Topsy-Turvy

I was in the queue at the passport office this week (more about why in bit) and I noticed that the guy standing in front of me had written on his form for a replacement: Girlfriend (now ex) cut my passport in half because she didn’t want me to go to Vegas. Inside the plastic sleeve he was holding, his passport was neatly cut in two. We didn’t speak, although I’d like to have heard the story, but it did make me smile in solidarity at people’s topsy-turvy lives.

I was in the queue, because my passport ran out in July and I’m off to the Alps next week. I’m going to Climb Mont Blanc. It’s what I would call a ‘mid magnitude’ challenge (if you didn’t read my blog last December you’ll need to click here to understand what that means) and is my next step towards something ‘major magnitude’ (you’ll have to click here to understand about that). It’s funny, five years ago I don’t suppose I’d have been seen dead in a pair of crampons but climbing mountains, like swimming seas, has become the saviour of my own topsy-turvy life.

And on the subject of topsy-turvy, my blog is also going to be a bit out of synch for the next few weeks. I usually post every other Sunday but two weeks today I’ll be in the snow without a signal so I plan to post the Sunday after with news of that. And then a week later I have been asked to review Yerma at the Young Vic. If you don’t know about it yet, the play and Billie Piper who stars in the title role is taking London theatreland by storm. The Australian playwright and director Simon Stone has relocated Lorca’s tragic story – about a woman in rural Spain who can’t conceive and ends up murdering her husband – into a contemporary London setting. So, you see, childlessness can make you do all sorts of topsy-turvy things. But I’d recommend mountains as a better alternative to murder. Or you could just go to Vegas (as long as no one cuts your passport up)…

www.thepursuitofmotherhood.com

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JUST F***ING DO IT

In today’s blog, I want to tell you about my amazing friend Lyndel. It was her birthday today – here’s a picture of us taken this afternoon over a late lunch by the river Thames.

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Lyndel and I are the yin and yang of friendship. She hails from the southern hemisphere, I from the north. Company is her lifeblood, solitude is mine. When she supported me on my Channel swim and shouted over the side of the boat: ‘Keep going, you’ve nearly raised £15,000!’ I retorted: ‘You’re lying!’ She continually confounds my pessimism with her optimism, although admittedly on that particular occasion I was tired and she was right.

Lyndel is a mother.

But when friendship is deep and dear opposites don’t matter. In fact, Lyndel is so important to me that I turned her name into a verb: to be lyndelled. It’s a good feeling. Just ten minutes in her company and I promise you will feel the same.

And now you can.

This week, my fabulous friend launched a new workshop programme to help you Lyndel-your-life! It’s called JFDI and is taking place in August and September: read more here. So if you need a bit of ‘back to school’ inspiration, book yourself a place and buy yourself a new notepad because if anyone can persuade you to JUST F***ING DO IT, Lyndel can!

http://www.thepursuitofmotherhood.com

This Is For My Girls

It feels too hot to write a blog, so maybe it’s also too hot to read one. Not that I’m complaining, I love this weather.

I thought about a follow up to my blog on May vs. Leadsom – thank goodness she’s gone. But I feel too hot to write about that.

I thought about writing about how the second ever female British Prime Minister has all but admitted to being an infertile. I feel too hot to write about that too.

I thought about writing about how these are new and exciting times for women in power regardless of the workings of their wombs. Whatever your politics, the rise of Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon and (possibly, hopefully) Hillary Clinton is something to celebrate. But it’s even too hot for that.

What I need is something cool.

So here instead is a shout out for by far the coolest woman in politics this week: Michelle Obama. On Wednesday night America’s first lady appeared in James Corden’s Carpool Karoke. If you haven’t watched it yet, you must! And with this instruction and with this blog, come my last words to the loathsome Leadsom: ‘Andrea, if you wanna be the coolest kid on the political block this summer, you have to sing for all my girls and not just for the mothers.’

Now, for an ice-cream.

www.thepursuitofmotherhood.com

 

 

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May vs. Leadsom

For a week now, I’ve had a dilemma. I’ve been working hard on my new book and then Theresa May went and became the front runner to take over from David Cameron and really messed things up. This is because there’s a passage in the first chapter, a conversation between me and my partner, that goes like this…

‘So what’s the point of being here then? If you don’t have children and your only purpose is to serve the economy and maybe have a bit of fun from time to time, is it really worth it? Unless you do something big?’

Peter gives me a weary smile.

‘I’ve always fancied becoming Prime Minister’, I say. ‘PM Hepburn that would be pretty cool.’

‘But you don’t know anything about politics. You didn’t even vote in the last election.’

‘Yeah, well, that’s because I don’t know whose side I’m on anymore. Maybe I could be an independent. There are definitely a few things I’d like to campaign for: three-day weekends; free public transport; the death of Starbucks.’

Peter laughs.

‘The problem is,’ I continue, ‘I’m not sure anyone would vote in an ‘infertile’ to run the country. Not when babies are what win elections.’

I have to confess I’m not a Tory but of all the candidates in the early stages of the leadership contest Theresa May seemed to me to be the best. So, even though she’s childless (and it seems not by choice), I decided that I’d forgive her for messing up my first chapter if she went and won. I’m afraid I will never forgive Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson for creating this chaos in the first place and then buggering off and leaving us all to it.

And then came Andrea Leadsom. It did make me smile when she knocked out Michael Gove because the traitor definitely deserved it. But my jaw hit the floor when I heard her comments to The Times in which she strongly implied that being a mother makes her a better candidate because, unlike May, she has a real stake in the future of our country. Really Andrea? I’d like to see you say that to Elizabeth 1st!

Of course if Leadsom wins I may be able to keep that paragraph in my book but, frankly, no one has the right to be Prime Minister if you’re not going to care for a country and everybody in it and after those comments Andrea Leadsom in my ‘no-stake-in-the-future-of-our-country-humble-opinion’ you have no right.

www.thepursuitofmotherhood.com

Maire and The Monk’s House

I am writing this blog in the Abergavenny Arms after two large glasses of red wine. Actually, I haven’t quite finished the second. I questioned whether I should have the second. But then I thought: what the hell, I don’t need to finish it.

I’m going to finish it.

This morning I woke up and I thought: today is not a good day. How can I turn today into a good day? And then I remembered it’s blog day. And I thought: maybe today will be the day I don’t write a blog. Because today is not a good day.

I got up. I didn’t have a shower. I just put on the clothes I wore yesterday. I got the 24 bus to Victoria. I got on a train to Lewes, transferred to another to Southease. And then I walked the mile to The Monk’s House in Rodmell. The house where Virigina Woolf lived and then left one morning and walked down to the river Ouse with stones in her pocket.

She never came back.

I am writing this blog to thank Maire. Maire, the National Trust volunteer assigned to watch over Virginia’s bedroom in The Monk’s House, today on the 26th June. The bedroom where Virigina’s sister, Vanessa Bell, painted a lighthouse on the tiles across the fireplace. That’s some sort of sister. And I stood at the back of the room and listened as Maire spoke. Everyone was mesmerized as this old woman told us she was born and had grown up in the village where this icon of literature had lived. Her father, Percy, had been the Woolfs’ gardener.

I listened silently but at the end I couldn’t stop myself. Couldn’t stop myself from asking the question that no one else had asked.

‘Maire, do you remember the day that she died?’

‘I’ll never forget it,’ she said.

It was 1941. The war. Maire was ten. She told us that at twelve noon everyone would sit down and listen to the news to hear what was happening. And then Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband, suddenly burst into their house and said: ‘Percy, help!’. He had come in from the garden that he treasured and discovered her note. They found her walking stick immediately but it took three weeks to recover her body.

I drank two large glasses of red wine in the Abergavenny Arms. But I want to thank Maire for turning today into a good day. For helping me to touch history for every woman who wakes up on a Sunday and needs a room of her own.

The Day After The Great Day Before

The great thing about the day after the great day before is that you can get up early, walk across Hampstead Heath and down through Primrose Hill and Regents Park to Marylebone High Street for Turkish Eggs and Black Pudding at Providores for breakfast. Then you can go the Everyman on Baker Street and watch the 10.40am screening of Me Before You and stay until the end of the credits with tears rolling down your face. Then you can go for a two hour massage followed by a cream tea in The Wallace Collection courtyard. And then you can take the bus home, change the sheets (for the first time in weeks) and get into bed super early and plan an evening of trash TV.

Fertility Fest was amazing yesterday. Thank you to everyone who was there. The great thing about the day after the great day before is that whilst you’re doing all these lovely things you can remember it with a smile.

http://www.fertilityfest.com

 

First Stop Birmingham

Well, we did it. In Birmingham on Thursday, we opened Gareth Farr’s insightful and moving new play The Quiet House and on Saturday we launched Fertility Fest, the UK’s first ever arts festival on fertility, infertility and IVF. It’s been incredible. More than I dared hope it could be. But let other people tell you, not me.

Look at Kate Brian’s review on Fertility Matters

Look at Sarah Vilensky’s post on Facebook

Look at the world on Twitter

And earlier this week, the show and the festival were in the Guardian and The Telegraph and all sorts of other places. Look here.

Next stop London on 11th June. Are you coming?

http://www.fertilityfest.com

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Risking It?

I’ve just finished reading Jeanette Winterson’s moving memoir – Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?  It was given to me by ‘Secret Santa’ at the work Christmas party in 2014. Thanks Santa, I know it’s taken me a year and a half to read it but now was the perfect time.

For the last couple of weeks, practically everyone I’ve met has been subjected to me saying that there’s this amazing passage (on pages 63 to 64) which sums up my life this year….

This is how it goes:

            I have noticed that doing the sensible thing in life is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it.

            And here is the shock – when you risk it, when you do the right thing, when you arrive at the borders of common sense and cross over into unknown territory, leaving behind you all the familiar smells and lights, then you do not experience great joy and huge energy.

           You are unhappy. Things get worse.

           It is a time of mourning. Loss. Fear. We bullet ourselves through with questions. And then we feel shot and wounded.

            And all the cowards come out and say, ‘See I told you so.’

            In fact, they told you nothing.

Last year, I left my job of ten years. It was my choice, I was excited about leaving, and I had a plan. But it’s actually been one of the toughest times of my life. And if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know that in two weeks (actually in less than two weeks), I launch a new festival where my two worlds of the arts and IVF are going to collide. And if you ask me now what’s harder – running a big theatre with a multi-million pound turnover or a start-up festival that’s exploring an issue that for many people is still a taboo and a part of their life they quickly want to forget – then I have to say the latter. But as Jeanette Winterson says so beautifully, for the life-changing things you must risk it. Just be prepared that it’s going to be hard.

http://www.fertilityfest.com

I Have A Dream

I have a dream – don’t groan, it’s true.

Of a space where people come to tackle a great taboo.

A space for people trying to conceive

And for those who’ve tried and now moved on

To a life without children or, for the lucky ones, a daughter or a son.

And I want other people to come as well:

Doctors trying to make hopes come true.

And academics studying the effects of what these doctors do.

I know this is a strange space, maybe frightening and more

I know many people might feel they can’t walk through the door.

It’s called Fertility Fest.

It’s in Birmingham in May

And London in June

Nearly fifty artists and fertility experts all together in one room.

I have a dream – don’t groan, it’s true.

To find a way to challenge a last great taboo.

Whoever you are, however difficult the subject is,

This festival is FOR YOU.

 

http://www.fertilityfest.com

 

May Day 2016 – a day of springtime celebration when a blog can be a poem for recitation!

 

 

Fertility Education Education Education

This week for me has been all about Fertility Education. I could write an essay about it but I’ll try and keep this as brief as possible because I’ve got a book to write and a festival to promote (talking of which have you bought your tickets yet? They’re going like fresh eggs if you’ll pardon the pun and read on…).

On Friday I attended a major summit on Fertility Education at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). Professor Adam Balen, Chair of the British Fertility Society, opened the event with a brilliant presentation stating the facts. In just one generation the number of women coming to the end of their fertile lives without children has doubled and the number of children born from fertility treatment is growing. And one of the key reasons for these two things is that women are increasingly leaving it to the latter part of their fertility life cycle to conceive and because of the decline in the number and quality of a woman’s eggs as she gets older it means that many are struggling to have a baby (some with success, some with failure) and some women are not even getting the chance to struggle at all. What’s more the results of a survey, just completed, amongst 1000 young people throughout the UK showed that there is still an inaccurate understanding of fertility aging and what’s fascinating is that although most young people questioned said they wanted their first child in their late twenties this is clearly not what’s being borne out in reality because societal circumstances such as completing education, building careers, meeting the right partner and getting your first home are not enabling the conditions for this to happen. There were a host of interesting speakers at the event including Alex Jones from the BBC’s One Show who is making a groundbreaking documentary on fertility. She said she was shocked by the lack of understanding about fertility aging amongst her peers and later that evening her comments went straight to the top of the Daily Mail sidebar of shame.

I’ll come back to the conference but things actually started for me on this subject the day before when I was invited on the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC2 to talk about my views. I appeared with, amongst others, Professor Geeta Nargund (who is currently leading a fertility education pilot in London schools) and actress Tina Malone (of Brookside and Shameless). The thing that really shocked me is that of the five women featured, Geeta and I were the only ones that strongly felt that better fertility education for school-age children is needed. In fact Tina’s opening statement was that she felt it was ethically and morally wrong!

The next day at the RCOG, Tina would have been in the minority. Most of the audience was already converted. Doctors, scientists, charity leaders, educators and young people themselves were all advocating for the importance of better sex and relationship education in schools. One of my favourite speakers of the day was Professor Soren Ziebe from Denmark . He opened his session by asking how many of the audience were parents. The vast majority put their hand up. He then asked them to keep their hand down unless they disagreed with the statement ‘that having children had been the most important thing that had happened in their lives’. This time nobody put their hand up. Everybody kept it down. My heart-rushed. Of course it did. But this blog isn’t about that, it’s about fertility education.

Essentially Professor Ziebe’s thesis was that given the audience’s answer, we owe it to young people today to educate them better about fertility aging because if we don’t we might be denying them the chance to become parents. In Denmark they have started to do this by a major intervention programme including a high profile advertising campaign asking women: ‘Have you counted your eggs today?’ as well as a prime time TV show called ‘Fuck for Denmark’. He said it’s got people mad but they have got the message.

So in the Q & A session at the end of the day, I decided to ask a direct question. I said: given everything we’d heard about fertility aging did the panel feel we should be encouraging women to have children in their mid twenties at the biologically optimum time?’ I specifically asked them to answer in one word and everybody said ‘no’. I’ll say it again to make sure you read that. Every single person on that panel said ‘no’ (NB. it didn’t include the Professor from Denmark).

Now, as one of the panelists said later, it was an unfair question because we shouldn’t encourage anyone to do anything, we should just give them the information and let them decide for themselves. And of course that’s right but the thing is every doctor in that room knows that leaving parenthood later is one of the key reasons why the fertility industry is booming. And every doctor in that room knows that IVF doesn’t always work in fact roughly two thirds of all cycles fail. And every doctor in that room will tell you that if you want the least risk of facing fertility issues of any kind you should start trying to conceive in your mid twenties.

The problem is we women have fought so long for equality. Like all those women in Denmark, we don’t want anyone telling us what to do with our eggs. And yet, let me remind you, that every single person in that room who was a parent said that having children was the most important thing that had ever happened in their lives. So I now feel that it’s my turn to answer the question and I hope you’ll forgive me for taking the liberty of using three words not one. And they are: ‘No but Yes’.

Because of course, like the panel, I believe in education and choice (I said exactly that on the Victoria Derbyshire show) but the truth is if women want the best chance of having their own biological children with the least risk of the heartbreak and cost of struggling to conceive and going through fertility treatment which may or may not work then surely the answer has to be ‘Yes’. And I know that brings issues of women’s equality in education and in the workplace and in the home. I also know the struggle that women have gone through to achieve everything we have so far. But sooner or later we’re going to have to tackle this issue as well. Sorry sisters, but we are.

http://www.thepursuitofmotherhood.com

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