‘My book would make Fifty Shades of Grey look like Fifty Shades of Pale,” said Janis Hetherington, confidently when she first telephoned the Chron to let us know about her new publication.
But far from a fluffy bit of literary titillation, full of fictional characters, a crucial difference in Janis’s book is that her admittedly sex-filled publication, Love Lies Bleeding, is actually autobiographical.
Sex has undeniably formed an important part of the colourful life of this 66-year-old from Byfield, Northamptonshire.
And the book – which was 35 years in the writing – covers dramatic tales of sadomasochism and her experiences as a rebellious youngster being expelled from school and later working at a Parisian brothel.
But there is also a more poignant side to Janis’s story.
It was 1971 when Janis became the first lesbian to conceive a child through artificial insemination.
Six years later, a tabloid newspaper ran an expose into a clinic offering treatment to lesbian couples and the widespread debate and condemnation of gay parenting which followed prompted Janis to take a stand and speak out about her own experiences and the universal right to bear a child.
Looking back, Janis recalled the very beginnings of this part of her story; how she met her partner, Judy, went on to give birth to her son, Nicky, through artificial insemination, and then endured immense emotional and legal turmoil in the years afterwards.
She remembered: “We thought it would be good for me to have a child as Lisa (Judy’s daughter from a previous relationship) was an only child.
“Judy knew nothing about this kind of thing, she had been brought up in Bristol, in a fairly rural area and she had only known about insemination of sheep and farm animals.
“She asked ‘how are you going to go about it?’. She said she wouldn’t want anyone who had been a friend of ours to be the donor and I said that actually the donor would be a medical student.”
Janis had first become aware of the possibility of artificial insemination many years ago when she had been working at a Parisian brothel and, even though she had not been interested in it at the time, she kept it at the back of her mind.
Later, while living in London, she found herself mixing in “the right circles,” in which she heard conversations on the subject of fertility experiments. She knew of a clinic to go to where it might be possible for her to conceive a child.
She said: “It was even before test tube babies that there was this interest in fertility and I was in the middle of all the people talking about it.”
After Janis was psychologically assessed at the clinic (something that clients underwent whatever their sexuality), the insemination procedure was carried out, although the donation ended up coming from a doctor.
With good humour, Janis commented: “It wasn’t a turkey baster, it was a bit more scientific than that. The only stipulation was that I was told I would be best to keep my legs up. I had to journey back in the car with my legs stuck out the window; everyone thinks that is humorous, but that is how Nicky was conceived.”
Yet tragedy soon followed the joy of Nicky’s birth. Janis recalled: “My partner, Judy, had a daughter called Lisa from a previous relationship, who was then five years old.
“I was inseminated in 1971 and my son Nicky was born in 1972. Judy was with me at his birth, but nine months later she died of a heart attack at the age of 30.”
She continued: “On the day Judy died, we had a ladies’ football match for charity.
“She was absolutely exhausted and she said ‘Janis, I must go and lie down for five minutes.’ I was a bit annoyed, but I said to Lisa ‘take your mum a Campari and soda.’
“She came down and said ‘mummy’s making funny noises.’ I said ‘well, she snores.’ Then she said ‘but she is not in bed.’ The minute I walked into the room I could see she was blue and could see that she had the death rattle. I waited about 10 minutes for the ambulance to come, but I knew she was dead.”
After Judy’s sudden passing, Janis was faced with the horrible realisation that she had few rights; for one thing she was not recognised as her late partner’s next of kin.
After the trauma of Judy’s death there then followed the ordeal of court cases to retain the rights over their business as well as the custody rights to bring up Lisa, which she eventually won.
Janis reflected: “I did not even have time to mourn Judy and now I can’t get that precious time back. For those 10 months I had to go out and fight, and to earn a living. I had to pay the barristers and that took lots of money.”
Some years later, Janis decided to go public with her story, but she was nervous about how publicity could affect the children. She spoke to Nicky’s headteacher before making any final decisions.
As she describes in her book: “A scandal had broken out over lesbians who were using a clinic for sperm donation by a couple of female rookie newspaper reporters who’d posed as lovers...
“Once the headlines of insemination were out, Nick’s brilliant headmistress assured me that if I went public, as I should, she would stand by us. I had the chance to defend my right to have children and could show Lisa (now a teenager) and Nick, as loving kids in a loving environment.
“I went for it with documentaries and articles both in the UK and the States.”
Today, Nicky lives in America with his wife, Soo, where he has been working on a script to make his mother’s dramatic life into a film.
Janis has since taken on various campaigns dealing with anything she sees as unjust; notably a fight for women’s equality in the Middle East and efforts to stop the trade in sex-trafficking.
She is keenly aware that prejudice against homosexual people and their rights to be parents still exists today, although she said she had always felt accepted by the rural Northamptonshire community in which she lives.
She said: “The people that didn’t accept us are still the same people who object to me in this day and age. You will always find bigotry and there is no point in fighting that bigotry. Some have used religion as an excuse and say it is in The Bible.
She added: “In my life time, before 1966, people went to prison for being homosexual. Today I feel more accepted as a lesbian and people don’t go through what they did before, but I know young people still have difficulties, especially if they have been brought up by their parents expecting them to be heterosexual.”
Love Lies Bleeding is published by Mira Publishing, priced £9.99.