When actress, writer, and producer Kellée Stewart ended a long-term relationship in her later 30s, she realized she hadn't yet explored her options for pregnancy. After choosing to freeze her eggs, Kellée dedicated herself to normalizing conversations about fertility education, proactive reproductive choices, and parenthood on your own schedule. Here, Kellée talks to us about her egg freezing journey and her role as an egg advocate on Instagram and beyond.
I'm built for the job of motherhood. I've always known this about myself, yet I never once thought about my fertility health until I was freshly out of a seven-year relationship. I was 37 years old when it ended, and though I knew I'd find happiness outside of the relationship, the thought that I'd given away my best baby-making years began to steal my peace. So, I made an appointment with a fertility specialist just three days after that breakup.
I had a fertility diagnostic test, blood work, and a vaginal ultrasound. The doctor told me I was a good candidate for freezing my eggs. Until that moment, no doctor had ever talked to me about my ovarian reserve or my hormone levels. In fact, I didn't fully understand that people with ovaries are born with as many eggs as we're ever going to have and that they age ahead of us. Our annual gynecological exams don't involve exploring ovarian reserve. Instead, we're told when we're ready to try for a year, and if it's not working, seek help from a specialist. Well, I wasn't ready to try. And I didn't know when I ever would be.
My mother flew in to join me on my wonderful egg freezing adventure. I'm terrified of needles, so I sent for my mom, the glorious Mama Stew, to help me out. She would be my at-home nurse and administer the injections. (Sidebar: She's terrified of needles, too!) With each prick I received, I knew that this was my first act of motherhood — it was the first thing I was doing for my future family. I could have fed into my valid fears about all of this, but instead, I luxuriated in all the incredible things my body could do and was doing, despite the odds against me.
Why I became an “egg advocate”
My procedure resulted in 29 harvested eggs that were viable and successfully frozen. Getting 29 eggs in a single cycle was an encouraging number for a 37-year-old woman. Even though there are no guarantees that egg freezing will one day produce a live birth, I felt blessed to have them. But what about the women who may not receive that number or who haven't even thought about their fertility status or assisted reproduction? I began to share my personal experience publicly because of all the things I learned about the female reproductive system and how it actually works.
Our high school health classes left out a lot! Getting my AMH and FSH levels checked only came up because I decided to freeze my eggs. Many women of childbearing age still have no idea what those hormones are, how they function, or that a simple blood test can offer some answers about their personal ovarian reserve. I don't tell women they need to freeze their eggs. That's not my place; it's a personal decision. What I advocate for is proactive fertility health. I encourage women to get the knowledge about their ovarian reserve so they're empowered with the facts to plan ahead.
I hop on my Instagram every Wednesday for my IG Live series, WARRIOR WEDNESDAYS LIVE. Each week, I'm joined by a “Warrior Woman” for a transparent and safe conversation about their personal fertility journey and all things women's health. We cover everything from fibroids to endometriosis, PCOS, IVF, and miscarriage — just to name a few. Faith is a huge component in our talks, which is why I especially love the miracle stories we hear week to week. All women are welcome, though I do focus on the Black woman's experience as we are often left out of the broader conversations about infertility. And because it's doing so well, a WARRIOR WEDNESDAY website will launch February 14, 2021 — when all the episodes will be available to watch online.
Since becoming an egg advocate, I've realized the role communities should have in our fertility journeys. People experiencing fertility challenges often suffer in silence. It's hard. It's really, really freaking exhausting and hard! There's no way around that. But being in the right fertility community, one that is met without judgment or shame, is key.
Being part of the fertility community has brought the most resilient, smart, passionate, wondrous, brave, and unbelievably strong human beings into my life. Because of them, I feel the pure essence of motherhood all the time. We nurture each other as mothers do. We wipe tears and celebrate milestones. We understand each other's pain, frustrations, and our sometimes mutual anger at our own bodies. But, somehow, we don't let each other stay there. We always find a way to lift each other up and push through. We know a bit of fear always resides in our hope. So, our first test of motherhood is to embrace that fear within one another, and make sure it doesn't stick around. That way we move forward together. I will be a mother one day — hopefully soon. And I know that I'm already a better mom to my future child because of the community of women that touch my life.
Here's why we all need the power to plan ahead
I want women to have the power to plan ahead. Women are often brought to a state of literal panic before we learn what is going on with our own fertility. That needs to change immediately. There's no reason to be kept in the dark about how your body works and what it's capable of. I'm so thankful for the accessibility of the Modern Fertility Hormone Test because this medical information should've been available to women many, many, many moons ago.
In fact, after watching me discuss my Modern Fertility Hormone Test results with Modern Fertility's co-founder and CEO, Afton Vechery, on Instagram, my brother told me that he wants to start an “egg fund” for his 11-year-old daughter. I thought that was so cool! Whether she decides she wants to have children or not, her father is preparing to give her more options for motherhood. He told me, “When she's old enough, I don't want her to feel rushed. If she wants to travel or chooses a career requiring many years of school, I want her to know she can. Men can, and so should she. I'm her father and my job is to prepare her for life. Her health is her life.”
Why it's especially important for Black women to talk about fertility
There's a myth that all women of color are fertile. I think it goes all the way back to the days of enslaved Africans in this country — when enslaved women were thought to be “breeders.” Myths need to be debunked. Black women have the same fertility challenges as their counterparts. In fact, Black women experience fibroids, a hindrance to fertility, three times more than other ethnic groups. There's also a huge health disparity for women of color as we endure a higher maternal mortality rate and infant mortality in this country. That needs to change and it starts with telling the truth about the biases that still exist today. As more women of color openly share their infertility and birthing stories, we learn more about the specific changes that must occur. And we are making those changes. We have to.
I think that the Black Lives Matter movement and what we're experiencing now is really — pun intended — fertile ground. None of this is new to Black women. We've lived this life since birth — and are filled with pride in being born Black. What's new is the world at large is being forced to pay attention to the unequal treatment and brutality that Black people face in this country. And yes, those mistreatments do find their way into the world of fertility and healthcare. All of us, Black people and people of all races, need to ask ourselves what we can individually do to serve the communities and voices that are drastically underheard.
For me, WARRIOR WEDNESDAYS answers that question. It's my way of putting the spotlight on the common struggles and phenomenal resilience of Black women in the fertility community. I often welcome fertility specialist Dr. Cindy M. Duke MD, PhD, FACOG to the stage at WARRIOR WEDNESDAYS, as she is a Black woman and speaks beautifully to the culture from a medical and personal standpoint. My hope is that Black women will see their faces and know that their fertility journeys are not to be hidden or looked over. We are not broken. We must be there for each other. All women must have each other's back. As I always say, “Leave no egg behind.” And while you're at it, don't leave any sperm behind either. Infertility is not just a female diagnosis. Catch up, guys! Proactive fertility health is for all of us.
Fertility could be top of mind or on the back burner for now — but it has the power to impact everything. We're sharing your stories to both celebrate and create space for the many ways we navigate our careers, relationships, and finances in relation to our reproductive health. If you have a story to share, get in touch.