Fertility Fest aiming to provoke discussion and social change

The world’s first fertility arts festival can be a tool for social change, according to the festival’s founder.

After two pilot runs, Fertility Fest launched on Tuesday at Bush Theatre and will run until Sunday, hosting a weekend packed with discussions, plays, book readings and art exhibitions exploring fertility and infertility in today’s society.

The festival is founded by Jessica Hepburn who went through the ordeal of 11 rounds of IVF treatment, multiple miscarriages, and an ectopic pregnancy, all while running popular venue The Lyric Hammersmith.

She said:  “Everyone knows someone who’s been through IVF or who have struggled to conceive or now more and more women are having children on their own, more and more same sex couples are having families and surrogacy has grown exponentially.

“This is happening on every street, in every town, in every country.”

The idea of putting on a fertility festival sparked after Jessica, 47, published her first book in 2014 called The Pursuit of Motherhood.

Now a high-profile voice on infertility as well as executive arts director of west London’s biggest theatre, Jessica started to hear from several artists whose work was along a similar vein.

Not long after the release of her book, Jessica and her colleague Gabby Vautier – who is an example of IVF success having had twins – put on two small-scale festivals, one in Birmingham and the other in London.

“The response was overwhelming for all different reasons. Not least because we believed that the arts are just such a powerful way of exploring this multifaceted subject.

“From the beginning we always wanted to have artists alongside fertility experts and one of the big reasons for that is that we’re using the festival to create social change, to create the changes that we think are needed around the subject of infertility, fertility, and the science of making babies,” Jessica said.

Saturday and Sunday’s events include ‘What comes first, the career or the egg?’ ‘No longer extraordinary: parenting after IVF’ and ‘The Queer Family’ as well as events specifically geared towards men with infertility.

Jessica added: “If you ask teenage girls whether they want a family in the future 99% of them will say yes. But we know only 80% of them are getting families now. So there’s a sort of disconnect there.

“But on the other hand this science is creating families for communities that weren’t able to create families before, particularly the same sex community, and single people.

“We use the arts to explode all these conversations, which I don’t think are being had.”

A 2017 study found that 17% of women born in 1970 have no children, compared with just 9% of women born in 1946.

The rise of childless women can be put down to a number of factors, with one such factor being that women are leaving it later in life to conceive.

Whatever the causes, Wednesday night’s panel discussion revealed that infertility is emotionally challenging, with grief a common theme.

On the panel was Jody Day, founder of the global friendship and support network “Gateway Women” and author of Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children.

Jody said she had come to terms with herself as a childless woman after years of grief, and stressed the importance of raising awareness for childlessness and infertility.

She said: “No one would actually let me talk about the pain I was in, and I had no idea how I was going to get out of that pain.

“Childlessness left me feeling hollowed out as a person.”

The festival is taking place at Bush Theatre in Shepherds Bush, and executive director Lauren Clancy said that the festival fits in well with the theatre’s ethos.

She said: “The Bush has a long history of nurturing new writers to tackle important, complex themes that speak directly to the world around us.

“When Jessica and Gabby first approached us it was clear that Fertility Fest sought to do the same.

“This week I’ve loved seeing the building alive with artist-led conversations.”

Day tickets for Saturday or Sunday are £35 and offer access to ten events over the day, on top of the art exhibition which is running throughout the week.

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