Janis Hetherington – Part 7: "We still weren't 'normal'…."

Janis Hetherington - Lesbian mother risks jail to shield doctor

Janis Hetherington – Lesbian mother risks jail to shield doctor

Janis Hetherington was the first UK woman in an openly same-sex couple to be artificially inseminated… In this, the seventh part of her exclusive autobiographical series for Biscuit, Janis continues to look at the “exposure” of her friend’s clinic – and her own fight to protect his identity – as well as the BBC documentary made about her story.

It was extraordinary to realise that we (but mostly me) had been living in some kind of protected bubble. Winning the custody court cases and changing market law had almost anaesthetised me into thinking that we had been accepted and could thus be considered normal.

It was over five years before that Judy had held my hand whilst watching our beautiful, longed for son emerge into a world that we had hoped would welcome him as a wonderful innovation to heterosexual birth. Of course we were naïve and should have realised that the matron who had been literally forced by our doctors (who were thrilled by our novelty) to agree to Judy being present was probably much more the norm that those who surrounded us with fawning accolades.

But then, had Judy lived and had we opened our ‘gay’ commune in France things would have been so very different. There would not have been the onslaught of abuse that came after press revelations surrounding a clinic that catered for lesbian inseminations in 1977/8. Not the clinic where I had been inseminated six years previously, but nevertheless I was now made vulnerable if I named both the doctor and his whereabouts, as I was being pressed to do. Whenever I held my precious son close I wondered what the hell I was letting him into. Doubts that crept in were dispelled by his winning smile and always tactile responses. Yes, I had missed out on major events in his young life. He’d toddled for the first time whilst I was having a screaming match in London with my barrister and mumbled something more than a gurgle whilst I waded through piles of “cabbage” (iffy rag trade clothing) to earn a crust from. I’d spent more time in trains or driving that I had in his nursery with the special Georgian cot (that Judy had so proudly scoured London for) now a plaything for his toys. I wept when he was accepted a year earlier than usual at a small private school and saw his uniform, the smallest available, nearly drown his three-year-old frame. But at least he was mixing outside the village confines and outside the loving but “official” care of “nannies”. I erroneously thought that in London we had a chance to break out of this false and extortionately expensive security that had suddenly become threatened anyway by forces from my very crooked past. That was not to be.

The vitriol came to a head with the headline in the Yorkshire Post (an Observer journalist worked for both papers): “Lesbian Mother Risks Jail to Shield Doctor.” It was in fact too true and thankfully the writer was very much on my side but the consequences could have been catastrophic.

What I had not anticipated was that the redoubtable Headmistress MA Kahn had also been shielding us against the mothers who had bitterly complained about my life choices – including one rampant Catholic who insisted I must be the ANTI-CHRIST and had given birth to the devil incarnate. I was totally gobsmacked when she told me, in the early January of 78, after a posse of mainly foreign paparazzi descended on her school. I had called in to her office to apologise and offer to take Nick away for a couple of weeks until the furore died down.

“Definitely not,” she insisted. “He stays here and I will NOT be intimidated but I feel I should tell you exactly what I have been fielding here and not just from the mothers!” Her slight Germanic intonation betrayed her Austrian homeland. Her family had escaped Nazi persecution: she had already told me that threats would never perturb her. I had been honest with her when she’d accepted us the summer before and nothing would alter her brave decision.

Nick in our house in Kentish Town

Nick in our house in Kentish Town

It transpired from her conversation that she’d had an ongoing feud over school discipline with the arch right-wing conservative MP Rhoydes Boyson, who had been head of one of the schools in the area before being elected to Parliament. Somehow he’d managed to see an opportunity to show up MA Kahn as a “degenerate” by having people like myself and worse, the immoral product of my loins, at Fleet School. He was going to ask questions in Parliament and demand I reveal the name of the doctor who inseminated me so he could start proceedings with the Medical Council. He’d even gone as far as getting a couple of “respected” medicos to state that Nick had no chance of growing into a normal child and would be tainted for life.

I downed the large brandy she proferred in one gulp. So this was my child’s future? Perhaps I should have listened to David’s advice and allowed him to make us “legitimate”. I was consumed with guilt and afraid I would be unable to stem this tide of what seemed total hatred of my chosen life-style.

“I’ve got a fantastic lawyer,I’ll get hold of him straight away.” Back to David yet again. My heart fell through my tight jeans but it seemed I was running out of options. Another battle? Another gut wrenching fight? “Of course talk to him but you don’t need him at this stage,” MA Kahn responded. “Do the film the BBC want and let them see you’re not a freak” . This spitfire or a woman who’d seen her own terrors was expecting me to match her own courage. If she had trust in me I had to find enough resilience in myself, despite my emotional fabric being worn almost threadbare.

“I won’t let you down, I’ll phone them straight away and agree. You know my ‘old ladye’ (the term of endearment I used for Ladye B) hates all this but I’m sure she’ll agree if she knows that’s what you suggest.” I knew there would be monumental recriminations about our privacy being totally invaded but what choice? Slink into the shadows and prove I wasn’t “A FIT MOTHER”?

And that was how we were invaded yet again by a very sympathetic producer and crew for a small documentary account of our “normal” life.

Normality?. Had Judy lived we would have been Polygamous. In my book I reveal how she had encouraged me to indulge a female friend of hers who wanted to be ‘initiated’ and I had happily obliged. What was expected of our interviews for the next few years was to prove how we were the equivalent of a “happy heterosexual unit”. Something totally alien to everything I believed and still do. Was I to ‘live a lie’ for the sake of proving a fundamental point that to me was erroneoneous in its concept? Was a “double life” something that, as a family, we could handle?

I had spent most of my life living outside “socially acceptable norms”. Taking risks, fighting a system that categorised those like me as “dangerously amoral”. Would it matter that I was asking my child to be part of this deception in order to survive? Would Ladye B be resilient enough to accept the dilemma? I think my ability to understand my sado/masochistic nature was so important to my decision to “go for it” and fight with my tongue stuck firmly in my cheek.

Besides, into our lives another entrancing female had suddenly emerged.

But that is for the next intriguing part of this series…


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Janis Hetherington

Outrageously, rebelliously outspoken. Sexually incontinent. Avid supporter of lost causes: ever hopeful they will be transformed, ever fearful that once they are they will become the monsters that trampled them. Janis is the author of "Love Lies Bleeding: Memoirs of a Sexual Revolutionary".

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