One of the things that struck me most about Jessica Hepburn when I first met her was her emotional honesty and clarity.
One of her most memorable quotes was: “Your greatest wound can become your greatest gift.”
Her personal journey through infertility including 11 unsuccessful IVF cycles , is one that has taken her from the pain of that wound to a freedom to live a life she never consciously wanted or expected but which she cherishes and lives to the full.
She acknowledges that not everybody is so fortunate: “I feel really blessed that I’ve been able to travel through my pain.” She is determined to help as many others as she can to realise the freedom that she has experienced.
Jessica is very proud to be North London born and bred
She has one half-sister from her mum’s first marriage but she left home when Jessica was quite young so she was effectively brought up as an only child.
Jessica studied English at university and was very lucky that she knew from a fairly early age that she wanted to work in the arts. Jessica worked in theatre and ran The Lyric Theatre at Hammersmith for ten years before leaving to pursue a career as a writer and to campaign for the cause of infertility as well as other related causes.
Her first book is called The Pursuit of Motherhood and she is now finishing her second book which involved interviewing several women about the impact of motherhood on their lives and on them as individuals.
“When I was writing my book such is the shame that surrounds infertility I had decided to use a pseudonym so I wouldn’t have to feel that shame. After some soul searching I decided to use my real name. I now realise that was such a significant decision. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this – talk about infertility and all the emotions that surround it, swim the Channel, be planning to climb Everest – my life would have been completely different.”
So where is Jessica now so far as her desire to be a mother is concerned?
“As a woman up until the day you have your last period there is still a tiny chance that you could become a mother. Having had 11 rounds of IVF (the last one 3 years ago) I would have to say that I have pretty well let go of the idea of becoming a biological mother.”
“What has happened with me is that in meeting all the amazing women I have met through writing my book I have realised there are many different routes to motherhood whether it be egg donation, surrogacy, fostering, adoption or whatever.
At the moment I am discovering that there is an amazing life to be lived so I am not pursuing any of those avenues but I’m not ruling them out at some point in the future.”
“I resist the label of “childless” because I could envisage me at the age of 50 becoming a foster mother.”
She firmly believes that if life doesn’t work out the way you thought it would you need to look for another way.
She explains: “If the thing that you really want doesn’t work you have to find other things in life that you are passionate about. It’s really important to find the thing that’s right for you.”
She says that other people certainly don’t have to do what she has done. Jessica recognises that she is a person of extremes – “to go through 11 cycles of IVF, to swim the Channel, to decide to climb Everest – that’s just not normal, but it’s who I am.”
“You need to find out what your Everest is. If you are one of the people doing the big things like me it does give you a platform to speak out from. I am not saying that anybody else needs to do what I’m doing – no way! I’m very extreme and I’m weird. But it is really important to find other passions in life and to live them.”
How has her journey affected her relationship with your husband?
“Gosh, it’s so hard to know because relationships are so complex. I think what IVF does to relationships is that it pulls you together at times and it pulls you apart at times.
“For us it was after we stopped going through treatment that the fault lines in our relationship really became apparent.
“My partner completely supports me in my work to raise awareness of this issue and yet at the same time he hates every second of it as he – and I – are very private people and I have become a very public figure.”
How were your relationships with friends affected when they had children?
“I think it’s really hard because you all start trying for a baby at around the same time. You all want this reality and it happens for them but not for you which is really hard to deal with.
“In my book I describe it as the pain of never – it’s like being outside a sweet shop looking in and not being allowed to have what’s inside.
“Then it creates this toxic situation where they feel terrible inviting you to say a christening and so the next time they don’t invite you and that feels terrible too – it’s a no win situation – it hurts being asked and it hurts not being asked.”
How has this pain diminished?
“That’s where “coming out” really, really helped me with my relationships with my friends and family. Up until then my wanting a baby had been the elephant in the room. After I came out I was able to talk about it and say that to be asked hurt and to not be asked hurt so then they could say “ok which hurt do you want today?” It just made communication so much more honest”.
Jessica adds: “That’s not to say that pregnancy announcements didn’t remain incredibly difficult – even now I find that really hard to hear. It still hurts that other people tried and they got there and I didn’t.”
There’s a Japanese proverb that Jessica loves and that beautifully sums her up:
“There’s another life that I could have had but I’m having this one.” And she is certainly embracing this one and living it to the full.
You can follow Jessica’s blog by visiting The Pursuit of Motherhood