At a National Meeting Alison told the moving story of how she handled her daughter's questions about egg donation.
I underwent premature ovarian failure aged 17 in 1979, coincidentally around the time that Louise Brown was born. My whole life fell about me. All I had ever wanted was to get married and have babies - suddenly in one rather dingy consulting room, that dream had been taken from me. I struggled, literally, through my twenties - completing my Nursing Training, doing a bit of travelling but remaining deeply unhappy. Eventually I was admitted to hospital for six months following a breakdown.
All a very grim time but when I left hospital I began to feel a little more confident about the future and got a job, coincidentally at the Lister Hospital in London where little did I know, 3 years later was going to be the place that would enable me to fulfill my dream and have a family. Around this time I also met Jonathan whom I married in September 1992. He, unlike previous men in my life, accepted me for me and not for my breeding ability. Prior to our marriage we had had a consultation with Dr. Sam Abdulla who was in charge of reproductive medicine at The Lister and we had joined the waiting list for egg donation.
We were incredibly lucky and underwent treatment in July 1993. Three embryos were put back and 6 weeks later, we found I was pregnant with twins - our miracles. Following a difficult pregnancy (three months of which were spent in hospital flat on my back), on the 10th March 1994 and 4 weeks early, Octavia and Harry were born.
We couldn't believe how lucky we were, 2 healthy children and a boy and a girl. Nine and a half years on we are still pinching ourselves! We made a decision early on that we wanted to be completely open with the children as to their origins and method of conception.
From when they were very tiny and before they would have had any idea of what we meant, we explained to them that Mummy didn't have any eggs and therefore a very special lady had given her and Daddy some in order for them to be born. This was all fine and they accepted their story without question until they were about eight.
At this point we felt that, with their rapidly growing knowledge of where we all came from we needed to expand our "story" (it is amazing how early these things start being discussed - They had a friend in their class with 3 older brothers who was a mine of information for all his classmates!!) At this stage Harry was very accepting of the whole thing and totally unfazed by the explanation. He would much rather be kicking a rugby ball around outside than talking about where babies come from. We felt it was important however that we included him in any chats we had.
Octavia was a different kettle of fish entirely and started being quite troubled by the whole thing. She was very moody and would come out with comments such as "sometimes I think you are not my real Mummy" - hurtful but understandable stuff. She also became very close to Daddy and was inclined to slightly push me aside. We agonised as to how to treat the whole situation.
I had talked to friends with older daughters, some of whom said that they had been fairly poisonous at around this stage so we felt it was very important to retain a sense of proportion and not put all her behaviour down to her being born as a result of donor eggs. One of the concepts that she found very difficult to handle was the realisation that she wouldn't look like me. This was not something we had mentioned to her but she had obviously worked this one out for herself. We endlessly stressed to her however that all her characteristics were learnt from both me and Jonathan and to that end she was most definitely my daughter!
The crunch came when I found a letter in an envelope left on the kitchen table with lots of writing on the front telling mummy to keep out and not read. As this was so obviously placed for me to find, I did open it that evening and it was full of questions about how she felt - not belonging, different, not like her friends etc, etc. Both Jonathan and I now realised that we needed to talk to someone about this. I had a long chat to Octavia (not admitting to having read her note) and asked her whether she would like to talk to someone who might be able to help her with her "horrid feelings inside" which is how she referred to them. She said that she couldn't really talk to me because she didn't want to hurt me. I explained that I could quite understand how she felt and suggested some other people, Daddy, Granny Kent, Granny Lancashire, Aunt, Godmother etc. etc. She didn't like the idea of any of them, despite having close relationships with them all.
Finally I suggested our GP whom Octavia had met a couple of times when she hadn't been well. This suggestion was jumped at but she was very adamant that she wanted to go without me!! I had a long chat with our wonderful GP who was aware of the situation and said she would be very happy to help. Octavia spent 20 minutes with her, on her own and with her list of worries and came out beaming. She said that it felt like she had a bottle in her chest that was full and that she had been unable to remove the top. Talking to the doctor had enabled her to remove the lid and empty the bottle!! WOW All pretty amazing stuff from a just 9 year old. She said that she felt so much better and also, importantly, that the GP had said that she could return at any stage if she had any other questions.
Meanwhile, we had also made an appointment to visit the Lister hospital during the summer holidays whilst we were staying with Granny. This also was a huge success, Harry came to this too and they both looked down microscopes and saw eggs and sperm "getting together" as Harry aptly described it! Sam Abdulla also saw them and we all roared with laughter when Harry asked him why he had made Octavia (typical brotherly remark!) and he replied that we all make mistakes!!! Octavia was also given the opportunity to talk to Liz the counseller - which again she found very helpful. We asked Harry if he would like to see her but he replied that if he had any questions, which he didn't, he would ask me - couldn't see the problem with it.!! The simplicity of boys!!!!
Both children have changed schools this term and have settled in very well. We are incredibly proud parents. Both are very switched on academically and also very keen on sport. As I speak here today, both are representing their new school at rugby and netball in under 11 sides and they are only 9!
We feel incredibly fortunate to have been given the chance to be parents to these wonderful children. I am aware that there will be major issues to deal with in the future but right now we feel we have climbed the first hurdle and still have two very happy and secure and affectionate children.
Written by Alison Cobb
Editor's note in 2014: Harry and Octavia are now nearly 20. Both are at university and very open with friends about their beginnings. Octavia remains very clear about who her real mother is.