21 Miles By Jessica Hepburn: Is It Worth A Read?

I recently read 21 Miles: Swimming in Search of the Meaning of Motherhood after it was recommended to me interestingly because my IVF didn’t work, and I cannot decide if I want to go again. Jessica Hepburn is also the author of The Pursuit of Motherhood which is all about her IVF journey, 11 rounds of it in which she was pregnant once with an ectopic pregnancy with her partner of 14 years.

The book starts with Jessica telling us about her IVF journey, and the energy, emotion, and financial burden it takes. She also talks about the credit card debt she has racked up. I guess on the financial front; I would have liked her to share numbers to give it a more real feel. As this is not really a topic that women/couples talk about in how the actual IVF journey affects their day-to-day life right now. I say this as someone who currently looks like they are galivanting around the world but, in actual fact, pays themselves next to nothing!

Back to the book, Jessica’s partner suggests that she focuses on another big challenge. As at 43, she isn’t sure she wants to go through IVF again. Then a person at her work mentions sponsored events, and it is then that Jessica decides that she is going to swim the channel. Yep, the English Channel – 21 miles (hence the book name). As an ocean swimmer, I found this fascinating. Although my longest swim is 10km (6.2 miles), I know what is involved in training. I would have liked to understand more about her swimming abilities before she started.

She mentions that she goes to a swimming camp in Fuerteventura. Where she finds she can only stay in the water for 10 mins, due to the cold. But I do wonder how far she could actually swim freestyle before she started properly training. Maybe that is just me wanting to compare myself to her to see if I could do it. Although having had friends who have swum it and seen video footage, it really does not appeal to me. If I am going to swim any distance, I’d prefer it to be somewhere beautiful!

Jessica is a self-professed list lover, and the book is really about her journey to find out about motherhood. Whether having a baby is the be-all and end-all, and do women have regrets. Or do they feel like they are missing out on things? To this end, Jessica makes a list of 21 women. (One for each of the 21 miles) to ask if motherhood makes them happy. They are a mixture of mothers and non-mothers. As part of the interview, she asks them each to give her one word for her swim.

It is these interviews that are the most insightful part of the book. Jessica interviews MPs, chefs, businesswomen, career women, and more. What comes out of these interviews is that really being a mother does not mean you have to have a child. But having a child gives you someone to love unconditionally. That in some ways, makes you feel that you have extended your life as you go through it again through someone else’s eyes. As you have probably been told before, you can choose to make your own family, and for the women who don’t have children, there is no regret. The women that do have children acknowledge that it is hard and there are times of regret.

Jessica does end up completing her channel swim in around 17 hours. Let me tell you is a very long time to be swimming in cold water. But through her IVF journey, her relationship unfortunately ends. Although she does end up finding out more about herself and what she actually wants in life.

Did I enjoy the book? Yes, would I recommend it? Yes, especially if, like me, you are wondering if you can face the emotional, tiring, financial, and mental pressures that it brings. (In actual fact, very similar to swimming the channel) and go through it again.

For me, some of the things that Jessica gets upset about, like not being called mama, I haven’t faced. I spent one summer at my sister’s where her 2-year-old called me and his 10-year-old sister mama all the time. 😊 Obviously, it is rather different to having your own child do it. For me, it is not the little regrets that concern me. I have six nieces and nephews under 12, so I get a lot of love from them. For me, it’s a bigger questions.

Do I want it enough to take the emotional, financial and physical pain? Or is my contribution to the world instead Hoopsy and reducing plastic from pregnancy tests?

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