This is an edited version of a talk given at a DC Network national meeting in Nottingham
Parenting, D.C. and teenagers.
What on earth happens when parenting, donor conception and teenagers all come together? Perfection? Our children are not perfect but then neither are we because we've never felt ourselves to be perfect parents, we are just two people who are trying very hard to do our best and I think thankfully, we never looked through rose coloured spectacles at the idea of being parents some twenty years ago now because we were fully aware, or we thought we were, of how it could be, let's say, hard work. We were fully aware that the use of donor sperm added another dimension to parenting and to the relationship with our boys. To be completely honest I feel parenting two boys conceived by D.C. is, or seems to be, no different for us than for others with teenagers. For the ongoing issues that we deal with and live with are absolutely nothing at all to do with their D.C. origins, they are to do with children turning into adults, trying to assert themselves and their personalities within the home, within the school or within the work setting.
When Simon went to secondary school, I spoke at great lengths to his form teacher about D.C. origins because at that time I felt it right to do so. And I was horrified some months later when she told me that she really felt that he did not understand what it all meant. When I quizzed him about this I discovered that he had manipulated the conversation with his teacher to bring it to an end and when I asked him why he said, "but it's no deal, and anyway I wanted to go and play football."
Now that day I realised three very, very important things the first being that even at twelve-ish, Simon had developed in such a way that he was confident enough to choose for himself whether he did or did not want to discuss his origins. The second was that D.C. for him was no big deal because there was something else more important to him to get on with and certainly there has been no change in that. And thirdly that although we had chosen to be open and speak out about D.C. we now had to learn that we had to respect the choices that Simon and, eventually that Andrew, made about speaking out or stay silent about their origins.
Of course there have been moments when D.C. has been mentioned during the last few years and I have to say that it's always been in moments of fun and hilarity and has always led to smiles, it's never been in an intense or argumentative way - plenty of that goes on about other stuff but not D.C. About eighteen months ago Neil had a cyst on one of his testicles and it was going to be, supposedly, a very simple job to remove this cyst and off he went for day surgery. (Unfortunately it all went wrong and he was very poorly for quite a number of weeks) Just before that surgery took place, one teatime I became very aware(the mother's antennae go hyper-sensitive), that the children are talking. I was in the kitchen and in the hallway there was a conversation going on and then Simon bounded into the kitchen, Simon said they were talking about this cyst and just exactly what was going to be taken away, and Simon said, "is it heredity?" and I said "no" and then I said "but hang on a minute, even if it was would it make any difference?" and there was this look of absolute and utter relief on his face and I said "so you see D.C. does come in handy some times doesn't it?"
Then of course there is brother baiting, there's a great deal of it goes on at our house. One time when we were on holiday - Andrew would have been about ten and Simon about thirteen. We were camping and I was sat, nose in a book and they were sat sort of in a chair, I don't know, fiddling, messing about with something. I heard Simon say to Andrew, "I know who your donor is" at which point, mother's antennae goes again because I thought well that's interesting because I don't and Andrew says, "oh aar" and Simon says, "yes, I know who your donor is" and I'm thinking I can't wait to hear this, and he said, and Andrew said, "you don't" he said "I do" he said "I bet it was Elvis" at which point mother's went "WHAT!" and Andrew said, "don't be daft" and Simon said, "well it's got to be hasn't it." Well Andrew has got very, very dark hair, dark eyes and he has two calf-licks at the front, and so Simon says, "well with hair like that it's got to be Elvis." Now that was a bit of brother baiting. And Andrew spent the next week walking around going "Huh, Huh, Huh" in his best Elvis voice.
A great turning point between childhood and adulthood in the sense of D.C. was when Simon was sixteen year and had to go to hospital after an sports accident. Now he was sixteen the doctors and the nurse all toalked to him - I was ignored - I became the bag lady. Now he was about six foot four then, and the nurse measuring his height, she was about four foot eleven. So there was this little difficulty and there was the fun of her standing on the chair and measuring him and then she said, "who do you take after?" I'm sitting there thinking 'oooooh', at one time I would have jumped in then and said, "well, actually." and then I thought, 'no you're the bag lady, he's sixteen, let him speak for himself.' Simon said nothing so the nurse said, "do you take after your dad?" "No," said Simon, "me granddad's tall though" which is perfectly true, "Well" said the nurse "I wonder who you take after" and I'm thinking what's he going to say, and he said, "goodness knows." And as he said it he turned to me and his eyes were absolutely sparkling with humour, he knew exactly what he was saying and why the was saying it. He decided for himself how he would deal with that moment and I felt terribly proud at that because that's how we've dealt with lots of issues.
Now what of our younger son? He's fast approaching thirteen, in five weeks time he'll be thirteen but in many ways he has matured earlier and faster than Simon did. Last May he won the Player of the Year Award for his roller hockey team . We were in the car coming back the award ceremony with Andrew in the back of the car with our eleven year old nephew. Suddenly Andrew said "well you never know, you know, my donor could have been a famous NHL ice hockey player because I'm good at it aren't I, I'm good at this hockey bit" and of course there was nods and, you know, 'ooh yes' from Callum. So, there's all this conversation going on at the back, and then Callum - who happens to be a very good footballer - said "aye, you never know, my donor might have been somebody like David Beckham." I'm in the front thinking, 'what do we say to that' but it was Andrew that said, "Callum, don't be daft, your donor were your dad." Thankful we then arrived home so that conversation came to an end.
Now I don't have to tell you that these days' families come in all shapes, sorts and varieties. Mix and match we call some of the arrangements that we deal with at the school where I teach and as a D.C. family we are just one of these combinations. Because we know our family history is different to that of others I wonder if we think sometimes that our children should be different and think different things. Perhaps indeed they may do but I think we shouldn't go looking for problems that may well not be there because after all the most important thing for any child is to know that they are wanted and that they are loved and love comes in all shapes and forms from the cuddles and the hugs to the setting of boundaries, which hopefully help them to make their own choices as they grow.
We have tried to be open and honest with our boys about their origins and they have to accept that they will never know about one side of their genetic origin. But I have to say that at the moment for both of them that doesn't matter at all. Last night I said to Simon, "somebody's going to ask me tomorrow Simon, what you think about the donor" and he said, "phew, well I don't care about the donor, anyway I'm playing hockey tomorrow." I went into Andrew's bedroom and said, "well have you got anything to say on the matter?" and he said, "will you just turn that light out, close that door and shut up because I want to go to sleep" "fine, I'm going, goodnight son I'll see you tomorrow".