Summer’s Here

What a beautiful day! I wish I could tell you I’d been out enjoying the sun, but I’ve been at my desk writing a funding application for Fertility Fest next year. I don’t mind writing applications, and I definitely like funding, but I can think of better ways to spend a summer’s day!

So! To keep things short – so I can go and have a cool drink and watch the midsummer’s sun go down – I’m going to give you a quick round up of my top summer fertility events and reads.

Summer in the city? Check out Re:Production at London’s Etc Theatre in August – a great new play about a woman who helps other people to makes babies but can’t decide whether she wants to make one of her own.

Heading to the biggest and best arts festival in the world? Check out Joanne Ryan’s Eggistentialism at the Edinburgh Festival – an hilarious existential crisis of a woman and her thirty-something eggs.

And finally two great beach reads for anyone who has struggled to conceive and is carving a future they never imagined: Dear You by Tessa Broad and The Facts of Life by Paula Knight.

All these artists will hopefully be appearing at Fertility Fest next year – as long as that funding application is successful. But I did give up a beautiful midsummer’s day for my desk and my laptop. Surely Titania – Queen of the Fairies – will reward me for that!

Where Is The Love?

The weather’s been nice but things have been pretty bleak in the UK these last few weeks. It’s hard to know what to write in a blog about the pursuit of motherhood when the world doesn’t feel a safe or pleasant place to bring up children right now. I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with is how it’s possible for man do this to his fellow man. I know it’s not new, throughout human history we have shown a capacity for brutality to each other but where is the love?

This week I had wanted to tell you about some great summer fertility arts events and reads that I’d like to recommend. It’s true, of course, that life goes on. But I’ll save it for another time because today has to be about remembering the victims of the Manchester and London terror attacks. So can I ask you to listen to the Black Eyed Peas instead?

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Girls Who Speak Truth To Power

This week I watched Three Girls – the BBC drama on the Rochdale abuse case. It’s harrowing but important viewing. It tells the tragedy of three girls – just three of many thousands in this country apparently – and how a terrible combination of poverty, family breakdown and lack of aspiration led to human exploitation and racial divide. It also shows, shockingly, how the authorities – the people whom we have entrusted with power – for years did not have the courage or the empathy do anything about it.

I’ve always been passionate about social justice and I’ve never been afraid to speak up for what I think is wrong. A couple of months ago my colleague and friend the amazing Anya Sizer, who works for the national charity Fertility Network UK, sent me a photo. We happened to be at the same school together although we were a few years apart and never knew each other at the time. But she’d found a newspaper cutting amongst her things of me leading a school demonstration about the redeployment of our teachers as a result of Government cuts. I’ve pasted the grainy photo she sent me below – apologies for quality – I’m the one on the second left, mouth open with the megaphone.

These days my mouth and megaphone are primarily directed at the subject of fertility, infertility and assisted conception. Out of my own personal tragedy it has become my vocation. But I know I’m not alone because nearly everyday I get messages from people telling me of their own pain and questioning why infertility is still such a taboo. I blame the authorities for this situation too. They’ve not done enough to acknowledge that this is a silent but growing epidemic that needs to be understood and addressed. They’re steadily cutting IVF on the NHS forcing desperate people to pay for treatment that they can’t afford and to go abroad where regulations aren’t as rigorous as they are here. (Which ironically can lead to problems that then have to be paid for by the NHS). They’ve failed to put in place proper measures to help people with the devastating impact the struggle to conceive has on your mental health, whatever the outcome. And on top of all this they’re not ensuring that the next generation have all the information they need about their fertility so they are in a better position to make informed decisions about how they want to live their lives.

Watching programmes like Three Girls fuels my passion to do something to make this world a better place. That’s why I’m committed to bringing about change in the one area I know best. Next year my festival – Fertility Fest – will be back aiming to tackle that long list of things. We’ve just been offered a grant from the Wellcome Trust to run two more festivals and in 2018 will be taking it to London, Birmingham and Barcelona! And then in 2020 I’m planning my third (and final) huge fundraising challenge to raise awareness of what it feels to be an adult or a child without the family you long for. So I’m afraid this means you’ve got three more years of me and my megaphone.

But to finish my blog today, I just want to honour two women: Sara Rowbotham and Margaret Oliver who did all that they could – despite being ignored by the authorities – to ensure that those three girls in Rochdale got the justice they deserved. I’d have gone on any school demonstration for them because this world needs girls who have the courage to speak truth to power.

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Under the Microscope

Another week, another fertility industry scandal. Or so it seems. Of course this is not quite true, it isn’t every week but they do seem to be coming thick and fast these days. At the end of last year there was the ‘add ons’ saga – if you didn’t see the Panorama programme in which I played a small part, it’s still on catch up. And now the Daily Mail has accused certain fertility clinics of offering women cash for their eggs. It’s a complex issue and I wrote an Opinion piece on the story for the Guardian this week which has attracted lots of interesting comments.

It does feel like something’s happening though. As more and more people are leaving parenthood later – for a multitude of reasons – we’re seeing more and more people turning to IVF to facilitate their families. And with IVF decreasingly available on the NHS, there’s an increasing number of people going privately. As the industry grows, and gets more competitive and tries to find ways of bettering the success rates of a science that often doesn’t work, it’s becoming clear that discussion is urgently needed about how to protect the patients going through it. I don’t have the answers, but I will continue to ask the questions because that’s the only way things are going to change.

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London Marathon. Tick.

Marathon Finisher

London Marathon. Tick.

We won’t say too much about my time – except to let the Kenyans know they have nothing to fear! OK, 5 hours 27 minutes for those of you who care about these things. Longer than I had hoped but I made it through to the finishing line and it was the most amazing day.

The second half in particular was tough but I ran every step of the way with all your messages of good luck in my heart. I have been overwhelmed by how much love and generosity I’ve received and have now raised over £5,200 including gift aid for Fertility Network UK which brings my total fundraising from this and the English Channel to just shy of £30,000. Thank you all so much for your support.

And can I just tell you this.

When I went to the London Marathon Expo on Friday to pick up my race number, I asked one of the stewards to take a photo of me. She asked me what charity I was running for. I told her. She then confided in me her best friend was going through fertility problems and how awful it was. Then, on Sunday, when I was at the starting line, I was chatting to the woman next to me. She asked me what charity I was running for. I told her. She then confided in me that she and her husband had been through fertility problems before having their two children and how awful it had been. And on route, two different runners came over and thanked me for what I was running for. They didn’t say why but maybe it had been awful for them too. This is what I will remember most about my London Marathon: how when you’re prepared to speak out and to run for what you know is important in the world, however much of a taboo subject it is, people will have the courage to say ‘me too’ and that’s how change will happen.

If the London Marathon is on your bucket list: do it. If I can, you can. Do it for whatever you think is important in the world and make change happen. The atmosphere is incredible and you’ll remember the day for the rest of your life.

All my love and thanks,

Jessica

http://www.jessicahepburn.com

Yes, it IS Tuesday

Now, I know I usually post on a Sunday and only once every two weeks, but today is a special day. I’m taking part in a ‘blog tour’ (fancy!) with 25 other wonderful women. We’ve come together to launch Justine Brooks Froelker’s latest book The Mother of Second Chances, the publication of which coincides with National Infertility Awareness Week in America.

I’m delighted to be coming after Sarah – of the blog Camino Sarah – especially as I would love to follow in her footsteps one day to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Do have a look at her post yesterday as she writes beautifully about the pilgrims of infertility. It brought a lump to my throat when I read it.

And tomorrow, I will be followed by Kim from the blog Salt in the Womb. Her last post was hilarious – about a wild racoon and its poop on her stoop. She called it Rork and writes: ‘Yes I named the racoon. Shut up.’ Now that’s priceless and I can’t wait to see what she writes tomorrow.

But don’t stop there, why not read every woman’s post – just take a look at Justine’s blog Ever Upward for the full list. And if you’re better at social media and hashtags than me (which most people are) then do share them and help break the silence and stigma using the words: #Infertilty #NIAW #EverUpward. And if you want to, please share your story too.

I stand shoulder to shoulder with these women because we all know the pain of our fertility letting us down. But how could I be in better company? And WHEN (not IF) I reach the finishing line of the London Marathon 2017 on Sunday which I am running for Fertility Network UK, I will be high fiving them and all the people in the world who have refused to be beaten by infertility and have taken their baton and run!

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This Time Next Week

This time next week it will all be over. The London Marathon 2017 is taking place a week today. Thank you to everyone who mistakenly sent me ‘good luck’ messages this morning. Thankfully today was about Easter eggs (well, salted caramel walnut whips actually) and not about bananas, energy gels and pain.

Since my 15 mile run and 5 mile stagger two weeks ago, training has been going better. Below is a picture of me at the end of a half marathon race along the Thames last weekend. Next weekend I just have to double that…Whatever happens, it’s been an amazing journey and I am so grateful to everyone that has already sponsored me in my effort to raise money for Fertility Network UK.

Last week I launched my new website www.jessicahepburn.com – do have a look if you haven’t already. I have written there that having a family is one of the best, most fulfilling adventures that life has to offer. When it doesn’t work out the way you dreamed it would, it can feel like happiness might never be possible again. That’s why I’m dedicating this decade of my life to raising awareness and money for people who struggle to create the families they long for. But I also want to show that life offers us so many adventures and I can certainly tell you that once I’ve run 26.2 miles through the streets of London, I will be very happy indeed!

It’s not too late to sponsor me. Please help me run if you can.

Much love,

Jessica x

Half Marathon

AFOG

Today was not my finest day. What was supposed to be the pinnacle of my London Marathon training: 20 miles, turned into 15 miles plus a 5 mile stagger.

I’m finding this marathon thing harder than I ever imagined I would. As the wonderful and wise Jody Day – who has just done a TED talk in Hull on childless women (high five Jody!) – once said to me about my challenges: if you don’t make it, just think of it as an AFOG.

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘Another fucking opportunity for growth!’ she said.

We laughed. A lot.

Today I’m wondering when I get to stop growing.

Meanwhile, thank you to everyone who has sponsored me so far. If you haven’t, you’ve got 21 days to go! I’d be so grateful as Fertility Network UK needs your support, and right now, goodness knows, I need your solidarity.

Here’s a picture of my tired feet.

And here’s the link: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JessicaHepburn

Enough. Bed. I’m going to try not to cry.

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Made In A Moondance

I’ve always been late to the party. If ever proof were needed read this: I only found out what a Mooncup was earlier this month. I know. Don’t ask. But now that I have, I keep hearing about them, although one of the joys of being post-40 is I don’t feel the need to master a new type of sanitary product at this stage of my life. Me and the Mooncup have finally met but we’re never destined to get better acquainted.

However, on the subject of moons and lateness, I’ve also been behind the curve with Diane Chandler’s novel Moondance which came out in November last year. The author kindly sent me a copy and asked whether I might read and review it. I didn’t get a chance before I left for Argentina to climb Aconcagua so I started it when I got back but have been so busy recently that I have had to ration myself to one chapter a day.

Moondance is a novel about a couple who desperately want a baby and it could only be written by a woman who has been through IVF – although Chandler is quick to point out that it’s not her own story. But no one could write so pellucidly about the inside of a fertility clinic toilet without having been in one. In fact, what amazed me is that so much of the action had happened to me. It was as if the author was inside my head and, as I read on, I felt this over and over again. It also reminded me how the enduring silence and stigma around infertility is crazy, given that millions of people have been through it and largely feel the same.

I can see why Chandler might be quick to dissociate her own life from her story because the central female character – Cat – is not a wholly sympathetic figure and there is an inference in the novel that her struggle to conceive is, in part, her own fault because she’s left motherhood too late. I worry about all the women who have to carry this burden and I felt it again on Friday night when I went to see Satinder Chohan’s play – Made in India. Chohan appeared at Fertility Fest – the arts festival about the science of making babies which I founded last year – and the play explores the complex and controversial issue of commercial surrogacy in India. And although Chohan avoids drawing conclusions, the western character, Eva, who travels to India to try and conceive is drawn as a slightly distasteful figure who, like Cat, has also left conception dangerously late. I truly hope that people don’t judge these women for the situation they find themselves in because I feel that both characters have been disadvantaged by the structures that society has set for them and the limited information about their fertility that they’ve been given.

Why? Well, I’d also highly recommend you watch Professor Geeta Nargund – Founder and Medical Director of Create Fertility – giving a TED talk on Fertility Education which was published online on International Women’s Day. In it, she brilliantly explains what has been omitted from most biology lessons in school and argues passionately that with better fertility education we might actually be able to reverse the growing numbers of people needing IVF.

So when I was writing my blog today, thinking about Cat and Eva and Geeta, I also thought of all the young women sitting in university union bars discussing the relative pros and cons of the Mooncup (because now I know of its existence I bet they are). And I wished we could give them all Moondance and Made In India and Professor Nargund’s TED talk so they could really have their say.

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Fire and Ashes

It’s shaping up to be a mad March…

Next weekend, I’m speaking at the Families Through Surrogacy conference on how to cope with infertility (11 March). Then, on Sunday, I’m giving a talk at the Southbank’s WOW Festival (12 March) on the need for better fertility education. At the end of the month (25 & 26 March) I’m heading to the north west to host the Q&A stage at the inaugural Fertility Show in Manchester. Check out the links for further details. In addition, this Thursday, I’ve been invited to Cambridge University to talk to a group of academics about how reproductive technologies are impacting on society and, Thursday gone, I gave a talk to a group of student midwives at City University on how fertility treatment might affect the patients in their care.

I do love the fact that the childless black sheep of the fertility industry – a.k.a me – gets invited to speak at all these events. It fuels the fire in my belly for all the things I want to change to make life better in relation to fertility, infertility and IVF. I continually hold onto the words of the American academic Margaret Mead who said: ‘a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.’ I want to change the world.

Sometimes it feels as if the science of making babies (and sometimes not) is a new and modern cause – after all next year will only be the fortieth anniversary of Louise Brown’s birth and forty years is nothing in the history of time. But on Monday night, I was sitting in the Octagon Theatre in Bolton and got the most potent reminder that this issue isn’t new at all. I was watching a brilliant play called Ashes by David Rudkin, written and first staged in the early seventies, it tells the story of a couple unable to conceive before the advent of IVF.

I think what shocked me most was that whilst watching the experiences this couple went through, I reaslied how little had changed. Infertility has always equaled inadequacy; infertility has always equaled isolation; and in the days before IVF, infertility seemed even more insurmountable than it does today.

If you can make the trip, I’d highly recommend you go and see it – but get in quick as it closes on the 11th March. The piece, directed by David Thacker, is beautifully cast and staged and it’s actually rather extraordinary that it was written by a man when, sadly, men still find it so difficult to talk about infertility today. Admittedly, the text does include some rather dated references to the wider political preoccupations of the time, but at its best it is a love story about two people who can’t get what they want and who society is happy to outcast and overlook. Sound familiar? From ashes, the fire inside me reignites and reminds me there’s still so much to change.

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