21 Miles, by Jessica Hepburn

Does motherhood make you happy?

I’m guessing you believe the answer is yes, especially as you tried so hard to be a mother.

Like many of us, Jessica Hepburn wondered if the grass is greener and in her latest book ’21 Miles, Swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood’ she seeks to answer the question by interviewing 21 women, some of whom are mothers and some not.

At the same time we follow Jessica’s bid to swim the English Channel which, as she says is ‘no easy feat for someone with an aversion to exercise who couldn’t swim very well.’

It’s no secret that she succeeded in reaching France, but I won’t divulge the answer to her question, you’ll have to read 21 Miles and discover it for yourself. I will, however pick out several aspects which particularly resonated with me.

I’ll start by saying that I really enjoyed 21 Miles. I received my copy at her book launch and started reading it on the train home, Jessica’s easy writing style and short chapters made me want to keep turning the pages. However, as this was just a few weeks before my own launch I had to force myself to put it to one side until I had more time. And now I’ve finished it here are my thoughts.

Forging a path through grief.

I’ve known Jessica since the launch of her first book The Pursuit of Motherhood (and she shares her story in my own book ‘Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness’). Our stories are very similar in that we’ve both forged a path through grief and have been on a quest to answer the question she’s really asking in the book, which is ‘can you be childless and happy?’

I use the word ‘forge’ deliberately as I believe everyone’s path through grief is different, and you have to find it yourself. There is much to learn from others, but there is no one way. Sometimes finding your path might be easy, and at others it might require enormous commitment and will to get you though.

At one stage Jessica’s realises that ‘grief is an opportunity too; to do something in your life that you might never have done without it and which, in the end, might be the only thing that gets you through.’

She’s done many things I’m guessing she wouldn’t have done had she become a mother, and there is no doubting that swimming and writing helped to get her through. This quote is true for me too, there are many things I wouldn’t have done had I not been writing my own book, and there were the things which, in the end got me through.

So if this was true for myself and for Jessica, what if were also true for you dear reader? What might you do?

The importance of body work and writing

There are several similarities in our paths; the first is that they’ve both included a physical element. Mine was yoga, Jessica has pushed her body to its limit; in addition to swimming the Channel she’s run a marathon and climbed mountains.

My belief is that some sort of body work is essential to working through grief. You don’t have to swim or do yoga, but you need to do something to enable the trapped energy to move.

Writing has also featured heavily. As Jessica says ‘Writing about my pursuit of motherhood and the darkness it took me into made it easier to live with.  … Get it out…   I promise you that something that seems so all consuming inside of you will become much smaller when you let it meet the world. It will be easier to live with, not just for you, but for everyone around you.’

Yes, absolutely. You know how important writing has been for me, and continues to be. Even now as I write this I’m continuing to process my feelings and learn new perspectives.

Facing the truth.

The first woman Jessica interviewed, Camila Batmanghelidjh said that ‘you can cope with anything provided you have faced the truth of it’.

Ouch, and true. For me this is the first step we all need to take. Think about that for a moment. Have you done that yet? Have you faced the truth of this life you’re forced to live now and didn’t want? And if not do you realise how much this stops you from being happy, now and in the future?

Blessings and verbs

I often write about gratitude and, with a slightly different twist, after a massive disappointment, polar explorer Ann Daniels decided that you have to look at the blessings in life.’ I believe this is also important, even in our darkest times there are always blessings, or things to be grateful for.

And after interviewing top divorce lawyer Fiona Shackleton, Jessica realised that perhaps it’s possible to mother even if you’re not a mother. As she wonders, ‘if I can’t be a noun, I could be a verb instead.’

I’d never really thought about this before and I love it. At my core I nurture, maybe I don’t ‘mother’ but I certainly nurture, at almost every available opportunity. So it got me wondering, how can I use this more in my life, how can I bring to the fore?

Please read 21 Miles

I could write a lot more about other aspects of 12 Miles I enjoyed but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Jessica is a natural story teller and her book will have you in both laughter and tears, maybe at the same time.

As I often conclude, there are many ways into this place we call childless and there are also many ways out. 21 Miles adds a different perspective and provides much food for thought especially around the question ‘does motherhood make you happy?’

I know you’d like to know the answer, please read it then you’ll find out.

You can read more about Jessica & 21 Miles here

(Here I am with Jessica at my book launch, our plan was to be photographed holding both our books but she’d given her copy of 21 Miles away)

What did you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, did those questions resonate with you?

If you’ve read 21 Miles, what do you agree with me, or did other things resonate with you? (you don’t have to use your own name)

Thank you

4 thoughts on “21 Miles, by Jessica Hepburn”

  1. I really love Jessica’s quote about grief being an opportunity, and that doing something may be what get’s you through. Thank you for sharing this. I’m going to use this to propel me forward. Thank you, Lesley.

    • Thank you La, I absolutely love the quote too & it opens up so many possibilities don’t you think?
      In due course I’d love to hear how it worked out for you.
      Lesley x

  2. I liked the story of one woman who ate 21 meals with 21 women and swam 21 miles to find out. Truly it was an amazing start.
    I like the quote
    ‘grief is an opportunity too; to do something in your life that you might never have done without it and which, in the end, might be the only thing that gets you through.’


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