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.