I was 34 and running a London theatre when I decided to start a family. I thought that making the decision to fit a baby into my busy life was the hard part. I was wrong. After a year of having ‘sex to schedule’ my partner and I were diagnosed with “Unexplained Infertility” and so began our long – and, at times, heartbreaking – journey to have a child. For years I told very few people about my struggle with infertility. I thought my secrecy and strength was another professional achievement. Then one day I started writing about it…”
Jessica Hepburn is an award-winning author, arts producer and adventure activist who has become one of the UK’s leading voices on fertility and family, as well as endurance sport.
She has been nominated as one of Amnesty International’s ‘Women of Suffragette Spirit’; ‘Woman of The Week’ in Stylist magazine; and won the Fertility Foundation’s inaugural ‘Fertility Hero’ Award for her role as a fertility advocate.
Formerly Executive Director of one of London’s leading theatres for ten years – the Lyric Hammersmith – Jessica led from inception to completion the theatre’s £20m capital redevelopment and was nominated as ‘Theatre Manager of the Year’. Whilst doing this, she was also trying to become a mother and went through eleven rounds of IVF at a range of UK fertility clinics which resulted in multiple miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy that almost took her life.
In February 2014, Jessica published a book about her experiences The Pursuit of Motherhood. It became an Amazon bestseller and catapulted her into the limelight as one of the first people prepared to talk openly about the stigma of infertility and unsuccessful IVF. Her second book 21 Miles: swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood was published in May 2018 (paperback released in April 2019) and became a ‘Mumsnet Summer Read’ and an ‘Outdoor Swimming Society Book of the Year’. Both books are also available on Amazon Audible, narrated by the author.
In 2016, Jessica co-founded (with Gabby Vautier) Fertility Fest the world’s first arts festival dedicated to fertility and modern family making which quickly grew into a major international event. The last live edition of the festival took place at London’s Barbican in 2019 featuring artists including Maxine Peake and Benjamin Zephaniah. Smaller satellite festivals also took place nationally and internationally at The Fertility Show (the UK’s largest patient event) and ESHRE (the biggest fertility industry conference in the world). The festival’s mission was to use the power of the arts to improve IVF patient solidarity and support and raise all levels of discourse about reproductive science. It also spearheaded a ground-breaking campaign to improve fertility education in schools so young people have the best chance of creating the families they want in the future. In 2018 Fertility Fest’s Modern Families fertility education project reached the front page of The Times newspaper spawning a national media debate and the findings of the project were later published in the leading academic journal Human Fertility and described in peer review as providing a ‘mind-blowing perspective on infertility’. This all contributed to the Government’s announcement that from 2019, a broader approach to fertility education would be included on the curriculum for the first time.
Jessica’s ‘adventure activism’ is, by her own admission, a bit of an accident as she hates exercise and considers herself to be the most unlikely athlete. However, over the last decade she has been taking on some of the world’s most iconic physical and mental endurance challenges to turn the sadness she’s been through into something positive and at the same time raise awareness of what it means to struggle to conceive and to encourage new ways of thinking about family. She has run the London Marathon; swum the English Channel; and is now in the final stages of training to climb Mount Everest which will win her the Guinness World record as the first woman to complete the iconic ‘Pond to Peak’ Challenge. She is a member of the British Mountaineering Council; The Ramblers; The Long Distance Walkers Association; and the Serpentine, Hampstead Ponds and Dover Open Water Swimming Clubs; and has used her sporting challenges to raise thousands of pounds for charity including Fertility Network UK.
Press & public speaking
Jessica is a high-profile commentator in the press and media. She has written for the Guardian, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Grazia, Psychologies, Huffpost amongst others, and for two years wrote a column entitled From A Patient Perspective for Fertility Road magazine. She has appeared on numerous television and radio shows including BBC Breakfast, Good Morning Britain, This Morning, Panorama, Radio 2 Zoe’s Ball’s Breakfast Show as well as Radio 4’s PM, You and Yours, My Name Is… She was also part of a major feature length documentary on Channel 5 – entitled ‘Miscarriage: our story’.
Jessica also regularly speaks on podcasts, webinars and at live events. She was recently a guest on Emma Gannon’s Control, Alt, Delete Podcast; and has appeared on the Tough Girl Podcast and guest hosted Izzy Judd’s Let’s Talk Fertility. She also regularly chairs and speaks at arts, science and book festivals; book shops and book clubs; schools and universities – from Southbank’s Women of the World Festival to Waterstones, the University of the Third Age to the National Theatre.
Trusteeships and directorships
Jessica has held a number of non executive positions in the world of fertility and the arts:- she has been a trustee of the national charity Fertility Network UK; a patient adviser to the HFEA, the government’s independent regulator of fertility treatment; and a member of the Fertility Education Initiative. She has also been a trustee/non executive director of numerous arts organisations including Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Opera Holland Park, Crying Out Loud, Told By An Idiot and UK Theatre.
A fertility archive
In 2019 the Wellcome Trust initiated the process of acquiring Jessica’s personal and professional archive to ensure long term access to researchers and the public to what is increasingly becoming regarded as a ground-breaking body of work on fertility and family in the modern world.