Ask Janis Hetherington what kind of mother she is and she replies, without hesitation, ‘unconventional’. ‘I’m not a “mummy” person at all,’ she says. ‘But I’m a brilliant father. I had to be both, so parenthood was quite schizophrenic in lots of ways.’ In 1972, Janis, now 66, made history as the first British lesbian to have a child by artificial insemination using sperm from a donor.
Her son Nick, 41, now a happily married screenwriter living in New York, has the unique distinction of being the first child in this country to grow up with same-sex parents — a revolutionary concept at the time of his birth in 1972. Born into a family which consisted of his mother Janis and her partner Judy, who had a young daughter of her own, Nick was nine months old when Judy died of a heart attack, aged 30. He was two when Janis met her current partner, Barbara, who became his second ‘Mum’.
Today, same-sex parenting is more or less accepted in Western society, but for Janis and Nick it was a sometimes difficult experience, and it is only now they feel comfortable enough to acknowledge the fault lines in their relationship. Janis says: ‘It felt wonderful to be a pioneer, but I was incredibly lonely because I was the first. People who opposed what I was doing waited for me to fail, so perhaps I was unable to enjoy motherhood in the way I might have liked. ‘Knowing what I know now, though, I would still have gone ahead with it.’
Dressed in a waistcoat and suit, her grey hair scraped back into a bun, Janis could easily pass for a country gent as she stokes the log fire in her 17th-century Oxfordshire house. In the kitchen, however, her feminine side flourishes. A brilliant cook, she shares recipes and doles out home-made chutney.
The overall impression is of intellectualism underpinned by a vulnerability borne from a lifetime of being judged — not only by those morally opposed to her choices, but by her own son. Today, Janis and Nick agree they share ‘an amazing bond’ — but it wasn’t always so. As an angry young man, he found her wanting.
When Nick first moved to America 20 years ago, he didn’t speak to Janis for two years because their relationship was so strained. It took ten years for them to mend fences. By comparison with his childhood, his adult life looks conventional. He married Soo Kim, 42, a TV producer, in the Caribbean two years ago, and they hope to have a child soon.
Article: 5th March 2013 www.dailymail.co.uk