Another November, another Fertility Show. I just looked back at what I wrote during that weekend a year ago and much of it stands today, “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 DC Network.” Plus ca change.
It was indeed shocking that the vast majority of people who came to talk to us about egg donation (and on the Saturday ALL the heterosexual couples who spoke to us were contemplating this form of family creation) did not understand the differences for the child in choosing anonymous donation outside of the UK. In addition they all thought that waiting lists were long here and were surprised, and in many cases delighted, when we gave them lists of clinics present at the Show (and some that were not) known to have egg donors available. What had changed, at least for those with a white ethnic and cultural British background, was the attitude to ‘telling’, which seemed to be accepted as the right thing to do, although there was understandable trepidation about HOW to do it. For those with a background in some other countries, particularly the Indian sub-continent, openness is much more difficult and several of the volunteers on the DCN stand talked at length with a number of couples struggling with what they felt was right for the child but they knew would not be acceptable to older generations in their family.
The special person I referred to in my previous blog is Lara, a 21 year old donor conceived adult who joined me at the seminar on Issues for Donor Conception Families to talk about the importance of openness and her experience of how this had generated trust and closeness within her own family. In answer to a question, following the presentation, Lara said that she currently had no interest in finding out any more information about her donor or half-siblings, although she is of an age where she would be entitled to put her name on the HFEA register to be in touch with half-sibs by mutual consent. She has not enquired about the number of half-siblings she may have. She acknowledges that her feelings may well change as she gets older but for the time being she is very comfortable with who she is and is much more focused on finishing her last undergraduate year and thinking about her professional future. Although very relaxed about most things to do with her donor conception, Lara has quite strong feelings about intending parents being able to choose detailed features of their donor as she believes that donor conceived children should be able to become the people they want to be and not to have unrealistic expectations placed on them by the choices their parents made earlier. There is a lesson in this for ALL parents I think.
Sadly, because I am still post-operative and get tired easily, I was not able to get round to see many people on other stands. I would particularly have liked to visit the CARE and Herts and Essex clinics as I had made good contacts there on my visits earlier this year. But maybe it is just as well that I didn’t get to see the detail of some of the foreign clinics as I know I would have felt outraged by some of their practices and their claims. To their credit, people from two Spanish clinics came to the DCN stand to obtain some of our literature as they said they would like to be able to give it to UK based patients who come to their clinics. This is the sort of co-operation with foreign clinics that I think DCN could do more of, particularly if they are willing to send people to the DCN website without DCN having to promote them.
So, mixed feelings as ever, but overall it is clearly worthwhile DCN being present at this event as a source of unbiased information and an organisation that acknowledges that there are few easy answers to the many difficult questions around donor conception, but that travelling the journey with others is much better than feeling all alone.