Some People I Love…

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It’s Sunday 14 January – exactly a month before Valentine’s Day – so I thought I’d tell you about some people I love – and who will definitely be getting a card from me.

I’m going to start with Tracey Sainsbury, senior fertility counsellor at the Lister Fertility Clinic who has recently written a ‘must read’ book called Making Friends with your Fertility, co-authored with Sarah Rayner best-selling writer of the novel The Two Week Wait. It’s a book that, frankly, everyone interested in the subject of fertility and infertility should read especially if you’re a patient (or prospective patient). If everybody got given a copy of Tracey’s book when they first went to their GP to say that they’re struggling to conceive, the world would be a better place. There would be more understanding about what you need to do to make a baby; what the path ahead might look like when the regular route gets rocky; and when to throw in the towel or go off piste. Tracey went through infertility diagnosis and treatment herself – unsuccessfully – and eventually became a mum through adoption. She’s one of the most knowledgeable women I know about this subject and will most certainly be getting a Valentine’s card from me for helping me make friends with my fertility!

As will Anya Sizer and Kate Brian who in the book of my life are two brilliant women. Both are IVF parents (and Anya, like Tracey,  is an adoptive mum too). Both have written books about their experience (click on their names to see), and both have worked for the national charity Fertility Network UK (as has Tracey). Anya is currently the London representative for the charity. Kate, amongst many other things, is Women’s Voices Lead and Chair of the Women’s Network at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and also a board member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which regulates IVF treatment in the UK. All three women – Anya, Kate and Tracey – have been incredibly supportive of my work and I love and thank them for it.

Next up on my card list are four professors (interestingly I seem to spend a lot of my life with fertility professors these days). Allan Pacey – the God of Sperm. Joyce Harper – the Empress of Embryology. Geeta Nargund – one of the most successful IVF consultants in the UK who also has an unparalleled passion for fertility education and equality. And Jacky Boivin, the psychologist who knows more than anyone about how infertility affects the mind. They are all so much cleverer than me and I love them for it.

Also getting cards – and they’ll have to be arty ones – are Alice King Farlow and Natalie Highwood. Alice is Director of Learning at the National Theatre (a huge job in the arts) and Natalie most recently worked full-time at the Southbank Centre (another amazing creative organisation) before become an IVF mum and freelance arts consultant. Who can blame her with toddler twins?

Farrah Nazir and Lily Rose Davis from the Wellcome Trust are on my list too – because generous people who give you money to do things should always get cards.

And finally Jonathan Lighthill. Just simply a lovely man and representative of all IVF dads who have struggled with infertility. Because there are lots of them about but sometimes they do need a bit of encouragement to come out!

So that’s it. The list of twelve people that are on my Valentine’s card list this year. Together they form the Steering Committee of Fertility Fest and for the last year they have all given their valuable time and experience for free to support me and my Co-director Gabby Vautier to make it the best event it can possibly be. And you have to admit it reads as pretty cool company to be in doesn’t it. But then I can promise you, Fertility Fest 2018 is going to be pretty cool. The programme will be announced and tickets go on sale on Tuesday 6 February. Have you signed up to our mailing list yet?

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The Blog is Back!

I’m back! I’ve even overreached my intention. I said I’d return in the new year – and it’s still 2017. Just.

I won’t lie (because the truth is important to me), it’s been a difficult couple of months. But I had a lovely Christmas – my mum, my sister, my niece, two great nieces (yes, I’m already a great aunt!) and our two female cats Dotty and Flo. All the men in our lives have either died or deserted. It was a Christmas of Girl Power!

I will be writing my resolutions tomorrow – after a new year’s day swim in the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath. I have also taken a total break from exercise for the last couple of months and I need to get back to it because I’m now half way towards my next (final?) HUGE endurance challenge. I’m planning to climb Elbrus this summer (the highest mountain in Europe) and then in Autumn I’ll be back in Nepal for another peak. Of course these are big physical challenges in themselves but they don’t start with an E and end in a T and that’s what I’m working towards.

2018 will also be a big year for me in lots of other ways. On 3 May my second book – 21 Miles: Swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood – will be published. And the following week (8th – 13th May) Fertility Fest –my arts festival dedicated to fertility, infertility and the science of making babies – will be at the Bush Theatre in West London. Next year’s festival will involve 150 artists and fertility experts in a week-long programme of events about making (and sometimes not making) families in the modern world. We’ll be officially launching the festival at the beginning of February but you can sign up to our mailing list now to ensure you’re the first to hear the news when tickets go on sale.

In February I am also starting the pilot of a new (world first?) fertility arts education project called ‘Modern Families’. You may be aware that the UK government is currently consulting on changes to the PSHE curriculum in schools and the introduction of compulsory Sex and Relationship Education. The Modern Families Project – a collaboration between Fertility Fest (involving eight of our artists), the National Theatre, University College London, the University of Cardiff and the British Fertility Society – will be lobbying to ensure the curriculum includes what we’ve not been told about our fertility in the past and how young people can maximize their chances of creating the families they want in the future. I’ll be convening a panel discussion about this at the Southbank’s Women of the World Festival in March. Come and join the debate.

So…2018 is going to be a massive year for me in lots of ways. But one of the reasons I wanted to write today – before 2017 is finally over – is because I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me in so many ways this year. To Gabby Vautier, my Co-Director of Fertility Fest – a wonderful woman who is my reminder that whatever your outcome after struggling to conceive (she has IVF twin girls after four rounds of treatment) it’s so important to value what we share with the people we love and not what separates us. To all the people (now 290 of them) who have supported the publication of my second book – without whom it wouldn’t be happening. And, finally, to those of you who contacted me after my last blog to see if I was OK.

It’s OK. I’m OK. The blog is back!

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A Shout Out To My Sherpa

Apologies. This blog is long overdue – it’s unlike me, but I have not been entirely myself.

I must begin with a shout out to my Sherpa who guided me safely to the top of Island Peak in Nepal. Since I started my mountain madness two years ago with Kilimanjaro, my climbs have been getting increasingly tougher. Island Peak involved crossing a glacier crevasse on a terrifying  Everest-style ladder (well actually it was three ladders strung together) and then a final roped 70 degree ascent. It was tough and without Geljen – my super Sherpa who has summited Everest three times – I might not have made it. But I did and here we are together at the top.

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Secondly, I want to congratulate everyone who made Fertility Awareness Week (30th October to 5th November) the best yet. I returned from Nepal the day before it started and got immediately caught in the whirlwind. There was lots of press and media (thank you to everyone who came out and did their bit – mine was appearing in a feature in the magazine Closer). I also want to send my love and respect to the amazing Anya Sizer who spearheaded an important event at the House of Commons to discuss what we need to do about the crisis of IVF on the NHS. Then, at the end of the week, there was the Fertility Show at London’s Olympia where I hosted a total of 12 events in two days! Here’s a pic of me on stage trying to employ my best interviewing skills with lovely authors Helen Davies (More Love To Give) and  Rachel Cathan (336 Hours) along with Tone Jarvis-Mack from Fertility Road.

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Thank you to everyone who has messaged me over the last few weeks. Your contact and support is truly the thing that motivates me to keep going – because sometimes my life feels a little overwhelming and this has been particularly true over the last few weeks which is why I haven’t been myself.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that it’s exactly four years ago since I came out to the world about my pursuit of motherhood – in a feature for Grazia magazine.  When I look back, it feels extraordinary how much has happened since then. Most of it has been really good stuff – publishing a book; establishing the world’s first arts festival about fertility, infertility and the science of making babies; swimming a channel; running a marathon, climbing a mountain (in fact, several). But there has also been some hard stuff in my life which I’ve not talked or written about publicly – stuff that has been much harder than crossing a crevasse on a steel ladder!

So I’ve decided I’m going to take a short blog sabbatical. Just until the new year – don’t worry I’ll be back. 2018 is going to be a really important year for me. The month of May will see the return of Fertility Fest  at London’s Bush Theatre from 8th to 13th May. We’re planning an amazing week-long programme of activities – even bigger and better than before – with a massive festival weekend on Friday 11th, Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th May – put the dates in your diaries NOW. As part of the festival we will also be launching a major new fertility arts education project for young people in collaboration with the National Theatre. My dream is that ultimately this will tour to all UK schools so that the next generation will have a much better understanding of how their fertility works; how modern families are being made; and what reproductive science can and cannot do. In a world where sub fertility and childlessness is rapidly increasing and IVF is likely to become less and less available on the NHS, I know that I have to use my own experience to make things better for those taking on the baton of life next.

Along with Fertility Fest, there will also be the publication of my new book, 21 Miles, which is officially coming out in June thanks to the 281 lovely people that, to date, have supported my pre-order crowdfunding campaign. I’ve just received the manuscript edit from my publishers so between now and Christmas, I’ll be working hard to make sure it can be the best book it can be.

People often tell me how brave I’ve been to speak so openly about my infertility but with the publication of 21 Miles, I’m going to need to find new courage. Some of the hard stuff I’ve alluded to above will soon become clear – my struggle to conceive didn’t just result in taking away something I never had, it also took away something I never thought I’d lose. I know I’m not alone in this and I need to make sense of it, not just for myself but for other people going through it too.

So for now ‘au revoir’ but just until new year 2018 – which will be the beginning of the next chapter in my life and the vocation I never chose. No doubt there will be a few more mountains too…

http://www.jessicahepburn.com

Hello From The Himalayas

Those of you who are eagle-eyed, may have noticed that my blog has skipped a week. In fact, for the first time in four years of writing it, I actually forgot! My excuse being that after a whirlwind of work during September and early October, I boarded a plane for Nepal. Last Sunday I landed in Kathmandu and, within a matter of hours, I was walking in the Himalayas and it was only then that I thought: ‘Shit, I forgot!’

But if I had written last Sunday, then this is what I would have said.

  1. THANK YOU – to everyone who pre-ordered my new book 21 Miles – it’s because of you that it will be published next year. I’ll be posting more news about the launch and publication soon. But for now, I just want to say that I will be forever grateful to everyone who contributed to the crowd-funding campaign and made it possible – and it’s not too late if you haven’t bought it yet. Just click here.
  2. WOW – I’ve just landed in Kathmandu and it’s incredible. Tomorrow I’m heading off on my next climbing challenge – Island Peak . Hopefully this will soon be me:

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So a week behind schedule and here I am in the Himalayas. We’ve been trekking for seven days staying in beautiful tea-houses (some of which have internet hence being able to post this). But tomorrow we head high. We’ve reached the point where the air thins, the temperature drops, the going gets tough and there certainly ain’t no Wi-Fi. So I thought I’d post today to let you know where I am – and all being well I’ll be able to post next Sunday to let you know how I got on. And then my blogs will have caught up.

You may have noticed that endurance has become a bit of a theme in my life. First there was eleven rounds of IVF – I got to know the environment of the fertility clinic pretty well which is why I’m delighted to be the host of the Q&A stage at The Fertility Show on 4th and 5th November at Olympia where I’ll also be giving a seminar on how to survive the IVF rollercoaster. I highly recommend the show to anyone facing fertility treatment as it’s attended by some of the top experts in the world. I’ll be quizzing them on what you need to know!

Next up was 21 miles – I swapped the fertility clinic for the English Channel and got to know a new environment – this time the sea. You’ll be able to read all about that in my new book.

Now, it’s me and mountains. So far I’ve climbed two of the world’s seven summits (Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua) and now I’ve come to Nepal – home of the highest mountains on the planet. I hope it won’t be the last time in this beautiful country. I’m hoping that my IVF endurance test was the start of something really big. Stay with me, and you’ll see.

Your Blogger Still Needs You

For those of you who might not have read my last blog, perhaps the title of this one needs some explaining. So, if it does, for speed (mine not yours) you can read this.

I truly hope this will be my last ‘begging blog’ for a long while. Besides, two weeks today, when my next blog is due, I’ll have just landed in Kathmandu and I suspect the sensory overload of that will overide all thoughts of fundraising.

But I’m not there yet and this week, your blogger still needs you. The crowd-funding campaign for my second book, 21 Miles, is now at over 70% and has nearly 200 backers. But 70% is not 100% and 200 isn’t the 250 I need. So if you’re at all interested in reading it, I would love you to buy it (and thank you to everyone who already did).

I don’t think I mentioned before that not only will you get a beautiful book for your bookshelves (which hopefully contains a good story), you’ll also be listed in the back as one of the amazing people who made it happen. A symbol of solidarity for independent publishing in a world driven by genre fiction and the latest celebrity vehicle. Haven’t you written the new ‘Girl on the Train’? No. I’ve written about a girl in the sea and 21 other girls who met and ate with me to talk about life fulfilment and the meaning of motherhood.

I hope this is enough to tempt you. I’ll be indebted if you could click this link and pledge because your blogger needs you. Still.

Oh, and Kathmandu? I’m going to climb another mountain – not quite as big as Aconcagua in Argentina which I climbed in January – but this one requires a harness, ropes and carabanas, that sort of terrifying technical thing. It’s the next step in my quest to something bigger…

But I can’t think about that at the moment. Before I leave I have a major report to finish and file on theatre provision in Essex (!). I have over 100 artists and fertility experts to programme for Fertility Fest next year– which has just been confirmed for w/c 7 May at the Bush Theatre in London with the main festival activity happening over the weekend of Friday 11th to Sunday 13th May (a date for your diary, it’s going to be special). And I have to finalise and deliver the manuscript of my book 21 Miles to my publishers. Before that I have to complete the crowd-funding campaign. In fact there’s no point in the manuscript if I don’t complete the crowd-funding campaign. So Kathmandu and carabanas are not on my radar at the moment. But in two weeks time they will be.

Life would have been much easier, I reckon, if I’d been able to have a baby.

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Your Blogger Needs You

Dear Readers, Your Blogger Needs You! Imagine me in a general’s hat, no moustache but a finger pointing. Not in a confrontational way but in a gently encouraging, hopeful way. If that’s ok.

This month I’ve launched the pre-order fundraising campaign for my new book. 21 Miles: the story of one woman who ate 21 meals with 21 women and then swam 21 miles to answer the question: does motherhood make you happy? No prizes for guessing who that one woman is! You can watch the trailer, read the synopsis and an extract here: https://unbound.com/books/21-miles

So why does your blogger need you? Well, I’m working with an award-winning publisher called Unbound that is based on a crowd-funding business model that gives more control to authors and their readers. This has proved really important for my book because mainstream publishers still feel that what I write about is niche and a bit taboo. 21 Miles is my next step in changing the conversation around motherhood and making a better world for all women. But only if people want to read it. So please consider buying an advance copy (digital or hardback) or ticket/s to the book launch. All the details are here: https://unbound.com/books/21-miles

I’m hoping that the pre-order campaign for my book will be completed by the end of September which will mean that it will be published next year to coincide with Fertility Fest – my arts festival about fertility, infertility and the science of assisted conception (watch this space for more information on that soon). Yesterday I went to an exhibition by a lovely artist who I was meeting for the first time and I hope will be appearing in a future festival. I told her that I really want to try and change the world around this topic but sometimes it feels difficult and I’m not sure whether I will. Like having to crowdfund for your book which is tough – and a bit like IVF, physically and emotionally exhausting, all hope and no certainty.

Later the same lovely artist sent me an email thanking me for coming to her show. She said that following our conversation, she wanted to send me a quote by Robert Kennedy. This is it.

 Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.

If you buy my book – and your blogger needs you to – you will be sending me a ripple of hope. And although I might never have the greatness to bend history what I can promise you is this: together we might change a small portion of events and in all those acts and in this book will be written the history of the IVF generation.

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Living Well Is The Best Revenge

I was going to call today’s post – Two Mountains And A Festival. But this morning I changed my mind. I’m reading a great book at the moment (more of that in a minute) and I’ve just reached the chapter which has the epigraph: Living Well Is The Best Revenge, the words of the seventeenth century poet George Herbert. It’s such a great line and as it’s Sunday and he was also a priest, the change feels apt.

Anyone who has seen me recently will know that I’ve done a lot of complaining this month: about the fact that my August has not been the August I was planning. I was planning, for the first time in my life, to have a month with nothing in the diary. This week was the culmination of that not happening. I’ve climbed two mountains in Wales (Tryfan and Snowdon – the Crib Goch route for anyone who knows what that means) and then spent three days at the Edinburgh Festival seeing back to back shows.

At times my life can feel a little overwhelming. But this morning – pot of tea, sun streaming through the bedroom window and all those enriching experiences within me – I couldn’t help thinking: this is living well and it’s the best revenge.

The book I’m reading is by Alice Jolly and it’s called Dead Babies and Seaside Towns – in 2016 it won the Pen Ackerly Prize for literary autobiography. Although I’m only half way through, I highly recommend it. It’s published by Unbound who will, I hope, be bringing out my second book next year – now officially titled 21 Miles. They seem to be one of the few publishers that are prepared to take a risk on writing about a subject that is still considered niche and a little bit taboo. I’m delighted to be joining the good company of Alice’s book but there’s still a wee journey to go on before it can be born and that has taken up a lot of my August too. To make it happen, I’ll need lots of lovely people to want to buy my book. Watch your inbox and this space for more news soon.

I said to a stranger who asked me what shows I was seeing at the Edinburgh Festival that I’m a woman who sees a lot of stuff about dead babies. Books, shows, films, art, music, dance – the lost child is what my life has become. But living well is always the best revenge and when I stood at the top of Snowdon, well, I hope the smile says it all. A quiet August, who needs one?

http://www.jessicahepburn.com

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It’s Sunday and We’re (A)Live!

There’s been a lot of press coverage this week about the recent cuts to IVF on the NHS – several Clinical Commissioning Groups are now considering restricting treatment to women aged 30 to 35. Someone said to me that infertility only gets this sort of attention from the media when things are slow in the news. It’s true the silly season is upon us but it doesn’t seem like the news has been either slow or silly this week – after all two men seem to be threatening to blow us up. I know this kind of begs the question why you would want to bring a child into the world but, whilst we’re all still here, I agreed to appear on the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live to talk about IVF (not North Korea).

At best when people argue against IVF on the NHS, they just don’t understand the devastation it causes. At worst, there’s a covert implication that somehow it’s your own fault and you should just get over and on with it. It worries me when people on the other side of the argument – as there were on the show today – haven’t experienced the struggle to conceive themselves, yet seem so confident about dismissing treatment for what has been classified by the World Health Organisation as a disease.

For me, the bottom line is this: do we want a National Health Service that thinks it’s ok to propogate inequality? Is it right that the majority of public health care providers in this country are going against the guidelines of the Government agency which was established to promote clinical excellence and says that all women under the age of 40 struggling to conceive should be given three rounds of IVF? It won’t be long before your right to try for a baby, will be based on your ability to pay. Are we really saying that’s OK?

The producer of the show told me that they wanted to hear a little about my story  – eleven rounds of unsuccessful fertility treatment usually piques people’s interest – and the fact that I am still pro IVF can come as a surprise. But I know that this reproductive technology does work. Not everytime for everyone – I am proof of that – but in the forty years since it was invented it has given millions of people the family they dream of. As long as those two men haven’t done what they’re threatening and we still have a world, why would we want to deny anyone a chance at that?

http://www.jessicahepburn.com

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Kicking Heels and Ass

Life is beyond busy at the moment so forgive me this late night mini blog. But if you’re kicking your heels here are two things I’d love you to look at because I think they kick-ass.

First, the HFEA’s new website  – I was honoured to be asked to be an advisor on the process of developing the new site for the UK’s regulator of fertility treatment – the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (better known as the HFEA). I think it has the potential to be an invaluable resource for patients. From its guide to choosing a fertility clinic with its TripAdvisor style ratings; to its traffic light system (red, amber, green) for new developments in reproductive science (such as those controversial ‘add ons’ that were explored in the BBC Panorama programme I was in last year). Have a look and see what you think, and if you like it please spread the word!

Second – from the other side of the pond – there’s a new website called Reprotech Truths. Specifically designed to promote greater transparency within the fertility industry in order to better inform and protect patients, it’s the brainchild of two women I greatly admire: Pamela Tsigdinos, author of the book Silent Sorority and Miriam Zoll author of Cracked Open. I was equally honoured to be asked to be on their advisory board because to my mind openness is everything in the science of making babies. Have a look and see what you think of this too and if you like it, you know what to do!

So that’s it from me for now…but if you do happen to be kicking your heels late on a Sunday evening, at least it will give you something to do other than read my regular ramblings. And if anyone is kicking their heels, please could you tell me how you do that because I’m a woman whose ‘To Do List’ is starting to read like a novel and it’s kicking my ass!

http://www.jessicahepburn.com

The IVF Generation

There has been so much great fertility press over the last couple of weeks that today I want to write about what other people have written.

The stream of announcements and articles is partly because of the ESHRE conference that took place in Geneva at the beginning of July. ESHRE – which stands for the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology – was unknown to me until relatively recently but I now know that it is one of the biggest gatherings in reproductive science in the world. Breaking news at the conference this year included new evidence about the male biological clock, and the real reasons for the exponential growth in egg freezing.

Next year – very excitingly – we’ve been invited to take a mini version of Fertility Fest – my arts festival about the science of making babies – to the ESHRE Conference in Barcelona. Yes, I’m dreaming about the tapas, but I’m also thinking about how the arts can best contribute to the agenda.

It will be the 40th anniversary of the first ‘test tube baby’ Louise Brown next year and one of the things that’s been uppermost in my mind is how it felt then and how it feels now to be a child of science. I don’t think we’re talking about it enough. When Louise was born there was no question that she didn’t know she was made in a laboratory – it was worldwide news. But IVF is now so ubiquitous, a lot of people don’t even inform their children that they spent the first few days of their life in a petri dish. If you’re one of the IVF generation does it matter to you that you were conceived by your dad pouring over porn in a Producing Room? Do you care that your mum spent weeks (maybe years) pumping herself with drugs never really looking at the label and thinking about what they might do to you in the future? Or is that we just don’t want you to know? I am certainly not judging anyone for doing these things in their pursuit of parenthood – I did them too – but it doesn’t mean that I don’t think we need to talk about it more.

And so to another article that was in the Guardian yesterday – about a fertility doctor who it’s thought may secretly have fathered 200 children. The story centres around a Dutch woman who made the decision to undergo IVF on her own with donor sperm. She was assured by her doctor that the donor would be traceable by her children (a daughter and then a son). However, what he didn’t say to her was that he’d developed a habit of donating his own sperm.

It’s still not clear whether this doctor was her donor. He died a few months ago, aged 89, and resisted paternity tests. But there is now a legal challenge to try and find out the truth. Many people argue that a child’s right to information about where they came from should take precedence over a donor’s right to stay unknown and, besides, it’s becoming easier to trace your donor whether they want you to or not. It’s another question for the IVF generation that I think they have a right to demand us to discuss.

I founded Fertility Fest to explore all these questions and more about the science of making babies. I know that artists can do it brilliantly and uncompromisingly. That’s why having a platform like ESHRE next year is so exciting. Maybe we will start making the news!

http://www.jessicahepburn.com

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