Swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood
After 11 unsuccessful IVF cycles and giving over a decade of her life to fertility treatment, Jessica Hepburn took on a different challenge - to swim the English Channel. Along her training journey she met with 21 inspirational women (one for each mile of the Channel) to figure out if motherhood makes you happy.
On the launch of the paperback version of her book 21 Miles, we speak to her about swimming the channel, the women she met and what she learnt along the way.
Use your energy for something positive
After undergoing years of IVF treatment, it was clear that Jessica could cope with endurance, so she transferred this energy in to exercise and training to swim the channel. Exercise can be hard if you don’t enjoy it but having a challenge to work towards allowed Jessica to commit to her goals and helped with her mental health. “I always felt my body was strong.” says Jessica, “I learnt that I’m good at physical and mental endurance and to use this positively to raise awareness of infertility.”
Accept you can’t always be in control
Swimming the channel isn’t easy and despite all the training and doing everything she could to prepare, some things are always out of your control. For Jessica, mother nature intervened, and the weather and tides affected her swim. “This helped me to accept that some things are out of our control and that sometimes things don’t work out.” she says.
Like training for a channel swim, IVF patients do everything they can to prepare for treatment from eating healthily to cutting down drinking alcohol to seeking alternative therapies. Despite the huge advances in science, we still cannot control the outcome of fertility treatment.
Make the most of your life
For every mile, Jessica met inspirational women from professors to baronesses in the quest to understand if motherhood makes you happy. This included biological mums, foster mums, step mums and women who wanted to be mums but never got the opportunity. For her, retired police Chief Constable Julie Spence stood out and is now a great friend (despite standing her up on their first meeting). In her police career Julie applied for the position of Chief Constable thirteen times before being accepted.
“For me, Julie is so inspirational. She pushed and pushed in her career despite the adversity and makes the most of her life”. Now retired, Julie is the chair of the Cambridge Wellbeing of Women charity and travels the world.
Learning from her journey
There are two key messages that Jessica wants her readers to take away from her book. The first is that there are many routes to parenthood. “You may imagine it to be one way, but alternative routes exist.” says Jessica, “You’ll know when this route is at an end and it’s time to explore other things.” She also encourages people to consider these options early rather than exhausting your current route to the point you can’t carry on.
The second important message is “Don’t give up on project you for project baby.” says Jessica, “You can have a fulfilling life without children.” After giving up a decade of her life to fertility treatment Jessica took her life back by swimming the channel in 2015, running the London marathon in 2017 and is now preparing for her biggest challenge to climb Mount Everest in 2020.
Alongside her endurance challenges, this April Jessica and her business partner Gabby Vautier, are hosting Fertility Fest an arts festival that aims to use the power of the arts to discuss the emotional impact of fertility treatment. For more information on the festival and to book your tickets, please visit their website.