to raise the kid together or not.

          • oliviasview says:

            Bias is a problem everywhere. Most people have an agenda. The best thing we can do is teach children and young people critical thinking.

            • My parent's donor is my father says:

              I agree.

            • Liz says:

              I think the Americans are coming off as a bit bonkers, and, perhaps a bit imperialistic. Politically infused schools?? Unable to explain this in schools? Of course this is a subject that someone could capably teach.

              The UK has a state-run donor registry. DC is sanctioned by the state. There’s no reason public schools cannot explain the legal status of parents in age appropriate ways. In any case, it is for the people in the UK to determine what is taught in their curriculum.

              I would hope that Americans would be a bit more modest. These are not your pubic schools.

              • My parent's donor is my father says:

                Liz, are you from the US? What do you mean by this? “I would hope that Americans would be a bit more modest. These are not your pubic schools.”

                • Liz says:

                  Americans telling those in the UK how to run their school curriculum — what could be immodest about that?

          • gsmwc02 says:

            I don’t see how a child in grade school could fully comprehend so called “ethics” at that you are referring to. I think that is a course at the high school level and more appropriately the undergrad level. I don’t think it has anything to do with being dependent on parents because realize not every child taking the course is going to be donor conceived.

      • marilynn says:

        There are the biology and health class issues which are just facts so nothing much changes there with donor conception regarding who the bio mother and father is. I said below you could discuss that a man need not have intercourse in order to fertilize a woman’s egg. He can seek assistance by providing his sperm to a doctor who will fertilize the woman’s egg for him either in a lab in a petri dish outside her body or in the doctor’s office with a syringe. I can see where factually it might be added that a woman can have a different woman gestate her embryo. But the social arrangements that occur after birth of their offspring are not health class issues. If other social arrangements are not getting air time at school I’d see no reason to do that for people in this arrangement. Everything should be balanced. I think it might not be a bad idea to explain that a woman could be pregnant with a child that is not her own. That is a modification to text book biology from my days in school. Update required. So Olivia how do you see the subject described in school?

  4. My parent's donor is my father says:

    It’s called “Mothering Sunday” in the UK I just learned (this past March). And father’s day in the UK is held on the third Sunday in June. How is this handled in the UK public schools I wonder? There is a lot of controversy involved with celebrating these day’s in the US public schools.

  5. marilynn says:

    I had a comment on the statement about including it in school cirriculum. It’s interesting that I honed in on that same thing as MPDIMF. I don’t have a problem with covering any reality of life in public school. But I have a question as to how you, Olivia or those within your organization feel it should be described. The books that talk about this stuff, not your literature perse, but other books are for people telling the kids they are raising whatever story they want to tell them and it does not have to be true or factual. Many of them are not true or factual at all. I don’t want to censure books but in school when teaching how human beings are raised we don’t teach the Adam’s rib version in public school or the stork you know? In health class they teach sperm and egg and really there is no need to cover donor offspring as a seperate topic because their conceptions are not different than anyone else’s in that regard. OK so maybe they could talk about it not requiring intercourse but that doctors can physically place the sperm on the egg in a lab and then put the embryo back in for gestation. Is that what you mean? Or do you mean what happens to donor offspring after they are born? Because their experience and all the donor offspring thing is really just a social arrangement. There is not any real need to cover social arrangements of donor offspring families because there is no class covering the social arrangement of any other family. I never had a class that was like here’s a picture of what a family looks like and this is the arrangement. There was no class for the social arrangement of adoption or guardianship or step parenthood and this arrangement is just kind of a hybrid of adoption and step parenthood off the record in terms of social arrangements with the people raising the kid and its. My concern would be that the books not say that “parents conceived” the kid with donor sperm. That’s just something that is said to donor offspring. It’s not what actually happens in a way that would be factual for health class. Its still a male fertilizes the females egg either through intercourse or with the assistance of medical professionals through IUI or IVF and if at any point their offspring is born they will be bio parents and live in whatever social arrangement happens to happen

  6. Liz says:

    The conference sounds productive, and it sounds like a lovely community. It’s wonderful that the children had a chance to meet others of similar ages.

  7. oliviasview says:

    Thank you Liz. A positive comment on topic. Yes, the children love to meet each other when they get to seven or so.

  8. oliviasview says:

    18.48 UK time: As I am leaving the country I am drawing a close to comments on this thread now. Any further comments will be removed.

Comments are closed.