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Reproductive and gynaecological health 2019

IVF and Me: Jessica Hepburn

Jessica Hepburn - Author, Fertility Campaigner and Founder of Fertility Fest

Exactly five years ago, I published my first book The Pursuit of Motherhood. It was inspired (if that’s right word…) by a decade of fertility treatment. It involved eleven rounds of IVF, multiple miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy that almost took my life.

Since then, I have written another book and founded Fertility Fest – the world’s first arts festival dedicated to fertility. Oh, and I’ve also run the London Marathon, swum the English Channel and am training to climb Mount Everest next year – to raise awareness of what it means to struggle to create the family you long for.

I don’t necessarily advocate this is as a way to live a life – it’s come out of a lot of heart-break and sometimes it’s pretty exhausting – but I feel passionate about improving fertility education and helping more people create the families they dream of – with or without children, with or without reproductive science.

“IVF is a modern miracle”

IVF is a modern miracle – since it was pioneered in the UK, 40 years ago, it has created millions of babies worldwide. It’s no longer the preserve of heterosexual couples experiencing fertility problems, it’s increasingly being used by same sex couples and single people with no fertility problems at all.

Plus new and emerging reproductive technologies mean that it’s only a matter of time before it completely changes the way the human race is made – eradicating genetic diseases, even giving people the opportunity to select particular traits for their children. But – and it’s a big but – it doesn’t work every time for everyone and this is something that needs to be understood much more.

IVF can be an emotional, physical and financial roller-coaster

If you are on the fertility treatment roller-coaster you need to be prepared for the biggest physical, emotional and possibly financial journey of your life. The disappointing decline of IVF on the NHS means the majority of patients have to pay for their treatment and, like me, you may find yourself re-mortgaging your house.

So here’s a little advice from an IVF veteran. My top three tips for anyone going through fertility treatment:

1. Do your research

Choose your clinic carefully, seek a diagnosis and make sure that you understand the reason for the treatments you are being prescribed (remembering that this is an emerging area of healthcare and there’s still a lot we don’t know so you need to become an expert in your own body, listen to all the advice and trust your instinct). The HFEA (the Government Regulator of fertility treatment) is a great resource, as is The Fertility Show (the UK’s largest patient event) which takes place in Manchester in March and London in November.

2. Get yourself some emotional support

I always say that by far the worst part of IVF treatment is not what’s happening to your body, it’s what’s going on in your head. Infertility is possibly one of the hardest things any human can go through. But There’s an increasing amount of support available – from social media communities to trained fertility counsellors and coaches; from support groups to events like Fertility Fest. Check out the website of Fertility Network UK – the national charity supporting people with fertility problems for information.

3. Don’t give up on ‘Project You’ for ‘Project Baby

I lost a decade of life to my pursuit of motherhood, trying to control something that was ultimately out of my control. Creating a family is very important, but there are other things to achieve in life that can bring you joy as well. I’m not suggesting you necessarily need to go and swim a sea or a climb mountain. But it is an option and one that’s very fulfilling as well. The important thing is to live life as big and bravely as possible: whatever your fertility story, however it ends.

Jessica Hepburn is an author, arts producer and adventure activist. She has written two books The Pursuit of Motherhood (2014) and 21 Miles: swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood (2018). In 2016 she founded Fertility Fest, the world’s first arts festival dedicated to fertility, infertility, the science of making babies and modern families. This year’s flagship festival takes place at London’s Barbican 23rd April – 18th May – with smaller satellite festivals throughout the year including The Fertility Show Manchester on 23 & 24 March.

Other resources: The HFEA | The Fertility Show | Fertility Network UK

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