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21 Miles

By Jessica Hepburn

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Swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood

Publication date: May 2018
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About the book

Does motherhood make you happy?

This is the story of one woman who ate 21 meals with 21 women and swam 21 miles to find out.

After a decade of trying to become a mother - eleven rounds of unsuccessful IVF, multiple miscarriages and a pregnancy that didn’t create a life but almost cost me mine - it was time to do something different. Something big which would eclipse the fact I was facing a future I had never imagined.

So I decided to swim the English Channel – the 21 miles of sea from England to France. No easy feat for anyone, especially someone who could hardly swim a length, hates exercise and the cold. 

As my punishing training schedule commenced, one of the first things I learnt is that you’re not allowed to wear a wetsuit so you need to put on weight to stave off the cold. For someone who loves food, this was a dream come true. But it also led to another idea…

What if I wrote to a collection of inspiring women to ask if they would meet and eat with me to talk about whether they think motherhood makes you happy? It would help me to get fat but might also help me decide what to do next with my life – did I need to find some way of becoming a mother or could I have a fulfilling life without children?

So I did and the response was overwhelming. From household names to people who have done something quietly amazing; from baronesses and professors to award-winners and record-breakers. Amazing women from different walks of life - some mothers, some not - but all with fascinating and compelling truths to tell about female fulfillment and the meaning of motherhood.

Just like IVF, swimming the English channel is a challenge which more people fail than succeed. Maybe I had failed at becoming a mother but on 2nd  September 2015, I set out from Dover beach in the dark – taking the words that each of the women I met gave me to the sea.

21 Miles: swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood.

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