NETWORK MEETINGS: Recalling the Rawness

After 10 years in the DC Network Clare and Paul Wells wrote about why the national meetings are still important for their family.

‘Oh, but do we have to go?’ was the cry of protest as we told our son and daughter (10 and 7yrs) of the plan for us all to attend the DC Network meeting in Highgate. ‘My team needs me’ said our son as he realised he would be missing an away match in the junior football league. ‘What are we going to do with Oscar?’ Our Labrador puppy would need B&B at the kennels or he would be destroying the kitchen units and ripping up the lino if we left him for the day.

It all seemed too much to organise…would they be happy to go to the youth club? Would they still get their homework done? Is it still relevant to our busy family life?. Should we be dragging them away to this meeting .... Besides we’ve been to many meetings in the last 11 years… Maybe its time to move on? In the DC Network, we think of ourselves as ‘old timers’. We were at the first meeting in Sheffield…way back in 1992. My husband and I watched the original TV documentary.

The Steering Group was in its infancy. Our diagnosis of male infertility was very real and raw. It was an open wound. We were vulnerable and fearful, traumatised by the feelings of grief, loss and immense sadness but coming to terms with a joy that we were expecting our first child. The journey had just begun but we were aware of hope in our isolation – the prospect of meeting others who were ‘in the same boat’. As we entered the hall at the first Network meeting, we experienced a mixture of emotions – trepidation, excitement, relief. It was a major turning point. We were able to be open and to listen and talk with others, hearing their stories.

The healing had begun. I wrote an article about our first impressions for the newsletter. We appeared on TV with Olivia and Walter and were elated to find a way through the early times. We attended the second meeting with a new perspective and a new baby. Little did we know that the hesitant couple we welcomed at the door that day would become such treasured family friends. This is not just because we have a special bond through donor conception, but because we click anyway. They went home encouraged by the conversations and encounters that day. We grew too. We conceived our daughter, again through DI and frequently attended meetings both locally and those ‘up North’, building them into weekends away to visit friends.

There were some special moments as we recall a wonderful afternoon in Canterbury with other network members on a hazy summers day. Our daughter was about six weeks old and Walter was so keen to hold her as we walked around the gardens, the day is ingrained in our memory. However, as time passed, the pressures of family life and the feeling of reaching a plateau with the issues that were so pressing at one stage, kept us from attending so regularly. Inertia set in as we got on with family life. We discussed these feelings with our friends who now have four children of their own. There was a stage when we thought nothing much was happening. The children were happy, we were at peace with the way our family was made, we’d read the books and newsletters, seen the films and ‘bought the T-shirts’.

We had opportunities to talk over issues with our friends or contacts through the Network when the need arose. We ask ourselves, why go? Are we going to gain anything new? The answer is of course, a resounding yes! The work of the Network is dynamic with new challenges, new horizons and directions, information and support. We can meet others to hear about what lies ahead, issues we haven’t faced with our own children, opportunities to review.

There is always a fresh question to ponder or wrestle with and always a gem to take home.
However, an over-riding factor brings us back and keeps us in touch.
We never forget the rawness of how it felt in those early days. Instead of what the Network can do for us, we gain great encouragement from knowing that we can come alongside others to support others. A smile, a sensitive openness in our conversations and a listening ear on the telephone might be just what someone needs at that moment, relieving them in their own rawness as we recall ours.

We cannot say what the future holds. Bringing older children to the meeting certainly opened up some conversations on the return trip! We enter a new phase. As the children grow up, we realise how the seemingly abstract things people have said in the past have real relevance for us now.

So when we wonder whether we should fill in that form and commit to a day out in Highgate (or elsewhere), we remind ourselves of past days, balance it all up and remember the rawness. We may not be attenders 100% but we keep coming back!
Claire & Paul

PS For those whose faith leads them to look for appropriate book with a Christian message, the board book for pre-schoolers entitled ‘Always near me’ is based on Psalm 139 and is a lovely book on how special each child is to God. Written and illustrated by Susie Poole, it is an ideal present for Baptism or dedication of a child and is wonderfully uplifting.

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