A Story of Love and Life

Other people’s pregnancy announcements are always going to hurt. It’s like I said in my film for Fertility Network UK about the ‘pain of never’: one of the things that infertility does to you is that you can never feel happy for someone when they announce they’re pregnant without feeling sad for yourself at the same time.

So on Friday when an email popped into my inbox with the header: ‘My biggest news ever! Yes. After five years, we’re having a Sprout!’, I felt that familiar pang. Rachel Campbell, is someone I’ve connected with over the last few years through my book and blog. She writes her own blog called ‘Sprout & Co’ and has had a long and heartbreaking struggle to conceive. We’ve never met – she lives in Australia – but I’ve always enjoyed her emails because they are filled with beautiful images of the antipodean sun and sea and, of course, because she hadn’t been able to conceive I felt a sense of solidarity.

Now Rachel’s twenty weeks pregnant and about to become a mum. And, yes, I felt that thing I always feel but when I read her email and watched the announcement film she’s made about her story – which she describes as one of ‘love, life and egg donation’ – a gift from her younger sister – my heart just soared with unadulterated joy. Do click and watch it here and have your heart soar too!

The longer I walk the road of infertility the more I feel that two things are becoming completely clear. The first is that the pain of not being able to make a baby the way you wanted to, never goes away. The second is there are many different routes to parenthood if you’re prepared to find a way to get there. So if you’re not there yet, keep looking.

And that’s enough philosophy for a Sunday night. Except to say, congratulations Rachel from the bottom of my infertile heart.




Hidden Faces

October is an important month for making babies. It culminates in National Fertility Awareness Week (Monday 31st October to Sunday 6th November) along with The Fertility Show – the biggest IVF trade fair in the UK – where I’ll be speaking for the third year running.

This month the national charity Fertility Network UK has launched a campaign to raise the profile of what it means to face fertility issues. It’s called Hidden Faces and aims to show the real people behind fertility struggles because despite the fact it’s estimated that 1-in-6 are affected, the experience of infertility remains a subject shrouded in secrecy and shame.

I’m passionate about changing this. Unless people know how it feels, how will the world ever understand? And if the world doesn’t understand, how will we fight for equality of access to treatment in a country that prides itself on having a National Health Service but where getting IVF is dwindling and dependent on where you live? And how will those of us who have been through fertility issues grieve and rebuild our lives if no-one understands or wants to treat our pain? In saying this I’m not just referring to people like me for whom IVF didn’t work, but also those who went through the darkness and came out with the dream, because they remain deeply scarred by the process too. Whatever your outcome, we are not different, we are the same.

Coming out about my pursuit of motherhood was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I hoped that if I tried for a baby hard enough, I would eventually be rewarded and no-one would need to know. I didn’t want to publicly admit to what felt like the biggest failure of my life. But eventually I did: I did come out and it saved me. So I am honoured to be the first face of the Hidden Faces campaign. Within less than 24 hours of my film being posted by Fertility Network UK on Facebook it had been viewed over 5,000 times. If you haven’t seen it already, please watch it and share the ‘pain of never’.

By happenstance this October also marks three years since I started writing this blog. My very first post was called: Spreading the Secret. I guess you could say I’m still at it and three years on this is what I know: shame is toxic and it breeds in silence. Sometimes the only way to combat it is by going viral.



Australia Day

Today is my Australia Day. I know it’s not the 26th January, it’s the 21st of September so I hope my antipodean readers will forgive me. But today is my Australia Day because I want to tell you about two astonishing pieces of creative work by two Australian artists that have blown my heart and mind.

The first is by Simon Stone. He is the writer and theatre director (two talents that are rarely brought together here in the UK on the same stage) who has created Yerma at the Young Vic. The man is a genius. The play is based on a piece by the early twentieth century Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca which is set in rural Spain. Stone relocates the story to contemporary London – even Brexit is on his characters’ lips – and just his ability to reinvent the original so skilfully would be impressive enough. But, boy, this man knows how to direct. These days, I rarely see anything in the theatre that surprises me, delights me, moves me, grips me from beginning to end but Yerma does that and more. I want to worship at this man’s feet. I want the world to see this play.

And I also want the world to read Julia Leigh’s new book Avalanche (published elsewhere already and in the UK by Faber & Faber on the 6th October). She is the second person I honour on my Australia Day. Julia is a writer and film director who over the last decade has been amassing her own impressive army of fans. The nobel prize-winning authors JM Coetzee and Toni Morrison have both praised her work. And now to add to her novels, Julia has published a searing memoir: lyrical, beautiful and true. And for this I worship her too because with all her creative success, Julia didn’t need to lay her life and inner most feelings bare, but she did. She is not only a superb artist but also a great human being because of it.

Both Yerma and Avalanche are about the experience of longing for a child but not being able to create one, however hard you try. They are about how the struggle to conceive takes over your life; how your relationships break down because of it; how your sanity and self are destroyed. They are about a subject that no one really wants to talk about and that society doesn’t seem to want to understand. Yet, it’s an experience that is happening on every street from England to Australia and it’s a social phenomenon that will shape the world in years to come. So we have to talk about it and understand it. Don’t we?

I walked past the Young Vic yesterday at lunchtime and people were already queuing out the door for returns. Yerma has rightly received five star reviews across the board and the run has sold out. And last week Avalanche was reviewed on the front cover of the book pages of the New York Times. When artists make art that is this good, people want to read and go regardless of what it is about. The understanding of infertility that comes with it might be just a bi-product but it’s going to be vital to future generations, that I know. So this is why I am celebrating Australia Day in September. Simon, Julia, thank you and hurrah.




A Score Draw

Just over a week ago it was my Channelversary – the name that is fondly given to the day you took on the little strip of sea between England and France and won. Or should that be, the day the Channel let me beat her because she was always in control of the outcome not me. I remain forever grateful that on the 2 September 2015 she let me cross her sea.

One of the things I never expected before I took on my Channel Challenge was how many parallels there were going to be with IVF. If I had, maybe I’d never have done it. There’s the physical and mental toughness needed for the training; there’s The Wait (like the Two Week Wait) you have to suffer through before you get to swim; and then there’s the acceptance that ultimately nature will decide your fate not you. If the Channel won’t let you cross her, there’s nothing you can do.

And now I’ve realized that climbing mountains is just the same as swimming seas and conceiving babies. At Christmas I successfully climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa and now I’ve just come back from two weeks in the Alps, the culmination of which I had hoped to summit Mont Blanc. But the weather’s been unseasonably warm, the rock fall has become too dangerous, and although I had a wonderful time climbing smaller peaks – and can now confidently strap on a pair of crampons and wield an ice axe – the White Mountain remains unclimbed, unconquered.

I often wonder why I transposed my pursuit of motherhood onto open water swimming and, now, I am asking that question of myself again in relation to scaling mountains. Maybe it’s because me and nature have a date with destiny and I want to prove that she will sometimes let me win. At the moment it feels like we’re on a score draw. Two to me (The Channel and Kilimanjaro) and two to her (IVF and Mont Blanc). So here’s the question: who will score next? Who is ultimately going to win?




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)…


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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.


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!


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.





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.


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.