MORE than four decades after Durban gyneacologist Norman Walker committed suicide, his many offspring are still discovering the truth about a man who might have sired as many as 300 children.
At age 51, Fiona Darroch discovered she had been donor-conceived, that her parents’ fertility specialist was also her biological father, but she also found that her, and potentially hundreds of her siblings, were the outcome of fertility fraud.
It was the 1960s in Durban, South Africa, when Fiona’s parents sought the help of Dr Norman “Tony” Walker to help them start a family.
Dr Walker would convince the pair that mixing sperm samples would help her dad’s “swimmers” to fertilise her mum’s eggs.
“I think she had a picture in her head of the strong ’swimmers’ as Bondi lifeguards, helping the weak ‘swimmers’ to get to the finish line,” Fiona said.
“They were told to go home, and make love, and to forget it ever happened.”
The family were to assume that their children weren’t really donor conceived at all.
Dr Walker drew close to the family, becoming Fiona’s godfather and sharing a strong relationship with her – he would take his own life when Fiona was just 15.
Thirty-seven years later Fiona uncovered the truth about her real dad.
It was an innocent Amazon book review, on a novel written by Dr Walker, that caught Fiona’s attention and would unravel a mystery spanning five decades and scattered across the globe.
The message was left by Anne Crossey, who’d lived in Ireland since the age of two, and through her own DNA detective work believed that Dr Walker was her dad too.
“I started thinking and the more information she gave me, the more I started to put two and two together and the penny actually dropped,” Fiona said.
“I fished out a driver’s licence of his that he had given me from when he was 16 and I showed it to my husband and I said ‘Who does this look like?’ and he just laughed, because it looks exactly like our youngest daughter.”
After piecing together the theory on how her conception took place, Fiona confronted her mum who confirmed that Dr Walker helped inseminate her with donor sperm.
“I was absolutely devastated,” Fiona said.
“I was happy that he was my biological father because I wouldn’t have wanted somebody else. But at the same time it was like losing my own father who raised me, all over again.
“It was a bit of a roller coaster – I’d be thinking that it was pretty cool one moment and pretty horrible the next.”
In 2017 Fiona’s daughter, Mary, completed a consumer DNA test, matching with lists of names she didn’t recognise, and opening Fiona’s eyes to the devastating extent of Dr Walker’s fertility fraud.
“We believe based on what we could find out from the clinic staff, that he used his own sperm for at least 100 families, some with multiple, so we’ve probably got between 200 to 300 siblings from what we can calculate,” Fiona said.
“I’m the oldest one, but I know there were others before me because mum saw the photos.”
So far, in her journey to piece together the story of her family line, Fiona has found siblings in the United States, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK – she most recently discovered a sibling match in Australia.
When Fiona was conceived in 1962, the fertility industry was just picking up steam, not yet the billion-dollar market it is today.
The UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child was nearly three decades away, rights for donor conceived children were an afterthought, the regulations non-existent and the ethics questionable.
“At that time, they had no idea that DNA was going to be so popular and it would be so easy to track down your family tree,” Fiona said.
“I don’t think they actually gave enough thought to what it meant to be severing those relationships and how important it would be for the people who were conceived that way to be able to know who they were and where they come from.
“Some of my siblings are angry with him, really angry, and I think it helps that they can read the letters and they can see what sort of a person he was.
“It helps that I can tell them the stories and make him more real.”
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