Saturday, 4 May 2019

Fertility Fest 2019

Fertility Fest 2019 at The Barbican - twenty days of all things fertility, infertility & the science of making babies combined with the arts. 

Fertility Fest was founded by Jessica Hepburn & Gabby Vaultier; both fertility patients and work in the arts. Their mission comprises of the improvement of three main aims;  the understanding of the emotional elements of TTC, the level of public conversation about infertility & reproductive science & improve fertility education. 

When I first was diagnosed with suspected infertility issues earlier this year, and started going through the motions of tests and waiting on results, Jessica popped up in many searches which led me to Fertility Fest. I remember being sat in bed, laptop open feeling utterly awful and finding Jessica & Fertility Fest and thinking maybe I wasn't the only one going through this when there was a whole festival dedicated to fertility! Since then, I'd followed the run up to the festival both on the website and all the social channels, but anxiety had ultimately held me back from booking a ticket. 

I had been lucky enough to pop up to the Barbican earlier in the week as I won tickets to see Avalanche from Natalie who hosts The Fertility Podcast (I wrote down my thoughts on the performance earlier this week here.) I had an appointment in the afternoon which meant I could only make the first session, so wasn't sure whether to go at first paired with my anxiety about going alone, but after going to see Avalanche on my own and ending up meeting up with someone after the show for coffee who'd also won tickets and had gone alone and how that whole day had properly lifted me up, I figured why not and booked my ticket and I'm honestly so glad I did because this session made me massively change how I'd been feeling and my approach to my journey so far alongside literally being sat in a room full of strong, incredible, inspiring people. On their 2019 launch video, one statement really stuck with me - 'we share more than what separates us' and it is so true and this session massively reflected that statement. 

I was running a tad late thanks to tubes having walking distances of a marathon between changing lines, so crept (very red in the face & flustered) in at the back whilst luckily the opening film was showing! Then, Jessica & Gabby gave an opening speech to kick off the Big Fat Festival Day, running through the structure for the day, highlighting the Fertility Fest heroes on hand to support throughout the day which literally is the most thoughtful, considerate idea to have to hand during an event which can take you through a range of emotions. They also introduced their writer in residence Katy Lindemann who's blog Uber Barrens Club I absolutely love, as well as Louise Brown, the first IVF baby! They also went through all their partners and supporters of Fertility Fest which were listed on the bottom of the screen - I've found a lot of the clinics and companies over on Twitter/Instagram, and find a lot have the same mission as Fertility Fest itself, and you can find oodles of information, advice and support through them too. 
The first session was called 'Modern Families' and was chaired by the lovely Natalie Silverman who looked bloomin incredible in her jumpsuit! She was joined by Lisa Faulkner, Izzy JuddDavid Ogutu (Consultant Gynaecologist & IVF Specialist at Herts & Essex Fertility) & James Nicopoullos (Clinical Director at Lister Fertility). 
The session started with Izzy reading from her book Dare to Dream. Dare to Dream was the first book I read back in January when something had twigged in my head that something may not be quite right, and after my first visit to the doctors where he quite literally went 'oh that doesn't sound good' it was a much needed read at a time where feeling scared was the norm for me. For one, Izzy's voice is so calming (scribbled that down in my little notebook in the dark!), and as I'm typing that, I've remembered that the I didn't click when I thought how calming her voice was, that the first fertility podcast that I turned to was hers too (I binged listened in between tears back in January!)
Next, Lisa gave a reading - her book Meant To Be is out next month, so she couldn't give a reading from her actual book, but she did read from a letter to her publishers regarding the book which opened with: In the words of The Rolling Stones 'You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need'. She mentioned her journey, and how after several failed rounds she went on to find her perfect through adopting. What I loved about her reading is she touched on spectrum of what adoption is perceived to be like with very, good proper church goers at one end and Madonna & Angelina Jolie at the other - it definitely clicked with me because it made me realise, I vaguely know of one couple who've adopted and prior to TTC, one person I follow online pursuing adoption alone. I don't know if people just aren't talking about it, but it's definitely not represented enough. After hearing Lisa speak so honestly about adoption, it got me thinking more about adoption in a really positive way - I feel very early on in my TTC journey, with the initial investigations and follow ups being out of the way, but not having had a round of IVF or exploring other avenues yet and prior to this session, I'd internally rejected adoption as an option, the phrase 'you could just adopt' would create this uncomfortable-ness within me, and it wasn't until afterwards my thoughts shifted, and I started thinking of different paths I could and couldn't go down. This surprisingly was even after a CBT session with my counsellor where she had posed adoption/fostering and I'd told her it wasn't for me - I think there is a real beauty of hearing other people's experiences, because it can change your mindset and get you thinking of other possibilities you may never of accepted before. Something that James Nicopoullous said later on during the session was that everyone has an individual story to tell about their journey, and it's like you need a book for each one to help people experiencing infertility to get through and it is so true! 

The panel discussed lots of different topics ranging from the fertility conditions to wellbeing. I particularly loved the phrase 'don't be stressed about being stressed' because it is so true and I think something that is so easy to fall into doing. I think having fertility experts mixed in with people experiencing and creatively expressing their fertility through literature was a fantastic mix, as it gives so many perspectives and also gives the opportunity to learn too - one of my biggest take aways was something David said about PCOS meaning there is actually the chance of more eggs in your system and a later menopause which is not something I'd ever thought of since being diagnosed with PCOS, and considering myself, and probably lots of other people trying to conceive being subject to Doctor Google and taking it upon ourselves to research and educate ourselves, it made me realise how much information and how much you still could learn.  

Miscarriage was another topic which I felt was so well handled, and something James spoke about was how patients and couples feel when IVF doesn't work, and how the blame and 'what did we do wrong?' doesn't lie with the couple themselves. and that's it's the body saying that the embryo wasn't right. For me, in what I feel being in the early stages, guilt takes over as a very dominant emotion, and I see lots of brilliant couples over on the Instagram community, and I see how much guilt they feel through posts & stories when it doesn't work, and I feel so heartbroken for them and whilst through a comment or message I can send my love, keep my fingers crossed and hope it goes right the next time there is a huge part of me that worries that I'll feel like that if things don't work and from hearing someone who works in fertility say that it isn't down to an individual or couple getting it wrong, it just sometimes isn't the right thing actually made me feel better and definitely eased an anxiety. Izzy also expressed how for her even sat there on the panel, now having had her children Lola & Kit, the guilt stays with her as she's come through the other side of IVF and infertility, but that infertility always stays with you. I thought it was so strong of her to share that as I love following her Instagram and seeing all the happiness of herself & her family shine through so to share her feelings so honestly I valued greatly.

There was a Q+A at the end of the session which brought up interesting questions and literally I think every person in the whole room felt such a wave of emotions at the strength of the women asking the questions, sharing their experiences and fears. It felt so special being in that room with such amazing people and I truly felt stronger walking out of the theatre... the whole of Fertility Fest is such an incredible way to bring people together and for some in their darkest, most challenging times and the support, guidance and inspiration it gives is just incredible ... massive hats off to Gabby, Jessica & everyone involved. 

I've already written alongside the many notes in my little notebook that I need to go to more sessions next year. The thought of attending alone did make me anxious, which is something  I'd definitely conquered in recent years due to blogging so felt I'd regressed in my feelings and progress by feeling anxious about attending, but actually it's normal to be anxious, more though that now I realise there was no need to be nervous - the whole festival is designed to be sensitive to everyone at every stage in their journey and everyone working and volunteering, even Jessica & Gabby themselves were on hand giving hugs, tissues and words of encouragement to those that needed it... and I was only there for one session and I witnessed a whole heap of kindness, encouragement and acceptance. 

It is worth following Fertility Fest over on Instagram to see highlights, and also I found their Youtube channel where I've just stumbled across videos from last year which are now on my to watch list. Thank you so much to Gabby, Jessica, the panel & everyone involved in Fertility Fest for such an informative and lovely morning - I went away feeling like a massive weight had been lifted that I didn't even know to be there and I felt stronger walking out of the Fertility Fest than I had done walking in.
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