The Pursuit of Motherhood
Published by Matador
ISBN-10: 1783061871, ISBN-13: 978-1783061877
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Pursuit of Motherhood' could be best described as a cross between 'Eat, Pray,
Love and 'Bridget Jones' Diary'. Perhaps 'Bridget
Jones and the Missing Baby'. This
memoir by London theatre director Jessica Hepburn has the same breezy chick-lit
writing style, self-discovery through self-help courses, and copious middle-class
The book tells the tale of Jessica's
arduous seven-year quest to conceive, during which she spent more than £50,000 on fertility treatment. Her diagnosis is unexplained infertility. During her ten
rounds of treatment, she experiences at least two biochemical pregnancies and a
miscarriage. Her only successful pregnancy is, sadly, ectopic.
She charts her journey from first
attempts to conceive, aged 34, to resorting to Chinese mushrooms to sustain a
pregnancy, aged 41. Near the end of the book, she writes: 'I don't believe that
you ever stop trying'.
The writing style is similar to
fiction or gossipy confessional journalism with extensive dialogue, short
chapters and dramatised anecdotes. It begins on:
September. It should be autumn but feels like summer. As I put my make-up on in
the car mirror, I start to count the number of babies that our friends and
family have had since we began trying to conceive.
Two. Beth: two. Joanne: two. Sarah Jane: two. Jo: two. Antonia: two. Harriet:
one. Mel: one. Caroline: three!' My voice crescendos on the number three.
arriving, 'someone thrusts a glass of Prosecco into my hand' and she overhears
news of an eighteenth pregnancy. The knowledge is bittersweet.
From there, we backtrack to her lengthy
attempts to conceive. She begins with an aborted attempt at intrauterine
insemination (IUI), followed by seven full and two frozen cycles of IVF with
ICSI. Her last cycle is mild IVF with 'few or no drugs'. Two full cycles are at
Dr Mohammed Taranissi's clinic in London.
Pursuit of Motherhood is an undemanding read, almost a beach or airport novel.
I began reading at 9:30pm on a train and finished by 8:00am the next morning
with sleep in the middle. The chapters have cheery titles, such as 'The Curious
Incident of the Spring-Roll in the Nighttime'.
and lively writing is a boon to anyone seeking information on fertility
techniques. Explained in the text are 'mild' IVF, IUI, frozen IVF, and the
process of IVF. You can painlessly learn about down-regulation of the
reproductive system, stimulation of the ovaries, injections and egg collection,
and the transfer process.
sharing her experience, Jessica apparently aims to 'encourage other woman who
are living with infertility to stand a little taller too'. Like all
confessional memoirs, it succeeds or dies on the ability to get readers
identifying with the author's experiences.
For me, this is where the 'The
Pursuit of Motherhood' failed. By placing itself squarely in the tradition of
chick-lit, it suffers many of that genre's problems. Chick-lit is a fiction of professional
white heterosexual women that uncritically embraces consumerism,
self-absorption, mainstream narratives of motherhood and ignores its own
privilege. This book is no exception.
The memoir is littered with descriptions of expensive hotels, elaborate three-course meals, trips
to the theatre (albeit where the author had a miscarriage), posh Farrow &
Ball paint jobs, and girrrrls meeting up for big glasses of chardonnay and a
gossip about ovulation predictor tests. The author even naval-gazes Ã la 'Eat,
Pray, Love' on a residential course to discover her inner child.
have I felt - as a reader - so out of place, despite having two X chromosomes.
shame that the book, far too often, reads like a scheduled-sex and shopping
novel. Amid the flippancy, Jessica makes some important points. She questions
why she found so little help with the emotional impact of unexplained infertility:
Fertility clinics — however high their success
rates — are crap at psychological stuff. Well that's my experience anyway. When
you receive your glossy brochure/photocopied sheets of A4 about the clinic,
you'll generally find a (small) section on 'counselling'. It's usually just a
few sentences about the emotional impact of fertility treatment, and if you're
lucky you might be offered a counselling session. But in all my years of going
through this, I haven't yet found a clinic or consultant that has ever
proactively encouraged us to take up that session or asked what we're doing to
sort out our minds.
ample evidence of the damage her infertility causes to her relationship. She
temporarily breaks up with her partner after kicking him and pouring a bottle
of wine over his head. She takes a sabbatical from work. She becomes obsessed
with her caffeine consumption, sleep patterns, and diet - with the belief this
may help her conceive.
There are genuine debates to be had
about why drugs were used so early in her treatment, instead of natural IVF? How do we still know so little about the
causes of infertility? Why she was not dissuaded from seeking fertility
treatment beyond eight or so attempts? Why was she apparently not warned about
the low probability of success? Why did some clinics offer immune tests and
others not? Should she have given up trying for a child and, if so, when? And
why - as she points out - was she not offered counselling?
between the lines, her experience is harrowing. She has been unbelievably
unlucky. I hope she achieves the postscript of a longed-for child.
I would recommend this memoir to
anyone who enjoys novels with pink stilettos and sparkly wine glasses on the
cover and is experiencing unexplained infertility. But if you're someone who
prefers a good Frederick Forsyth-esque spy thriller, you may find the 'girly' tone
If so, you may wish to skip the chardonnay-swilling
first chapters and skip to the end of the book. Here Jessica makes countless
useful recommendations. These include talking to friends and family, and
starting with natural IVF if you're diagnosed with unexplained infertility.
Buy The Pursuit of Motherhood from Amazon UK.