April was a busy month. Two events celebrating DC Network’s 25th anniversary took up a huge amount of energy and head space for all the office staff, particularly Director Nina, but the outcomes were a drinks reception at the House of Lords and a Conference that were both triumphs. The weather was kind for the reception so that the doors of the Cholmondeley Room could be opened on to the terrace overlooking the Thames and the splendid view beyond. The speeches from Ken Daniels, Professor of Social Work from New Zealand and Marilyn Crawshaw from the University of York were full of praise for the breadth of DCN’s work and the influence the organisation has around the world; Ginny, a parent, spoke of how she looked forward to continuing to be supported by DCN as her sons move into their teenage years and potentially had difficult questions; and Aled, an embryo donation conceived fifteen year old, told of the bizarre questions that friends asked when he explained that the embryo he came from had been defrosted after five years in cold storage. Nina Barnsley, the Director, wound up by giving an update on DCN’s achievements over the years and plans for the future concluding with a plea for those present to consider helping the organisation to raise £25,000 in order to continue and expand the work.
There was a wonderful buzz around the room as people enjoyed the wine and canapés on offer and met up with old friends and colleagues. Personally, it was great to see Dr Sheila Cooke, grandmother to the organisation, and most of the other founding families, all of whom had travelled from the North of England to be there. I think we were all rather stunned and amazed to be celebrating 25 years since we gathered in Sheila’s clinic in Sheffield and boldly and possibly rather naively said we would start a national organisation for donor conception families. And just look at it now!
The member’s conference last Sunday was the fiftieth in the history of DCN and sold out within 48 hours! Two hundred and thirty people were lucky to get places and sadly another 100 were disappointed. There were 100 children in the creche or attending the Children’s Group for 8 – 12 year olds and included amongst the 230 were a dozen or so DC teenagers and young adults. The only venue possible for this sort of gathering is a school and DCN are delighted that a N.London secondary school has been happy to host them for the past few years.
Professor Ken Daniels gave the key-note speech, setting out the principles of good communication and confidence that both he and DCN believe are fundamental for the raising of donor conceived children who are comfortable and confident with who they are. Later in the morning a panel of three DC adults aged 54, 37 and 26 gave the longer view of being a DC person by answering questions about how much being DC impacted on how they felt about themselves; how having their own children (2 panel members) might have changed their perspective on being DC and if they shared the information with their children; who do they think of as ‘family’ and finally how they felt about their donor and actual or possible half-siblings. The two older panel members know who their donor is and one is in contact with 25 half-sibs but said it was impossible to have relationships with so many people. Via DNA testing the other is in touch with a first cousin of the donor, who via the cousin, refused to have contact with her. She has, however, managed to find out who he is and has a photo of him. The youngest panel member is intrigued by the idea of half-siblings but has not taken any steps as yet to find them. Unlike the other two, he was told of his DC conception from an early age. He has a very close relationship with his parents and his DC (different donor) brother and cannot imagine anyone else being considered as ‘family’. He has curiosity about his donor but no interest in contact. His brother has never shown any interest in anything to do with his conception. This panel gave a fascinating insight into the different eras of donor conception and how both thoughts and feelings about being DC can change over time.
Whilst presentations and panels, like the excellent ones above, are an important part of any conference, the lasting impact of the event is in the friendships that are made over lunch and tea-breaks, breaking isolation and giving members a whole day in which they know that every person next to them in the coffee or lunch queue is going to understand their story. People were loosely divided into different donation or family types for the morning long refreshment break and in the afternoon, following a session where a solo mum and her 17 year old daughter answered questions from the audience, members divided into pre-selected topic groups. I facilitated a group of parents who had chosen Talking to Friends and Family. Everyone had children and had started to share the information with others but in some cases only either the husband’s or wife’s family knew and with children advancing in age and articulacy they knew they had to change this. For some it was fear of upsetting elderly and/or conservative parents – in one case worrying that the parents would worry about their grand-daughter’s future, and in two cases there were issues of language. Parents who could speak English but not read it (so no point in giving them a Friends and Family Telling and Talking book) or parents who remained in the country of origin of the member and only spoke that language. The power of groups is that members often have wisdom to offer each other and just coming together with others can help shift ideas…as with one couple who were contemplating telling their child and only telling their own parents when the child was old enough to speak about it. Other group members helped them to see that telling their own parents first would help the child by giving them a community to grow up in where conversations could be open and supportive and ‘telling’ others would not be the child’s burden.
As is now often the case, the conference had an international contingent with Ken Daniels and his wife from New Zealand certainly having come the furthest, but Vince Londini from the DC parent support group in London, Ontario was hard on his heels with Claudia Brugge and her family coming from DI Netz in Germany. DCN are always proud and pleased to have visitors from abroad and on Monday morning Vince and Claudia came to the DCN office to talk to staff about their organisations.
The conference ended with tea and wonderful birthday cakes. A group of DC teenagers speculated whether the decorations on them were balloons or sperm and one decided it was sperm entering the egg! When young people can joke about their means of conception you can be pretty sure they feel OK. A perfect end to a perfect day.