One Month On

It’s 3rd June – exactly a month since my new book, 21 Miles, was published. The actual publication day – the 3rd May – was a bit of an anti-climax. There was no trumpet voluntary, let’s put it that way. But a few days later on 8th May, the book was officially launched at the first event of Fertility Fest 2018 at the Bush Theatre. 150 wonderful people came, the majority of whom had supported my book into being by pre-ordering it in advance. And the launch did feel a bit like I was the bride at my wedding. It was an amazing night, and the stars of the show, for me, were some of the women I interviewed for the book who joined me on stage for a Q&A with chair, Janet Ellis. It was a celebration of female achievement and solidarity (and there were a few men there too: not many but the best few!).

If you have been following my blog for some time, you may remember my last post on the 15th April – the one entitled On Blogging. I wasn’t actually sure after I’d written it whether I would ever blog again. I said to a few people close to me that I’d left things hanging – a bit like when a character departs a TV soap and there’s a chance they’ll come back. Or they might not. But here I am seven weeks later. Hello again!

I hope you didn’t think I’d stopped writing because I haven’t. I’m already working on my third book. I just needed to overthrow the tyranny of bi-weekly blogging for a while. I wasn’t quite sure how long I’d be gone.

Lots of people tell me they want to write a book. I think many people do and there’s a  saying that everyone has one in them. I think you know if you really want to, if you do it. It’s a hard process – sometimes you like what you’ve written, sometimes you think it’s shit. Then you rewrite what you’ve written, like it and then think it’s shit all over again. Eventually you might have something that you’re ready to give to the world. But the world is more discerning than you. Agents say ‘no’; publishers say ‘no’; critics don’t want to review it; journalists write what they want to cover not what you do (for a case in point see my recent article in the Daily Mail. Serves me right I know, they’re only interested in my sob-story, not my book!).

So if you want to write a book, it’s important to know that the writing – however hard it seems – is actually the easy bit. Because when you’re writing it, it’s just you and the page. And sometimes you’ll think what you’ve written is terrible, but sometimes you’ll feel as if you’re as good as Jane Austen or Charles Dickens (you’re probably not but whilst it’s just you and the page who cares?). But ultimately most writers want to be read so there does come a time when you have to let it go, and accept that the book will have to live its own life. I imagine it’s the same feeling as a mother has with her children (apologies for the naff analogy but it is an obvious one, especially for a woman who has been on her pursuit of motherhood for over a decade).

Over the last month I’ve been watching my book baby take its first tentative steps and what’s driven me back to my blog is to say that I’m proud of how it’s doing (I guess this is a bit like putting up baby photos on Facebook). Yes, I’d like it if I had a few more reviews on Amazon and Goodreads (please do leave me one if you’ve read it, it means a lot). But I have had nearly 100 people contact me about it – by email, text, phone, whatsapp, twitter, facebook, instagram (does anyone else feel there are just too many modes of communication these days?). I’m amazed at how quickly people have read it (it takes me months, sometimes years, to get to books) and I’m so touched by the things people have said. I love it when someone writes and it’s clear they have ‘got it’ at a profound level and I equally love the things people get that I didn’t even know were there. I love hearing which woman I interviewed that they connected with the most, and getting new words (NB. I asked each woman I met in the book to give me a word for my Channel swim and just this week I’ve been given ‘wow’ and ‘hope’ to add to these). I love hearing the bits that made people laugh, and cry (yes, sorry, some of it is sad). And I love hearing about the things that have resonated with their own lives. Someone wrote to say that like me their motherhood fantasies had been played out through shopping catalogues (not dolls), and someone else said they also cut up cupcakes into quarters with the back of a spoon.

And this week, I got the sort of message I dream of from one of the busiest women I know – Sue Macmillan who is Chief Operating Officer at Mumsnet, a local councillor in Hammersmtih & Fulham and mum to a toddler. At Fertility Fest we’d done a brilliant event together entitled ‘Does motherhood make you happy?’ which is the central question of my book. She wrote and said: “I agree with every one of your conclusions at the end and felt that within a few short pages you’d almost summed up the entire truth and meaning of life.’ Now that’s the sort of message a writer dreams of getting.

I think one of the best things that happens when you publish a book is that you realise what the book is actually about by what other people tell you. So I now know that 21 Miles is about many things including family, career, female identity, life fulfillment, food and swimming. It’s also for anyone who is coming to terms with something sad and difficult in their life. In my case, my unrequited pursuit of motherhood. And although I am proud to be called a fertility campaigner these days (as I was when I was on Radio 4’s You & Yours this week telling the fertility industry what they need to do better) my book is about far more than my pursuit of motherhood and unsuccessful IVF. If you’re interested and couldn’t make Fertility Fest you can come and hear me talk about it at this FREE Event next Wednesday 13th June in Soho. Either way, I hope you’ll read it, and continue to read my blog. I’m sure it will be back. I just don’t know when.

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On Blogging…

After my last blog, one of my best friends rang me.

‘What’s wrong?’ She said as soon as I picked up the phone. ‘I can tell something’s wrong from your blog.’

That’s what best friends are good at – knowing the subtext.

And then she said something else.

‘You know, when you started writing your blog it felt like you really enjoyed it and now I get the sense that you don’t.’

It was one of those moments when someone says something that turns the light on when you hadn’t even realized you were sitting in the dark.

I thought back on the blog I’d written in haste the night before. You can read it here if you’re interested but I wouldn’t bother. It doesn’t say anything important, unless you’re interested in reading subtext.

Around a week later I had a conversation with another good friend. We first met when we worked together in our twenties – heady days when the next twenty years we’ve now lived through were ahead of us. She had just watched me giving a speech and a reading from my new book at the Progress Educational Trust event at the RCOG on ‘The Real Cost of IVF’. As we walked to a late supper afterwards she said: ‘The funny thing is you never wanted to be a writer back then. But you are one now, what happened?’

Another light went on, as her words made me realize that writing and blogging are not the same thing.

I don’t quite know where my desire to write came from. It seemed to emerge from the darkness of infertility a little after my fortieth birthday. The eponymous book of this blog was published in February 2014. I started writing the blog shortly before that and have posted every other Sunday (almost without fail) figuring that if you want to be read – and most writers do want to be read – that publicity is everything.

But, really, I wish I had the bravery to give up blogging. And Twitter. And Facebook. And to stop berating myself for not being on Instagram (yet). I wish I was strong enough to say (in some low tech, old fashioned way) – you won’t find me on social media but if you’re interested then come and meet me in the pages of my new book…

It’s about swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood.

It’s called 21 Miles

It’s out on the 3rd of May.

I’ll be talking about it at Fertility Fest – the arts festival I’ve founded about fertility, infertility, modern families and the science of making babies which will be at the Bush Theatre from 8th – 13th May.

The book, not the blog, is the most important thing I have to say.

21 Miles

Happy Easter

It’s Sunday. Blog day. Another search for words.

In just over a month my new book will be published – I promise you there are a lot of words in that.

I know I should tell you something about it. Something that will justify the enormity of its birth. The enormity of its birth to me. But I feel more and more there are no words. What will be, will be.

Instead today is about Modigliani at the Tate; I, Tonya at the Covent Garden Odeon; and twenty four tracks on my headphones as I walked the streets of London.

Sometimes other people’s words and pictures are far more important than your own.

Happy Easter. I hope the chocolate was good.

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Events Connected

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I’ve decided that March must be the month for fertility events. Maybe because it’s supposed to be Spring. Things grow in Spring, but instead we’ve got snow. Already this month, I’ve been at the Southbank Centre’s WOW Festival (where I convened a panel on fertility education), the HFEA annual conference (where I gave a speech about the importance of accurate fertility data – I know, I know!) and yesterday I was at the Royal College of Nurses Fertility Forum.

A wonderful nurse came and threw her arms around me in a massive hug after my speech and said how sorry she was that my IVF hadn’t worked. That level of empathy from a member of the fertility profession is rather rare. I wish she’d been my nurse. Two days earlier at the HFEA conference, they had released a staggering statistic. In 2016, there were 82,000 IVF cycles in the UK. 20,340 of these resulted in a live birth and 61,660 didn’t. That means three quarters of all treatment cycles failed. There are a lot of hugs needed out there.

I think this sort of data is really important for the world to know (hence my speech at the HFEA). It will help people go into IVF with their eyes open and prepare themselves for the physical, emotional and financial strain of what lies ahead – even when it works and we must remember that one quarter of patients did take home their longed for baby. If I have my way young people will also have their eyes opened much earlier on. I was arguing for this at WOW. All my events are connected in a way.

Next up I’ll be in Manchester for the Fertility Show this coming weekend (something I highly recommend if you live in the North West and you’re considering your fertility options and want to hear from the best). And after that I’m involved in a Progress Educational Trust event on The Real Cost of IVF.

All my events – past and present – can be viewed here:  Do come along if you’re interested. And most importantly, don’t miss Fertility Fest in May. Because with snow in March, maybe May is set to become the most fertile time of the year. Even if it’s not, there will be hugs aplenty for everyone there.

Front Page News

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One day soon I’m going to write a proper blog. Like the old days. I’m not going to take blog sabbaticals. Or spend Sunday wondering whether anyone will notice if I skip a week. Or question how many words is enough – I know a blog can be too long but can it be too little?

One day soon I’m going to write a proper blog. But not today. For now can I just say that it’s the end of an action packed snowy week at the Fertility Fest Fun Factory! We’ve been at the National Theatre developing our fertility arts education project – Modern Families. You can read more about it on the Fertility Fest website here:

But…you can also now read about it on the front page of Friday’s Times – and in the Independent, The Sun and the Daily Mail. Or you can watch me on Friday’s Victoria Derbyshire show on catch up (25 minutes in) or listen to me on Saturday night’s Radio Five Live (1 hour 30 minutes in). Or tune in tomorrow to ITV News.

One day soon I’m going to write a proper blog. One that gives you all my news. But for now, I’m just writing to let you know that Fertility Fest has been making the news. And my eyes are dropping.

Jessica x

From That to This

On Tuesday 6 February at the Bush Theatre we launched Fertility Fest 2018. Hurrah!

That picture is of me and my Co-director Gabby at the launch. We’re the two sides of IVF – she’s got toddler twins after four rounds of treatment, I haven’t after eleven. But we both know how hard and horrible it is to struggle to conceive and hope that through the power of the arts our festival will improve the discourse around all aspects of fertility, infertility, modern families and the science of making babies. This year’s festival is even bigger and better than the last – 6 days, 40 events and 150 artists and fertility experts. Do have a peruse of the programme on our website and come if you can. You’ll be amongst friends.

Less than a week later, I was up in Scotland mountain training for my next challenge. I have to admit my head wasn’t in it at first, my head was still in London at the launch. But I’m now two years away from my third and final challenge for families without children and children without families and it’s a big one so needs must. My forties may have be absent of the children I never had but if things to go to plan, I’m going to have had nine surrogate babies instead – three festivals, three books and three challenges, all of which are aimed at making a better world for people who have struggled to create the families they wanted.

Because for me, it’s all about the trade off. My surrogate children may have never happened without my struggle to conceive and even though the pain of what I don’t have will never go away, it doesn’t mean that I would swap it for what I got in return. By the end of 2018, I’ll be two festivals, two books and two challenges down leaving just three to go (you can read about what I’ve already done on my website if you don’t know). But that’s why, in less than a week, my life goes ‘from that to this’ (click on this Facebook link to watch the full film…)

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Note To Blogging Self!

I did it again. In fact it feels like I’m making a habit of it. Monday morning. A hotel room in Barcelona. And I suddenly remember I’ve forgotten. My blog – the one which I’ve committed to writing every other Sunday (apart from at the end of last year when I took a mini sabbatical). You may remember I forgot to write last October too. But I had the best intentions for 2018…

I guess I could blame it on Barcelona. It is a city of distractions. Although I was only there on a whirlwind trip of 36 hours. But maybe that contributed to my memory loss. Added to this is my ‘To Do List’ which is currently the length of a small novel and my exploding inbox littered with the shrapnel of unanswered email.

Are you getting my drift? I’ve been busy. And I’ve been in Barcelona. Busy, Barcelona and blogs don’t get on.

I’d like to think that things will change this Tuesday. This Tuesday (6th February) is when we officially launch Fertility Fest 2018 to the press and public. The festival will be taking place at the Bush Theatre in West London in May. The lead up to launch has been the main reason for my overload of work. Finalising the programme and publicity for a festival with 150 artists and fertility experts has been more than I bargained for. But then most of my life has been more than I bargained for. Anyone else feel like that?

As I write this, I am contemplating the document of 20,000 words of artist and fertility expert biogs that I need to edit by the end of today and upload to our website. I’m not sure right now whether it’s going to happen. And that’s just one of the things on today’s to do list. I won’t bore you with the others.

So I’m going to post this blog now, lest I forget later. It’s essentially got one important message which is that if you sign up to our Fertility Fest mailing list now – or look back on the site on Tuesday then all be revealed and tickets will be going on sale. If you’re at all interested in fertility, infertility, modern families and the science of making babies, you won’t want to miss it (even if I do say so myself). It’s going to be pretty amazing.

Oh and of Barcelona. Well, after the London festival in May, we’ll be taking Fertility Fest to the biggest fertility industry conference in the world which is taking place in July – in Barcelona. I was there on a recce. So I’m going to endeavour to be a better blogger from now because communication is everything. And there’s a lot going on this year in my bid to make a better world for fertility and infertility that I want you, my lovely blog readers, to know about. Thank you for sticking with me – I may even write next Sunday!

Jessica x

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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?

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…