Actress, writer and award-winning fertility advocate Kellee Stewart has become a well-known “egg advocate,” traveling across the country to normalize conversations around infertility, speak candidly about her egg-freezing experience and encourage others to celebrate their own journeys to parenthood. Evite partnered with her to create our Parenthood Journey category, a collection of invitations designed to honor Egg Showers, IVF showers, Rainbow Baby showers and adoption celebrations, and she sat down with us to share more about her personal journey.
What was the moment in your parenthood journey that prompted you to become an egg advocate and fertility warrior?
It was a moment of panic! When I go to the grocery store and buy a carton of eggs I always check the sell-by date. And it dawned on me that I never asked my fertility specialist if there was a “fertilize-by date” for my frozen eggs. So I rushed back to the clinic to get an answer, and once I calmed down, I realized there were so many people panicked about fertility just like I was. I moved into action. I became a self-proclaimed “egg advocate” that very same day. I didn’t want another person to be confused about their fertility potential and the options available to them. I set a goal to become a voice in the infertility community and encourage people from every walk of life to be proactive about their reproductive health. In most cases, we teach our youth how to avoid making a baby, but we don’t tell people what to do when conception is not working. There’s a severe lack of knowledge about reproductive health and practices in our society, so I set out to be a vessel of information, resources and advocacy.
In your experience, what has been the most difficult part of the process? What has been the most affirming and positive?
The most difficult part was learning how to accept that my start to motherhood didn’t happen as I dreamed it would. It was a Sunday, and I was 37 years old when I ended my seven-year relationship. By the following Wednesday, I was in the doctor’s office waiting to hear my fertility fate. Do I have any eggs left? Have I waited too long? Did I just give my best baby-making years to the wrong man? The answers to those questions were maybe, almost, DEFINITELY! My desire to have a child and my life circumstances were not on the same timeline. To say that reality has been difficult to embrace would be an understatement. However, what made it easier was that I was a good candidate to freeze my eggs…so I did. Going through IVF to retrieve 29 frozen eggs as a way to potentially build my family is a journey I’ll never regret.
What advice would you offer to people considering going to a fertility specialist? Any questions they should ask themselves or their doctor?
Your first trip to a fertility specialist is going to be scary. Don’t let fear stop you! You deserve to know the issues you’re facing along with the options available to you. Starting infertility treatments can be a stressful and emotionally draining process. Therefore, it’s imperative to have a support system in place to guide and nourish you along the way. Once you’ve begun the process, I suggest writing down your follow-up questions before each new appointment. We often leave the doctor’s office with unanswered questions because the journey itself can be daunting. I also recommend bringing a trusted partner, friend or loved one to be your health advocate and mouthpiece if needed. Be clear and realistic about your fertility goals and understand the road ahead may not always be smooth. However, as long as you’re being true to yourself, you’ll find renewed strength, and hopefully the result, you’re looking for.
What things do you wish people knew about fertility and the journey to parenthood that aren't discussed often enough?
I wish that people knew the truth about the underlying conditions that cause infertility. For instance, fifty percent of all infertility cases, when sperm and egg are trying to conceive, are due to male factor infertility. Although women are often the face of infertility, we must acknowledge that statistically, the male counterpart is equally affected. Additionally, I wish we all knew about and took part in fertility diagnostic testing to gain knowledge about ovarian reserve (on average) and/or sperm count. I wish the basic truths of reproductive health and the conditions that can affect it were taught just as regularly as sex education—if not more. If we understood the functions of our reproductive systems BEFORE conception becomes problematic, perhaps we’d be more prepared to choose our path should assistance be required.
Are there any words or phrases of support that stand out in your mind as being impactful/encouraging?
PARENTHOOD JOURNEY is currently my favorite phrase. This beautiful new category invites those that suffer in silence to come out of the shadows and celebrate their journeys. This is something that has never been done before. The Baby Shower, as we know it, was a tradition that started in the 1950s baby-boom era. The same medical conditions that caused infertility cases back then are the same conditions that we currently face. The difference is science has discovered ways to treat such ailments and created methods of assisted reproduction that give people a better chance to conceive. So, since millions will encounter infertility and use medical assistance to build their families, we can’t keep our traditions stuck in the 1950s. It’s time for the Baby Shower tradition to expand and include the millions of people that, up until now, have been left without recognition and support. Evite and I created PARENTHOOD JOURNEY because infertility deserves a shower too!
On the other side, what SHOULDN'T people say or do?
I say this with my full voice, if someone you know is on an infertility journey, never start a sentence with “Have you ever considered…?” Everyone challenged in their journey to parenthood has definitely considered all of their options. In fact, they’ve gone over it countless times with their doctors, trusted friends, online support groups, spouses and even themselves. These are sensitive topics that can often be triggering, so let the hopeful patient lead the way. You never know if someone just received discouraging news or is saddened because their friends keep getting pregnant when they are not. Instead, be a voice of encouragement, hope, and most importantly, understanding. This is where PARENTHOOD JOURNEY invitations can help. Sometimes we don’t know what to say. And sometimes there’s nothing you can say. But, most of the time a gathering of supportive loved ones showering someone with support will make them feel seen, heard and encouraged.
How can people support someone undergoing an assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedure?
You can support someone on the journey by simply being a non-judgmental ear that listens and a supportive shoulder to lean on. You can also educate yourself on what they may be going through by reading books and listening to podcasts on the topic. Our empathy grows when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and gaining the knowledge of their experience will help you feel closer to the emotions they may encounter. And of course, if they’re the partying type, a PARENTHOOD JOURNEY-inspired shower can be helpful, whether you give it for someone or they throw one themselves.
What prompted you to throw yourself an Egg Shower?
Knowing my WORTH prompted me to throw an Egg Shower! I deserve it and so does everyone else that wants to celebrate their journey. I’ve gone to dozens of baby showers in my lifetime and spent thousands of dollars celebrating people’s pregnancies. Is my journey not as worthy of celebration because it’s delayed? Is someone not worthy to be showered with love and support because they’re challenged with infertility? I believe the journey is just as important as the destination. We have to start new traditions that meet us where we are as a society. Infertility treatments are not widely covered by insurance, leaving patients with the heavy burden of paying out of pocket. Well, the same way a new parent registers for baby gifts, a hopeful parent on the journey should register for the support they need to reach their goals. We all show up to celebrate the people we love, but until we normalize the different ways families are built, some of us are left out of the party. I created The Egg Shower and threw my own celebration because I refuse to be left out when I know millions of people are on the journey with me. Now I travel to fertility clinics across the U.S. hosting Egg Showers for doctors, patients and communities at large. Normalizing the conversations around infertility is my mission, and Evite has been the most incredible partner in the fight to make that happen.
For people who want to throw an Egg Shower, what are some tips you'd recommend?
Make your Egg Shower fun and memorable! I’m very cheeky, so I found jumbo syringes and filled them with jello shots (mine had vodka)! We played competition games like, “Design the best IVF bodysuit” for the hopeful baby to come. I also threw an Egg Shower with Laurel Fertility Care in California in which Dr. Collin B. Smikle M.D., Reproductive Endocrinologist attended and answered fertility questions for the guests. See if your doctor will come by as an added surprise guest to your shower! We had a photo booth with an egg chair and hashtag signs, including #EggShower, #IVFShower, #AdoptionShower and #FertilityShower. Use cakes shaped like eggs, fill jars with hopeful messages, create games and make videos that support the journey for the guest of honor. But no matter what, just remember, YOUR JOURNEY DESERVES A SHOWER TOO!