The Fertility Show goes to Manchester

Did you know that the Fertility Show will be in Manchester next month? The event which has taken place at London’s Olympia for many years is spreading its wings and will be held at Manchester’s Central Convention Complex in Windmill St on March 25 and 26.

There will be a wide range of speakers including Allan Pacey,  Geeta Nargund, British Fertility Society Chair Adam BalenCharles KingslandSimon Fishel, John Parsons, Rachel Cutting, Jane Stewart, Raj Mathur, Tony Rutherford and Zita West. The HFEA’s Juliet Tizzard will also be speaking as well as specialist lawyer Natalie Gamble and Fertility Fest Director Jessica Hepburn. The sessions will cover a wide range of topics suitable to those just starting out and wanting to know more about their fertility through to more detailed sessions on specific fertility problems and treatment options. There will also be a separate platform for Q and A sessions and a wide range of exhibitors.

Tickets are now on sale here so do come along if you are nearby – I will be there too speaking about how to choose a fertility clinic and will be on the Fertility Network UK stand so come and say hello!

Running for the right to try

If you read this blog at all regularly, it won’t have escaped you that I am a huge fan of the brilliant Jessica Hepburn, Director of Fertility Fest and author of The Pursuit of Motherhood. You may have followed her Channel Swim to raise funds for Fertility Network UK, and now she’s doing it again with the London Marathon.

Jessica has written a fantastic blog post about this and if you want to read more about what she’s doing and why, you can find it here. There’s also a link to her JustGiving page where you can make a donation to support her through her 26 miles. For me, 10k feels like a marathon, and I think it’s a wonderful thing that she is doing – so support her if you possibly can and help to make it even more worthwhile.

National Portrait Gallery Exhibition

If you are in London, you may be interested in an exhibition of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery – the Taylor Wessing photographic Portrait Prize 2016.

Two of the photos were taken by Katie Barlow, a documentary film-maker who is currently working on a fantastic documentary about not having children which features author and Director of Fertility Fest, Jessica Hepburn, who many of you will be familiar with and Gateway Women’s Jody Day. Katie has spent the last year documenting the refugee crisis, and you can see two of her photos in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition. You can read what Katie wrote about this here  – and the exhibition is definitely worth a visit!

Fertility is a man’s issue too…

120px-Depressed.svgAfter talking about the way men are so often shoved to one side when it comes to fertility at Fertility Fest yesterday, I was fascinated to find a story from the US on my news feed titled “Ohio man shares wife’s infertility struggle to encourage other couples”

It really sums up everything that is wrong with the way we look at fertility problems.  The article describes how the Ohio man apparently “opened up about his wife’s miscarriage” as if it had nothing to do with him. Reading what the man from Ohio actually wrote, it is clear that he saw himself as being very much a part of the experience and involved in it. It’s the journalist’s take on what he was saying which is the problem – but it is time we put a stop to the idea that fertility is an issue for women and that men are simply standing by ready to offer support.  Robin Hadley’s research shows that men are just as hurt by childlessness as women, and we need to champion the importance of understanding this.

The Fantastic Fertility Fest

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I was in Birmingham yesterday for the first ever Fertility Fest which was a truly amazing day. Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier put together the festival and had worked tirelessly to create something which managed to be moving, interesting, emotional, inspiring, uplifting, thought-provoking and exciting all in one day.

It was wonderful to have so many artists who have produced such different work about their experience of fertility problems gathered together under one roof – visual artists, playwrights, photographers, musicians and writers. To have them joined by leading fertility specialists added another context to the discussion and proved to be a fascinating mix.

I chaired the opening session where Jessica was joined by playwright Gareth Farr, whose play The Quiet House, which is about a couple going through IVF, forms a central part of the festival. They spoke about why they’d both wanted to write about their experiences of fertility problems, and about the stigma and taboo which still surrounds infertility and treatment. They set the tone for the day, explaining how the idea for Fertility Fest came about and what they hoped the day would achieve.

I went on to the session about IVF with writer Jo Ind and visual artist Tabitha Moses, where we were joined by Anya Sizer from the London Women’s Clinic. Jo read some passages and a poem she’d written at the time of her fertility problems and treatment, and then Tabitha presented some of her work about fertility – her beautiful embroidered hospital gowns featuring women’s fertility stories and the light-box embryos, pinpricked out using the syringes she used for her IVF. We had a fascinating discussion afterwards about their work, about infertility and treatment, about IVF pregnancy and parenthood and about the compulsion to explore fertility problems through art and writing.

In the afternoon, I was in the session on male fertility with photographer Aaron Deemer, musician and composer Fergus Davidson and fertility expert Professor Allan Pacey. Aaron began by talking about his extraordinary photos of the men’s rooms at fertility clinics, and about his visits to clinics in China and the UK – and explained how the photos have become a way into talking about men and fertility. Fergus gave an incredibly moving talk about his fertility problems and experience of miscarriage, and then played some music he had composed accompanied by pictures. I think most of the audience in the room were in tears by the time he had finished his courageous and honest account, and it made me realise how rare it is to hear a man speaking so openly about the pain of fertility problems and of miscarriage. Aaron and Fergus were joined by Professor Allan Pacey for the discussion afterwards who added a professional view to the debate which gave a forum for a subject so often overlooked. It was great that Dr Robin Hadley, an academic who has researched men’s responses to childlessness, joined us in the audience for the debate.

The final session of the day on the Future of Fertility was started by Amanda Gore from Liminal Space who talked about their most recent project involving the creation of a fictional beauty brand and pop-up shop designed to unlock the facts around egg freezing. Chair Peter Guttridge skilfully led the panel of experts – Professor Geeta Nargund, Professor Jacky Boivin, Dr Gillian Lockwood and Professor Allan Pacey – as they discussed what they felt lay ahead. Egg freezing, synthetic sperm and eggs, a dwindling population and the future of NHS-funded fertility treatment were up for discussion!

The day ended with a production of Gareth Farr’s play The Quiet House. I couldn’t stay for that but am really looking forward to seeing the play in London. There were so many amazing artists and experts, and I just wish I could have attended all the sessions. If you are anywhere near London and haven’t got tickets for Fertility Fest on June 11 – book one right now here before they sell out. It promises to be another truly fascinating day.

IVF: ‘It’s overwhelming and shocking at every single turn’

A great piece here from The Guardian about playwright Gareth Farr, author of the play The Quiet House, and his wife Gabby Vautier. They talk about their personal experiences of fertility problems and treatment – and explain how the play, and the accompanying festival, came about.  Do read it!

The Quiet House is at Birmingham Repertory theatre until 4 June, and then at the Park Theatre in London from 7 June to 9 July. Fertility Fest is in Birmingham this weekend, and in London on June 11 – see here for details.

Have you booked for Fertility Fest?

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It’s just a week away, but there are still some tickets left for Fertility Fest which opens in Birmingham next Saturday. If you don’t know about this unique event, linking art and science in a day of performances and discussions, you can find out more by visiting the Fertility Fest website.

The Festival takes place in London too, but opens in Birmingham next weekend with leading experts in the field including Allan Pacey, Sue Avery, Geeta Nargund, HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire, fertility counsellor Tracey Sainsbury, the NGDT’s Laura Witjens, Gillian Lockwood and Jacky Boivin. Artists featured include Jude Christian, Milli Bhatia, Ronke Adekoluejo, Satinder Chohan, Somalia Seaton, Katie Barlow, Tina Reid-Peršin, Jo Ind, Tabitha Moses,  Amy Rosenthal, Kazuko Hohki, Sarah Esdaile,  Jody Day, Louise Ann Wilson,  Aaron Deemer, Fergus Davidson and Amanda Gore.

The day will conclude with a performance of award-winning playwright Gareth Farr’s latest production, The Quiet House, which addresses IVF and fertility. Fertility Fest has been organised by Jessica Hepburn and Gaby Vautier. It promises to be a really fascinating event, so if you are anywhere near Birmingham – book your tickets now!

Fertility Fest – when art meets science

images-6It will be the first event of its kind in the UK taking place in London and Birmingham, and it’s called Fertility Fest. The event, devised by writer Jessica Hepburn and producer Gabby Vautier, will bring together some of the country’s leading writers, visual artists, theatre-makers, film-directors and composers alongside some of the country’s foremost fertility experts for a day of performance, discussion and debate. Topics under the artistic microscope include facing the diagnosis of infertility, IVF, donation, surrogacy, the male experience, egg freezing, involuntary childlessness and alternative routes to parenthood.The full day of events concludes with a performance of a new play from award-winning writer Gareth Farr called The Quiet House about one couple’s journey when they enter the world of IVF.

Fertility Fest is in London on Saturday June 11 at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park and in Birmingham on Saturday May 28 at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. The artists involved in the days include Aaron Deemer, Amanda Gore, Amy Rosenthal, Fergus Davidson, Fiona Duffelen, Gabby Vautier, Gareth Farr, Jessica Hepburn, Jo Ind, Jody Day, Julia Copus, Jude Christian, Kazuko Hohki, Katie Barlow, Louise Ann Wilson, Matthew Dunster, Paula Knight, Peter Guttridge, Stander Chohan, Ronke Adekoluejo, Sarah Esdaile, Somalia Seaton, Steve Ball, Tabitha Moses, Tina Reid-Persin and Yann Seznec. The experts in the field joining them for the day will include Professor Allan, Pacey, Professor Geeta Nargund, Laura Witjens, Professor Jacky Boivin, Janine Elson, Juliet Tizzard, Kate Brian, Natalie Silverman, Sally Cheshire, Dr Sofia Gameiro, Dr Sue Avery, Professor Susan Bewley, Professor Susan Golombok, Tracey Sainsbury and Victoria MacDonald.

Tickets cost £25 a day which include all workshops, talks and a performance of The Quiet House – for more details and booking, visit the website www.fertilityfest.com