NETWORK MEETINGS: Reflections Over the Years

Laura reflects on the impact of several DCN national meetings during her husband's and her journey to parenthood using a known sperm donor

After 10 long and harrowing years of infertility, I finally gave birth to our daughter. Three years later, following hospital treatment using sperm from a known donor our son was born. So far as we or the clinic knew, at the time we were the first and only couple in the UK who had used a known donor via a clinic. Until then, the only options available to couples with unresolvable male infertility were anonymous donor insemination or DIY self-insemination with a willing donor. We had already decided that we would prefer not to have an anonymous donor as we had deep concerns over the issues of anonymity for any child born.
We seriously considered the D.I.Y approach as we had already met a number of families for whom this had been very successful. Eventually however, the HFEA and the Clinic agreed to treat us with a known donor, following a rigid protocol of tests, counselling and consent, that would result in any child born being the legal child of my husband's rather than of the donor.

So there I was, in 1999, at my first DCN meeting in London with my adored 4-month-old daughter. I sat at the back, trying to keep her quiet, and looked around in wonder at this sea of families and prospective families that surrounded me. It was a wonderful feeling of 'belonging' and a very interesting meeting. As the day progressed, with groups and lunch, I met many people - all with their own story to tell - many of them like myself with much sadness and grief behind them. In the afternoon, I attended a 'talking to young children' session which was very helpful. However, throughout the day, I was aware that the same topic - that of dealing with anonymity was raised over and over again. It seemed to be the key issue for many people. And I realized that despite being surrounded by such warmth and openness, my own issues were going to be somewhat different. There were only two other families present with known donor children and none that had followed the same hospital path that we had taken. I later discovered that there were very few known donor families in the Network at all. I left the meeting feeling supported and welcomed but still just a little 'lonely'. Pioneering a new way of creating a family is one thing, living with it is another!

In 2001, I attended my second meeting. My daughter was with relatives (my husband works most Saturdays) and I was 11 weeks pregnant with my second child. Again, I found the topic of anonymity to be the overwhelming issue for many families. I attended an afternoon group entitled 'any other issues' in which I found myself in deep conversation with a single mother of a known donor child. This raised slightly different issues but we had a lot in common. I began to realise that for most people, known donor insemination was simply not an option that had ever been suggested to them. After this meeting I began writing about our experiences and had articles published in the DC Network, Issue and Acebabes magazines and people began to contact me for further information.
By 2002, now attending the DCN meeting with my 6 month old son, interest had really grown. An afternoon session for known donor families had not been planned but as a number of people had approached me about this issue over lunch, Olivia arranged for an impromptu group to take place which was attended by 10 people. Most of these people stayed in touch with me after the meeting by phone and e-mail.

And now I have just returned from the 2003 DCN meeting - another excellent day. And this time, an afternoon group covering known donor issues was one of the options on offer.
The group consisted of myself and another parent of known donor children, people in the middle of known donor treatment (both egg and sperm), others who were soon to begin their treatment, others still in the process of having their donors checked and a number of people interested in having a known donor in the future.
We discussed all aspects of the subject, both in relation to hospital treatment and self-insemination - finding a donor, treatment options, new donor release programmes abroad, confidentiality and telling friends and relatives. We covered the practical, legal, financial and emotional issues that this subject raises.
We looked at the problems that we shared with anonymous donor families, the problems that we had avoided by opting for known donors and the new problems that we had created in this new situation. Overall, it was agreed that while we had all managed to avoid the huge issue of anonymity, there were still many hurdles to jump and bridges to cross.
In summing up, all I could do was to remind everyone present (and of course this would apply to everyone at the whole meeting) that none of us had asked for our infertility, and that everyone present was there out of deep concern for their children or potential children.
There we all were, baring our hearts and souls, worrying about the 'inadequacies' of our children's situations and about 'getting it right'. And yet I saw and heard more love and care expressed for these children than I have seen in many, many places.

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