Fertility Fest 2018
“That sounds fun…but a bit dodgy!”
“Fertility and arts? That’s a bit weird.”
“Who would even go to that?!”
When I told some of my friends I was going to an Arts based festival all about fertility, infertility and the science of making babies, these were a few of the reactions I got.
It was helpful to be reminded that outside a relatively small online community that I am actively involved with, there are thousands – millions – of people for whom talking about fertility so openly (and in a theatre! Shocking!) seems…what? A bit weird? Overkill? Unnecessary? Cringe?
I don’t really know.
I supposed I have become desensitised to the stigma of talking about fertility because I am doing it every day.
I forget that, for some people, talking about it then making art about it; sharing that art; opening discussions and conversations and bringing experts, artists, patients and other audience members together could come across as “dodgy” or “weird” because of the subject matter. But making art when you go through something traumatic…well, that’s what art is! So why should it be ‘dodgy’ that there’s an arts festival about fertility? To me it seems so very natural.
But I forget that the stigma is ingrained. The taboo is still there. Have stigma and taboo ever helped anything?! Pretty sure I know the answer.
I forget that for most people it’s not normal to talk daily about an inability to conceive a child naturally. To talk about miscarriage, still birth, adoption, IVF and other fertility treatments. To talk about how it feels to be told you will never be able to have a baby. Or what it feels like as a man to be told you have zero sperm. Or how it can impact relationships, careers, friendships, finances: every part of your life.
So, it was helpful to be reminded exactly why Fertility Fest is so brilliant. Why it imperative, vital, necessary. It was programmed by the fantastic Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier, who in their own words are: ‘two sides of the fertility story’. Jessica has had 11 rounds of unsuccessful IVF and Gabby has IVF twins after 4 rounds of treatment.
Their theatre programming credentials are phenomenal. They have long track records in theatre and the 6-day event at the Bush Theatre in Shepherd’s Bush, London, was a clear reflection of their huge experience. With my own knowledge of the London theatre scene I know it is no small thing to commandeer an entire theatre in a great location for almost an entire week, morning ‘til night. It is A Big Deal.
With a cross section of artists performing everything from extracts of plays, book readings, songs, spoken word…and with every single event including a Q&A with the artists as well as experts from the fertility world, it was jam packed with talent and diversity. There were fascinating and important topics; heart-breaking and uplifting stories, inspiration and beauty. There was laughing! So much laughing.
We all know that talking helps. Whatever you’re going through, talking and sharing and learning and empowering yourself to understand: helps. The evidence was clear – every event almost ran over time because once the audience were offered the floor, you couldn’t shut them up! Everyone wanted to talk. Everyone wanted to share.
I learnt so much. I learnt about how it feels to cope with childlessness and what it’s like to adopt. I leant about the glaring lack of fertility education in schools. I learnt about the myriad ways artists use their experience to produce stunningly powerful art and how it can help them and their audiences to process what’s happened to them and to heal.
I also learnt not to hide away my own story. Telling people that you are a Mum can feel a bit like a confession when you’re hanging out with a lot of people who are desperate to be a Mum and can’t. But I learnt that my story is just as valid even though it was successful in the end.
I am a Mum who went through 10 rounds of fertility treatment before 1 successful round of IVF.
I am a Mum who understands what it’s like to feel desperate, despairing, disbelieving. I am a Mum who gets it and will never, ever forget it.
So, I will keep talking, sharing and supporting and I will advocate for more talking, sharing and supporting.
That’s why I don’t think a Festival using art to talk about Fertility is weird. Or dodgy. I think it’s vital. And powerful.
Thank you to all of the artists and especially to Gabby and Jessica, who were so welcoming and warm to every single person who walked through those doors. It was a very special event which will stay with me. Read more about it here