Fertility Fest – 11th June 2016
Yesterday I had an emotional day. I went to Fertility Fest, a whole day of artistic workshops and exhibitions at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. The theme was infertility. Many different artists who have been through their own struggles to conceive were invited to share their work with the public. Some photos and art were displayed in the halls, poems were read aloud and documentaries were viewed. This art had come about either as a form of art therapy, or to help illustrate the depths of their pain with a view to supporting others, and giving them a voice. At the end of each workshop there was an opportunity to listen to the artists speak as well as ask questions, and the day culminated in a passionate debate on the future of fertility.
The whole event was organised by Jessica Hepburn author of The Pursuit of Motherhood, and was the kick starter to the first performance of The Quiet House, a play by Gareth Farr on his experience of IVF treatment.
I have been to many events on fertility awareness over the years, but this event was very different. It wasn’t laden with happy endings of miracle babies and IVF success stories. It wasn’t pushing you to pursue treatment in clinics, nor was it convincing you to freeze your eggs. It was unbelievably raw and open about the fact that this day was about what happens when all fails. When the IVF doesn’t work- when we haven’t met the right partner, when adoption falls through, when the clock ticks- what is left is involuntary childlessness. That is the term I had to get my head, and emotions around yesterday.
this event was very different… it was unbelievably raw and open about the fact that this day was about what happens when all fails.
With all the talk of fertility education in schools and egg freezing offered by big companies these days, we assume that the goal for all women is to be a mother. It’s society’s expectation.
It was very obvious yesterday that for these women, the goal was to be a mother but that they had tried absolutely every path imaginable to have a child, and at some point along that painful journey they had to make the heart wrenching decision to give up the fight, and accept that they wouldn’t ever be a parent.
I listened to endless gruelling plights of failed treatment, surrogacy, miscarriage, adoption, depression, breakdowns, divorce, rejection of every kind… and finally came the acceptance that their battle should come to an end.
So what next? Grieving is what. Grief is the word that kept coming back every time for these childless women. Grief for an invisible loss. So deep was Tina Reed-Persin’s pain that she made her grief visible by carrying a life sized baby doll around with her and taking all the photos she would have taken had she been a mother. Barking mad she said she was. She needed to show society in just how much pain she was in.
Jessica swam across the Channel. Crying. Jody nearly killed herself and then somehow got up off the floor and found the strength to set up the most popular network for childless women, called Gateway. She now has millions of followers. She says most people find her as a result of typing in the most heartbreaking terms into Google search. All these women seeking such extreme tasks to illustrate their pain.
They had worked so hard to accept their fight was over, but it was apparent that society had not accepted, or rather that it didn’t want them to let go. Society had not created a space where these women can fit, as childless. Everyone around them was trying to set them up on dates, match them up with friends, through websites, get them to continue hoping, fighting, pursuing their dream of motherhood. “IT’S OVER!!”, Battle over. One of them screamed.
My emotions right on the surface, trying to hold it together. A mixture of empathy, pain and relief. Relief for them that they could move on, but the pain for the emptiness left over. They didn’t want pity. It was really important for them that childless women still had value, and that they could go on to embrace life without children.
Julia Copus, a writer and poet, read extracts from her book, Ghost lines. A particularly poignant passage she read depicted her looking at the result of a pregnancy test after a round of IVF where she thought she could see the second “pregnant” line appearing. Deep down she knew there was nothing there but she describes the moment where she lost it, ripping open the test and taking it to pieces to check inside. Looking back she sees herself as out of control, deranged almost. She began describing the moment she finally decided enough was enough, that she had accepted that she would be childless, and then she stopped talking. She couldn’t continue. And that was fifteen years ago.
It was clear that the pain never goes, it was, they said, about finding ways of coping with it which made life more bearable.
I left feeling that, despite these women saying it is now ok to be childless, they have had to try very very hard to fill this extreme void in their lives. They all have to seek support from each other, join forces, heal together, and yesterday, if they hadn’t already, there is no doubt that they found their support network or at least some form of comfort at Fertility Fest.
So now for action. The bottom line is IVF doesn’t always work. In fact the stats say only 20% are successful. That leaves an overwhelmingly large majority who leave feeling abandoned by their clinic who have taken their money and in some cases kept their eggs and embryos for research… There is no after care package, no counselling, no support at all offered for those who have no choice but to give up and move on.
So who’s responsibility is it to pick up the pieces? GPs? The governing body for fertility the HFEA? The clinic? A strong feeling amongst those there was that clinics are all too ready to take your money without really preparing you for all the possible.
And what about egg freezing?
I better stop there.