Use of Natural Insemination in Post-World War I England




Using a sperm donor has a long history.  Take for example the story of the biblical Abraham and his wife Sarah who was unable to have children.  In Genesis 16, unable to have a baby of her own, Abraham’s wife Sarah asked him to  impregnate her slave in order to have a child.  This was possible because under the law at the time, any child from a slave would legally belong to Sarah and Abraham if he acknowledged the child.  Therefore, without any guilt or concept that he was “sinning,” Abraham went into his wife’s tent at her request and had sexual intercourse with the slave Hagar until she conceived a son.

It had an interesting outcome, which you will have to read yourself.  Nevertheless, this was an example of Natural Insemination being used many thousands of years ago.

This method was also used to great effect in the aftermath of World War I in England after the return of many men shattered by the war both physically and mentally who were unable to have children. The problem was that injuries, both physical and mental, were often so severe that many couldn’t perform their  duties as husbands upon returning home. As a result, many young women found themselves married to men so traumatized that they were unable to have sex, much less have children.

Moreover, this was at a time when having children generally wasn’t an option but almost mandatory for couples.  Not having children a year or so after marriage meant that something was wrong, and of course the woman was blamed for such a tragedy by the family.  It often meant a terrible strain on the women who was unable to bear a child for her husband regardless of who was at fault.

However, there was another issue at play regarding the effects of the war. With so many British men dead, injured, or completely shell shocked (modern PTSD) there was a lack of available men to repopulate the nation after what was up until then the most destructive war in history.

British physician Dr. Helena Wright saw the problem and decided to take a rather controversial step in helping some of these couples have children.  She realized that the problem lay with the men in not being able to perform their duties as husbands and get their wives pregnant.  As modern fertility methods were many decades away from discovery, she decided to help matters along and found a unique way to unite sperm and egg, though perhaps not in the traditional sense of the word.

What she did was to ask an acquaintance named Derek who was married to a nurse, to be a sperm donor.  Now the good doctor wasn’t thinking of using Derek’s sperm for use in artificial insemination; rather, Dr. Wright’s idea was to have Derek meet with an infertile man’s wife in a secret location, have intercourse with her, and hopefully a pregnancy would occur.

To start things off, after a couple was referred to Dr. Wright, she would first meet with the husband and wife to make sure they were suitable candidates for her program.  Though it was a hard sell to convince the husband to allow his wife to have intercourse with a complete stranger to get her pregnant, the alternative was to be childless, a fate that most didn’t want to contemplate.

If they both met with Dr. Wright’s satisfaction she would charge the couple ten pounds (approximately $500 in 2017), which would be used to fund her clinics for women, which included (shockingly) birth control, which was a huge no-no in the early twentieth century.

The husband would have the choice of meeting Derek (most didn’t) while the wife would give Dr. Wright her menstrual information to determine the optimum date for conception. The wife would never meet Derek until their “appointment,” at which time they would meet either for an afternoon visit, or in some cases and overnight visit, depending on how sure Dr. Wright was of the woman’s ovulation cycle.

Derek was described as being a rather handsome man in his thirties whose easygoing manners put most people at ease with him.  This would certainly come in handy during his intimate encounters with other men’s wives.  After the dates were settled, Dr. Wright would notify Derek by telegraph that he was needed and when.  With his own wife’s approval, he would travel by train to the country manor that Dr. Wright was using for these meetings dressed in an appropriate black suit and packing for an overnight stay at the manor.

The husband was instructed when and where to send his wife for her “treatments” with her physician and once he dropped her off at the train station that would be the end of his task.  All he needed to do now was pick up his wife when she returned and hope for the best.

Doing it this way also provided a way for the husband to detach himself from the reality of what his wife was really going to be doing during her time away from him.  The thought that he was sending his wife off to meet another man so he could impregnate her must have been humiliating.  But by sending her off  to her doctor rather than a lover actually proved more palatable to the husband as he could more easily compartmentalize the entire event later in his mind to make it more acceptable to him. In addition, it provided an alibi to explain her absence to friends or family (especially if it were for an overnight visit) as no one wanted to pry into the private medical condition of anyone else. Then, if the wife did get pregnant, it would be attributed to the medical care she had received from Dr. Wright, which actually was true.

When the wife arrived at the manor used for the meeting, she would be greeted by an associate of Dr. Wright and shown to her room. Upon Derek’s arrival, he would meet the wife in the parlor so they could talk beforehand to make the wife less nervous.  Derek excelled at making the wife comfortable and relaxed before they retired to the bedroom.  His natural charms, mannerisms, and good looks did much to smooth things over and make the usually nervous wife accept him.    It didn’t hurt also to have a sip or two of brandy that Derek always brought with him.

When the assistant to Dr. Wright judged that things were going smoothly, she would  suggest that Derek and his guest “retire” to the two adjoining bedrooms upstairs. The assistant would accompany both of them to their separate bedrooms so they could prepare themselves for their encounter.

As the woman and the assistant were talking in one bedroom, Derek would get himself ready for bed by washing up and dressing in his long nightshirt that was standard for the time.  He would then wait until he received a knock from the assistant at the adjoining door at which point Derek would enter the room and once the assistant saw that everything was all right, she would leave the room.  Once the door was closed, Derek would join the waiting woman in bed.

During the intimate encounter, Dr. Wright’s assistant remained nearby in case she was needed for it was possible that the wife might panic when the moment came when they were to be intimate.  Dr. Wright had done her work well and weeded out the women who might prove a problem of accepting Derek’s help.  As a result, no one ever changed their her mind.

As far as the actual sessions, though the woman controlled exactly what was to take place in the bedroom and could take as long or as short as she wanted to, most were not quick sessions.  They often lasted two hours or more for the afternoon session and of course all night for the overnight visits.   As  many of the wives hadn’t had sexual intercourse for a very long time due to their husband’s injuries/mental conditions as well as their long absence during the war, that when they finally were in a position to receive it they were going to relish every moment of it.

Because Dr. Wright was so good at predicting the wives’ ovulation dates, most didn’t need to come back for a second meeting with Derek.

Derek visited close to 500 women in the years following the war. Many conceived and Dr. Wright never allowed Derek to make a second visit as she deemed it too dangerous for the husband’s mental health.

Dr. Wright and Derek’s secret collaboration was a success for which neither could ever take proper credit. Nevertheless, they provided a much needed service to their country in the aftermath of one of the most destructive wars in human history as far as human lives go. Dr. Wright and Derek helped these shattered families gain a semblance of normality with the addition of a child for them to cherish together. It would go a long way in healing the nation.

The 1928 novel by D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, that scandalized Europe when it was published is a story very similar to the one played out for real by Dr. Wright and Derek.


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