The Catalyze podcast: SEVEN Talk, by Janel Monroe ’10: “Finding Freedom Through Fertility”
Today’s episode is a recording of a SEVEN Talk from the 2022 Alumni Forum. This talk, given by Janel Monroe ’10, is entitled, “Finding Freedom Through Fertility.” Janel is the strategy senior manager for Accenture.
Janel Monroe ’10 is an inclusion, diversity, and equity practitioner who currently works as a strategy senior manager at Accenture. Prior to joining Accenture, she led inclusion and diversity at Campbell Soup Company and spent seven years in strategy consulting, focusing on talent and human potential. Janel resides in Philadelphia but enjoys traveling to warm and tropical locations, as well as internationally. Janel double majored in communication studies and cultural studies at Carolina.
How to listen
Catalyze is hosted and produced by Sarah O’Carroll for the Morehead-Cain Foundation, home of the first merit scholarship program in the United States and located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can let us know what you thought of the episode by finding us on Twitter or Instagram at @moreheadcain or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello, everyone. Good morning. I see some movement. Before I start, I want to just share that I’m going to be talking about fertility in a bit. You’ll be seeing myself give myself injections, so if it’s triggering for anyone, I totally understand. If you want to get up and excuse yourself, that’s completely fine.
So when I got asked to give a SEVEN talk, I thought, “Why me? What am I going to talk about? What story do I have to share? I’m not a CEO, I’m not a published author, I’m certainly not the governor of North Carolina, so couldn’t they just call him?” But then I thought about the essence of seven, and I thought about Eve Carson, and specifically I thought about three days prior to her untimely death, or two days prior to her untimely death, I sat with her at a Morehead dinner, and I thought about how we talked, and we shared, and we talked about our lives and who we are as individuals—she a white woman, me a black woman. And I thought about what I would tell her now, what would I share with her now? So this is what I thought about.
For me, 24 was the number I was going to be married. I was going to have kids by 24. Fast forward ten years. I’m 34 now. I have no kids. I do not have a partner. I don’t really have plans to have kids in the next couple of years. But what I do have is I have a couple of eggs sitting in a cryogenic storage facility. So last year I started thinking about child rearing and the timeline we as women face. And I had asked a couple of friends, I said, “Have you thought about this?” And some of them said, “Yeah, I thought about it. I’m planning on having kids.” I thought about how easily friends got pregnant growing up. No problems, everything was an accident. But then, as I thought about getting older, I was like, okay, some of my friends are starting to plan on having families, and they’re thinking about starting getting pregnant, and some of them are having trouble. And fertility wasn’t a thing that came as easily. I started having friends who were using the term geriatric pregnancy. And I was thinking, “What does that mean? Like, we’re in our thirties.”
And so I learned that geriatric pregnancy, though an outdated term, is when a woman gets pregnant after the age of 35, and they’re considered high risk after the age of 35. And I just kept thinking, “Wow, that’s really young.” And as I learned in my research that geriatric pregnancy is an outdated term, so do not use that term anymore. We actually say “advanced maternal age,” advanced at 35. So I knew women were born with a fixed number of eggs, right? So that number decreases as we get older. Okay? But what I didn’t know is that the remaining eggs that we have start to potentially face issues. They might have abnormal chromosomes that could affect the viability of the egg or even the health of the child. So cue the anxiety at 33. As I said, I have no partner. I have no plans to have kids. I started to feel angst. What if I get married, and I want to have kids and I can’t? What if I don’t get married and I want to have kids and I can’t. Am I going to be too late? It was like someone turned on a timer, and it just started ticking every single day in my head. And every time I saw a mother or a child or someone pregnant, it was getting louder and louder and louder.
So at that point, I started to do some more research. I started talking to friends, and a few of them had learned about this egg freezing thing. I knew that people were talking about it. I had some friends that had completed the process, and I was surprised at how many people knew about this, quote, fountain of maternal youth, and hadn’t shared publicly. So I decided I would share publicly. First, I called my mom and I told her. My mom has been in the healthcare industry for her entire career. She’s a nurse, she teaches nursing. And neither of my parents had ever pressured me to have kids. They always said, “You know, live your best and fullest life, whatever path that takes you on, great. Grandkids, cool. If not, fine.” But when I call my mom, she was easily on board.
Great. This is awesome. Cool. Excited. Next, I share with my dad, and on the phone, my dad says, “Okay, baby, that sounds wonderful.” I have since learned, he immediately hung up the phone and called my mom and said, “Has she lost her ever-loving mind?” So he asked all the questions, “Is this safe? Is she going to be able to cover the cost for this and everything?” And I knew that what he really wanted to do was be 100% supportive to me on the phone. So he just knew he would call my mom.
Then I decided that I would tell all my friends on social media. And that’s when it started to dawn on me, the idea of maternal health, and specifically black maternal health. People asked a number of questions in my DMs. They asked me, “How much does it cost?” “Is your insurance covering it?” “What if you have complications?” “What if you find out you have some genetic factor that you don’t know about?” A lot of questions and a lot of fear came up. And a lot of fear, obviously, from a lot of my black friends, as black maternal health is something in a field that has been distrusted and disregarded as you think about women who have faced issues. We know about Beyonce; we know about Serena Williams, but what about me? So after my initial appointment… oh, sorry, to back up, I then decided that I would share with them, because a lot of them asked, “Can you continue to share your details? I want to know how this progresses on your journey.”
So I decided to share those as videos that will show behind you, but, support informative videos for my friends. I didn’t expect to be sharing this with you all today, so here we go. After my initial appointment, my doctor says, “It’s great. You’re a great candidate. You have a number of eggs for freezing, which on one hand is a good thing, but on the other hand could be a symptom of PCOS, which is polysystic ovary syndrome.” PCOS affects one in ten women of childbearing age and can cause high levels of androgens and many cysts on the ovaries. While my rare and high egg count was not a result of PCOS, I enjoyed doing the research and being able to inform friends about PCOS. When the medicines arrived at my house, the process got very real. I started the day after Thanksgiving last year, and while I was confident that I could administer the shots on my own, I asked a friend over for mortal support.
Using a syringe, I drew up the saline, and I mixed it with the powder that came in the little vial, and injected that into my stomach. I then used the Redi-ject pin to turn the dial and get the appropriate amount, and then injected that into my stomach as well. Luckily, I had a couple of friends who had done IVF, and they suggested that I alternate sides to keep the soreness down from the injections. The first week, I went to the doctor’s office every other day to have blood work and an ultrasound. And the office, while it was super inviting and the staff was multicultural, there was something that was a little off every time I went in. And what I realized is that, subconsciously, as I was looking at the promotional materials and the marketing materials, there were no black babies and no black mothers. And so subconsciously, I was asking myself, “Can I be a success story?” But it really made me double down on my need to tell people about this journey that I was on. So after the first seven days, the doctor started to change some of the dosage. On one particular night, I needed to take half of a dose, and I took astrology as my science with the lab at Carolina. So I needed to reach back all the way to, like, 10th grade chemistry to figure out how to half the dosage of this pre-filled vial. So about eight YouTube videos, two calls from my mom, called a fellow Morehead scholar, Jessica Lynch, who had done this process, and a few prayers later, I was able to administer the appropriate dosage. And the next day, the lab showed that my follicles were growing, and I had done something right. So, at some point, I started to become very cognizant of my ovaries. Never really felt my ovaries before, it’s always been great, but I started to feel a bit bloated in days, like walking around, bending over, doing normal activity, I started to notice they were noticeably larger. So I went to the doctor, and of course, he says, “Well, this is something called kissing ovaries. Your ovaries are actually large enough that they’re touching one another.” He suggested that I take it easy the next couple of days, and then we’re walking around in the Philadelphia streets, and so I did it as he suggested. The day before the retrieval, my mom came to town. So I thought this was really special to have my mom there as I took the next step of me potentially becoming a mom in the future.
The surgery was only about 45 minutes. I needed someone to drive me home after the anesthesia. That evening, the doctor called me and said that I had 26 eggs that he was able to extract, and 24 of those were viable. Now, if you remember in the beginning, I said 24 was the number that always was in my head. So it was very ironic and, in a sense, kind of full circle that I’m able to have 24 eggs on ice, and when I decide to use them, I can use them. I know that my biological clock is still ticking, but I also know that I was able to find freedom through my fertility journey and hopefully give you all some insight as well.