Jessica Hepburn is on a mission to normalise infertility and her Fertility Festival is helping to do just that

Jessica Hepburn is on a mission, a mission to bring infertility to the forefront of people’s psyche and normalise it. Is that too much to ask? No way, she tells IVF Babble…

Which is why she has created the incredible Fertility Festival, with her dear friend Gabby Vautier. In its second year, it has grown from a two-day arts event to a six-day arts extravaganza, hosting a whopping 150 events at the Bush Theatre, in London this May.

The idea for the arts festival was born out of a conversation the pair had some years ago. It was originally built around play, The Quiet House, created by Gabby’s playwright husband, Gareth Farr, and has grown rapidly from last year’s debut success.

This year visitors are invited to explore fertility and families in the modern age using visual arts, literature talks, debates and discussions, films, delving into a world no-one really wants to be an official member of.

“The festival is all about feelings and philosophy, which is what artists do well and the reason I love it so much. It encourages conversations to take place that might feel uncomfortable and awkward, and to break down the barriers that we all face when going through infertility,’ Jessica says.

At 47 Jessica, an author and former theatre director, knows this journey better than most, after 11 rounds of IVF, miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy that proved near fatal, she has accepted her path in this world,

But through the heartbreak and pain she continues to come up with innovative and exciting new ways to break the taboo of infertility.

“The pain of what I have been through will never go away, but it doesn’t mean I can’t do some incredible things over the next 50 years. There are other things you can do that you can treasure.”

You probably know at least one other person who struggled to get pregnant, but it is highly likely that they kept it a secret or hidden due to the shame that surrounds the subject.

This is where the Fertility Festival comes into play. The arts festival has several different themes, IVF treatment and what it is, childlessness and IVF failure, a man’s experience, it addresses the big societal questions, such as reproduction as big business, religion and race, and also IVF parenting.

“We wanted to make sure that we had something for everyone when it comes to their fertility. One of the big things for me is that when on this journey, you don’t know how or where it will end. What it has taught me is that it is I will be okay. I went through all of that and I am still here and still thriving, she says.

Education is also a big part of the festival, with the Modern Families Project.

This looks to education young people on reproductive science in a fun and informed way, but it also looks at how anyone going through a fertility journey can educate their friends and family in the language that is used.

So what can we expect from the festival? There is a packed line-up on offer, including a variety of free and paid for events.

The event kicks off on Tuesday. May 8 with the launch of Jessica’s new book, 21 Miles: Swimming in Search of the Meaning of Motherhood,  chaired by presenter and author, Janet Ellis and an exhibition based on fertility art, which is free to enter.

Wednesday’s highlights include a free talk with Rachel Cathan, author of 336 Hours (that’s the number of hours in two weeks); Tracey Sainsbury, counsellor at the London Women’s Clinic and author of Making Friends With Your Fertility; and Francesca Steyn, head of nursing at the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health will be here to help you survive.

Another must is for anyone who is childless, whatever the reason. There’s ‘More To Life’ Than Having Children is a forum of well-informed women, including Jodie Day, founder of support network Gateway Women and Kelly Da Silva, who founded The Dovecote Organisation, who, along with many others, will discuss life without children. Hosted by Catherine Strawbridge, of Fertility Network UK, tickets are £10.

On Thursday, May 10 there will be a parents of IVF babies lunch club, which is another free event, though lunch is extra. IVF parents are invited to come along for the chance to discuss their thoughts on their journey and meet other like-minded parents. It will be hosted by co-director of the arts festival, Gabby Vautier, an IVF mother of twins, along with Saskia Boujo, creator of the IVF and Proud brand and Helen Davies, author of More Love to Give, on secondary infertility.

Day tickets can be purchased on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which are jam packed with events,  with the option to attend at least five events of your choice.

Highlights include The Doctor in the Bedroom, with author Izzy Judd, who will discuss her personal journey and photographer, Sophie Ingleby, will talk about her project, SEED, which documents a patient’s journey through IVF. They will be joined by Dr Jane Stewart, head of Newcastile Fertility Centre and Dr James Nicopoullos, senior consultant at the Lister Clinic.

Fertility Fight Club is a chance to have your say on all things fertility and will take place throughout the three main festival days. Chaired by a variety of experts and artists, it will be streamed live on Facebook. Topics include: Why are you paying extra for unproven treatments? Why Don’t You Just Adopt?

Men are often forgotten in the fertility world, so there are plenty of events for men, including a therapeutic walk for men on Wednesday, film The Invisible Man, which centres around Terry, a man heartbroken after the breakdown of a relationship due to infertility, which is being shown on Friday, on Sunday photographer, Aaron Deemer will discuss his arts project, in which he documents semen sample rooms across the UK and Gareth Farr, playwright of The Quiet Room, discusses his journey to fatherhood.

There are also talks on the challenges the LGBT community faces, in The Queer Family forum, a look back at the past 40 years of IVF in the year Louise Brown marks her 40th birthday, Race, Religion and Reproduction will delve into different cultures and discuss what different pressures and prejudices are faced, the Business of Fertility will look at how fertility had become big business for clinics and whether enough is being done to support patients, which will be chaired by Fertility Podcast’s, Natalie Silverman.

Several fertility art exhibitions will also be held throughout the six-day event, with works from Anna Burel and Isabel Davis, Fiona Duffelen, Gina Glover and Foz Foster.

Asked what message Jessica would give to anyone who might be thinking about coming along, she said: “You will be among friends, who you may not know yet, but who understand what you are or have gone through. The moment you enter you will feel like you are being given a hug. Please also don’t feel like you have to participate, many people like to come along to watch and listen to the discussion.”

For a full events listing and ticketing information click here to visit The Fertility Festival 2018 website.

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