This Time Next Week

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

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

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

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

Much love,

Jessica x

Half Marathon

AFOG

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

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

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘Another fucking opportunity for growth!’ she said.

We laughed. A lot.

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

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

Here’s a picture of my tired feet.

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

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

IMG_1199

Made In A Moondance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 20.21.58

http://www.thepursuitofmotherhood.com

Fire and Ashes

It’s shaping up to be a mad March…

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

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

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

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

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

screen-shot-2017-03-05-at-21-35-32

www.thepursuitofmotherhood.com

The Right To Try

When I was a little girl, I always imagined that when I grew up I would be a mother. I had it all planned out: two girls; two boys; and a house full of noise. I also always thought one day I would run the London Marathon, the most iconic long distance race in the city where I was born, grew up and live today. Although the first dream hasn’t quite gone to plan, it’s not going to stop me pursuing the other. This year on Sunday 23rd April, I will be at the starting line in Greenwich pointing west towards the Mall.

I feel honoured to have secured an official charity place to run for Fertility Network UK – the national charity supporting everyone who has experienced fertility problems. In today’s blog, I am launching my sponsorship campaign in the hope of encouraging everyone I know to support them by supporting me. If you’re feeling flush/generous/kindly-coerced, you can read more and donate here.

As I am writing this, I do feel mindful of fundraising fatigue. We all get asked to sponsor people all the time and I’m conscious that many people have already sponsored me in 2015 to swim the English Channel. I will always be so grateful for your support. But this is my pledge: the London Marathon is the second of three personal fundraising challenges that I am planning to undertake during my forties. The final one won’t be for a few more years and after that I’ll be off your case, I promise! Any amount, however small, will mean so much to me and FNUK.

I’m doing all this because a while ago I decided to dedicate this decade of my life to improving the lives of people who struggle to create the families they long for. One of the many ways I’m trying to do this is by raising the profile of and money for charities like Fertility Network UK who are doing vital work to support people going through fertility issues. I would urge everyone to read about their day of action on the 25th March calling for ‘The Right To Try’ – because whilst no-one has the right to have a baby, everyone surely has the right to try and the only way to achieve this is by ensuring there is equality of access to treatment.

I also really need your sponsorship to help me to run. Whilst I’m pretty confident about my determination and endurance, I have always run at the speed of a snail so my real challenge with the London Marathon is to do it in what (for me) is a good time. I’m not confident enough to disclose what I think that is yet (my heart quickens at the thought) and please don’t get any ‘sub-four’ ideas (that’s just impossible when you’re starting from a place where you regularly get overtaken by small dogs and toddling children). But I do want to stretch myself, so I will tell you this…

I ran my first ever half marathon in March last year (you may have read about it on my blog) but what I didn’t tell you then is that I did it in 2 hours and 43 minutes and if you know anything at all about running, you’ll know that’s slow. It’s the kind of pace that when you get to the finishing line, everyone else has already gone home. And whilst I was delighted to complete it, I knew then that my challenge is to become a better runner for all the mid-forties women who are keen to find their inner Mo Farah.

So please sponsor me because I may never be a mother and I may never even be a runner but like all the hardest challenges in life, the important thing is to have THE RIGHT TO TRY.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserPage.action?userUrl=JessicaHepburn&faId=778906&isTeam=false

16665660_704781626362858_6762907625938368753_o

A is for Argentina. B is for Beyoncé.

I’m back! Goodbye Argentina. Hello London.

It’s great to be home but, before you die, if you possibly can, you must see a tango show in Buenos Aires; drink a glass of Malbec in Mendoza; ride like a gaucho across the Pampas (I highly recommend doing it at this place – Los Potreros); and visit the Iguazu Falls – there’s no other word for them but awesome. And, of course, if you feel like you want to, you must also climb the highest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemisphere – Aconcagua.

So this week, A is for Argentina – one of the most amazing countries in the world – but B has to be for Beyoncé.

I wonder whether it was just a coincidence that the night before the Carters’ twin-pregnancy announcement, I was sitting in an Argentinian hotel room, listening to Jay Z’s Glory – his song about the birth of their first daughter, Blue Ivy. Was it just coincidence or did my psyche somehow know, ever attuned to other people’s pregnancy announcements like so many people who have struggled to conceive.

Prior to the birth of their first baby, the couple experienced a miscarriage. Beyoncé has spoken of it; in Glory, Jay-Z sung about it. This and the five year wait for their second child and the announcement that the couple are expecting twins has naturally led me to wonder – although nothing has been officially said – whether the couple might have been through IVF?

If they have, I truly hope they’ll say. I hope they’ll talk about the pain, inadequacy and uncertainty of struggling to conceive. I hope they’ll highlight how much it costs and how it doesn’t always work. I hope they’ll talk about the need to improve fertility education so that women are better placed to make choices between motherhood and their careers. I hope along with their delight at being blessed ‘two times over’, they’ll also mention the possible danger of multiple births. And if, as some people are saying, they’ve chosen the sex of their twins, I hope they’ll talk about the ethics of reproductive science and its increasing ability to design human-beings.

Because me writing and talking about the pursuit of motherhood is one thing. But if Beyoncé does, then things really might start to change. So this week, A is for Argentina and B is for Beyoncé. And C, well, C is for the Clooneys who are also, allegedly, expecting twins…

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-17-48-40

http://www.thepursuitofmotherhood.com

 

 

Summit

I did it. I climbed the highest mountain in South America, one of the world’s seven summits and the biggest peak outside the Himalayas. This is not a picture of me at the top – note to self, iphone cameras don’t work on seven thousand metre mountains – this is a picture of me signing my name on the ‘Aconcagua Wall of Fame’ back in Mendoza.

Boy, it was tough – one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And I’m not just talking the final summit day, which was twelve gruelling hours up, followed by three further excruciating hours down. I’m talking two weeks in a tent. I’m talking the hot, the cold, the dust, the wind. I’m talking all the acclimatization climbs needed beforehand to get used to surviving without a lot of air.

I shared my time on the mountain with Sir Ranulph Fiennes who apparently tried to summit on the same day as me and sadly didn’t make it to the top. I kiss that man’s feet for attempting to climb it, aged 72, because this is undoubtedly a mountain made for male machines in their 20s and 30s. If I wasn’t so stiff, I might kiss my feet too because although I’m significantly younger than Sir R, I was still one of the only and oldest women up there. I’ve decided to think of it as my own small contribution to the marches that took place around the world yesterday – I’d like to see you take on Argentina’s Aconcagua Mr President.

Having said that, I did think many times, what am I doing here? How did my pursuit of motherhood reach this wild and windy place? This is hard. It’s even harder than IVF. Yet, when I finally got to the top, and the Andes were stretched out below me, I knelt down and wept. I do it because this is life in Technicolor and if you can’t have the family photo you always dreamed of, then you’ve got to create other memories and hope that there will be someone around who’s got a proper camera to take a picture. On the 16th January 2017, I did and luckily there was. My true summit photo will be with you soon and, until then, you’ll find me drinking Malbec in Mendoza!

img_1093

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-18-38-39

http://www.thepursuitofmotherhood.com

Don’t Cry For Me

Feliz año nuevo. That’s happy new year in Spanish because I’m writing this from Argentina. I arrived yesterday and have to say that I highly recommend new year’s eve in Buenos Aires.

Today I’ve been on the trail of Eva Perón, the country’s legendary First Lady known the world over as Evita. Pictured below is me outside the famed Casa Rosada – where she preached from the balcony to the Argentinian people. I’ve also been to her museum and grave. I’m always fascinated by extraordinary women – especially those who never had children – eager to find out how they fashioned a life for themselves without motherhood.

But there’s another, bigger, reason I’m here. In a few days time, I’m off to climb a massive mountain. It’s called Aconcagua and I won’t blame you if you’ve never heard of it because I hadn’t until earlier this year. Aconcagua is the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas and at 6961 metres, it is over a thousand metres higher than Kilimanjaro which I climbed this time last year. It will take three weeks – so forgive me if my next blog is a little out of sync because massive mountains are one of the few places left in the world which don’t have Wi-Fi – but I’ll be sure to let you know how I got on when I get down.

This morning I started reading The Tango Singer by Tomás Eloy Martínez. It’s set in Buenos Aires and is about a quest to find an elusive tango singer with the most beautiful voice in the world. I love reading books set in the place I’m visiting and, well, you know how much I love quests. First there was my quest to become a mother (more about that in my book The Pursuit of Motherhood). Then there was my quest to swim the English Channel (the subject of – watch this space – my next book 21 Miles to Happiness). And now, I’m on a quest to climb Argentina’s Aconcagua. As I’ve been walking around the city today, I’ve been thinking about how I seem to be making a habit of taking on quests where nature is in control of the outcome not me – she decides whether you have a baby; she also decides whether she’ll let you climb a mountain or a swim a sea. And what these quests are teaching me is that nature is to be treasured and revered but life with or without summits, shores and even children is still a wild and wonderful thing. So in the words of that true tragedienne Evita, whatever happens: don’t cry for me Argentina.

2016-12-31-15-56-48

Christmas is coming…

…and the goose is getting fat. As is the Christmas lurgy. Has it got you yet? It has me. In fact, last night I took two Night Nurse (my wonder drug) and slept through until 10.30am this morning. This is unheard of for me – I usually wake up at five. Suffice to say, I felt a whole lot better but half the day was gone by the time I got there. It’s discombobulated me, hence the late entry of my blog tonight.

Christmas is always a difficult time for those people who are in pursuit of parenthood or who are childless not by choice. It’s the same for the many children in the world who, for whatever reason, aren’t able to be part of their own happy family either. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the similarities between us and there will be more from me on this in the future so keep reading this space… But, for now, if you’re worried about the week ahead, I also know some brilliant people who have written and spoken about how to cope with Christmas without the family you long for. I would highly recommend you take a listen to Fertility Poddy’s latest post on the subject. It could be the best present you give yourself!

As for me, well, my answer is to keep very busy so there’s no time to think about what I haven’t got. But that does, of course, make you very susceptible to the Christmas lurgy…

http://www.thepursuitofmotherhood.com

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-22-15-56

Add-Ons

I am writing this from the tranquility of the Scottish Highlands after a crazy, busy week.

On Monday evening, I was on BBC’s Panorama programme: Inside Britain’s Fertility Business which then, inevitably, resulted in lots of other things. Radio, newspapers, and more TV. If you haven’t read it yet, do have a look at my Guardian Opinion piece on the whole shebang.

The Panorama programme explored the proliferation of fertility treatment ‘add-ons’ which are being given (for a fee) to patients trying to conceive. A study by Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine into 27 treatments has found that 26 have no good scientific proof of success. I won’t elaborate here because you can watch the programme and read my article if you’re interested in the detail.

What I will say though is that this is a complex issue. Some people – including doctors and patients – really think these ‘add-ons’ work. Some people really think they don’t. Some people think the Panorama programme was one-sided. Some people think it’s investigative journalism at its best.

I think – and I hope whenever I speak and write this comes across– that I don’t know the answer. But I do know that the world needs to get better for people facing fertility issues and therefore it’s vital that this and so many other conversations are had.

So to end this crazy, busy week I’ve come to the Scottish Highlands for my own add-on – a weekend of swimming in lochs and sea! And I know many people will think: swimming in Scotland in December, are you mad? Well, maybe, but this is an add-on that works for me.

IMG_1040.jpg

Me about to swim…

http://www.thepursuitofmotherhood.com