Janis Hetherington – Part 2: "Breaking the rules of 70s family life"

On the way to make a baby, spring 1971

On the way to make a baby, spring 1971

Janis Hetherington was the first UK woman in an openly same-sex couple to be artificially inseminated… In this, the second part of her exclusive autobiographical series for Biscuit, Janis discusses the conception of her son.

Despite the amazing consequences of a decision my lover Judy and I made in September 1970 – for me to conceive a child by artificial insemination – in our household it wasn’t an earth shattering moment and didn’t seem like such a big deal. She already had a six-year-old daughter (although not the product of her estranged marriage) and I had been discussing AI for years with doctor friends and lawyers who made up the guest lists of the notoriously naughty parties I was famous for in the late 60s.

Although well known for my lesbian relationships I had been living with an infamous lawyer (his client list included many gangland members and millionaire crooks) with whom I enjoyed an arrangement. He had defended me in 1966 during my brothel-keeping days, in several trials all resulting in NOT GUILTY verdicts… NOW that was indeed historic news at the time.

If fact I had learned of the possibility of AI in lesbian relationships in the early 60s from a Parisian Madame whose plaything I was in my mid-teens, so when the subject of AI came up during our soirees I was able to hold forth on the subject even if the emphasis had been on the  necessity of using AI to alleviate the horrors of infertility in heterosexual relationships. It appeared that there were several clinics experimenting in the procedure and some even offering the services of “superior” donor material. A sort of suggestion at selective breeding. I emphasise that these conversations were almost exclusively with Jewish professionals: with the exception of Bertie Clark, a West Indian medic who had been jailed as an abortionist. It was in fact he who made the arrangements for my own insemination.

Thus when Judy and I set up home together in the summer of 1970, once I explained to her the possibility of having a child without a male doing anything other than donate his sperm she was thrilled that Lisa (her daughter) would have a sibling or perhaps a couple of siblings to complete our family. Having met Bertie and being assured that she would be part of the whole procedure once two psychiatrists had cleared me as SANE  (I thought THAT would be the difficult part!) she was over the moon and went straight out and bought a hugely expensive Georgian Oak cradle. Hardly hygienic or practical but was actually used once adapted!

The first shrink was totally bonkers and suggested I apply for sperm from Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali), whose manager he was on business terms with. Having declared his sister a ‘raving bull dyke’ (his words), he offered to drop his fee if she could strap on and screw me. Needless to say, after declining his kind offers, I bounced the cheque!

My father (my mother had died years before) – who was used to my eccentricities and had not long ago married the mother of his three illegitimate children (all conceived whilst married to my own sexually adventurous Ma) – thought the idea very bohemian and thus quite acceptable.

The local doctors were agog with expectation, as were our friends and even Lisa’s very masculine headmistress. Since we hardly mixed with those detractors who thought we were on the path to hell and muttered about abominations in the village taverns, it all seemed hunky dory. This was despite a slight blip with the sperm donor, who we had been told was suddenly unavailable for months with his offerings now already accounted for. That problem was circumvented by the doctor running the clinic who offered his own, highly recommended semen. Nick was conceived on the 12th May 1971 after my ovulation cycle had been established as regular.

"Chubby Nick!"

“Chubby Nick!”

Judy held my hand throughout the short procedure at the clinic, which we drove to less than two hours after we had made uninhibited and passionate love all through the previous night and that morning. We paid our £60 fee and agreed to keep in touch but only if we wanted. The suggestion that I kept my feet up for the next hour was slightly problematic since our low-slung Lotus car meant me sticking my feet out the window. With not a cloud in the sky that was a pleasure not an encumbrance.

We drank each other’s  health and what we hoped was being created in my womb at the local pub with pals and our local poachers (whom we’d often been shooting with), who brought some gunge they’d picked up at the local pig farm to ‘set’ the sperm. At least that was what the “old farmers” used on their sows, we were told. It was all going to be blissful.

Nick's other loving mother a month before she died in summer 1972

Nick’s other loving mother a month before she died in summer 1972

I had a life growing inside me.  The constant morning sickness and swollen breasts confirmed our child was playing havoc with my body, but oh so beautifully so. Our lovemaking became less flamboyant and more sedate. No realising and playing out of athletic fantasies. No midnight sojourns to deserted places, no risky escapades involving 12 bores and feathered bounty. As my womb swelled we settled into a conventional routine of trips to Mothercare and the antenatal clinic, Judy lying with her head on my belly feeling our son (in those days there was no ultrasound but we knew it was a boy) jumping and kicking to let us know he was around. I read her the journals about natural birth and diets but all she wanted was to watch him emerge so she could hold him close and feel his first breath. And she did… 28th January 1972 gave us Nicholas Alexander. The only moment she left my side was when the doctor stitched me up and she laughed when I said I’d told him to “make a good job as Judy would be wanting an early examination with her tongue”.

She was never to see him grow or take his first steps or see what a handsome young man he evolved into. Within nine months she lay dead in our bedroom, her eyes sightless and her body twitching from the death throes of a violent heart attack. And Nick, he would never share the deep love and dreams that his other mother would have given him.

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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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