“I want to take responsibility for my body and have children when I’m ready”

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I made the decision to freeze my eggs because I wanted to take the pressure off we as women because time passes before you find the right person. Some of my older friends have fairly openly regretted giving up too late to have a baby, so I wanted to take control and take responsibility for having children when I was ready. It’s just about giving myself a little more time without feeling: tick, tick, tick, time’s tick!

It was important to me to be genuinely honest on my egg freezing trip at Highlife, Channel 4’s new docu-reality series that focuses on UK-born Nigerians and first-generation Ghanaians. Much of our culture is tradition-based, so the series shows how we manage our traditional heritage versus growing up in a western world. The main reason I wanted to be part of this series is because when I was a kid I didn’t see a lot of girls on TV who looked like me, so I hope we can be part of the change we’ve always wanted see.

In our culture, it’s overwhelming that you can be in your thirties and not be married and not have children. My grandma can’t understand. I wanted to change that narrative and show other women that they are in control. That is definitely something I would like to emphasize in this conversation: taking personal responsibility for your body and not adapting to social expectations.

My mom is on the show with me so you can see her reaction to me freezing my balls and she doesn’t understand or try to understand. It’s a generation talk. When you go to Nigerian weddings your aunts will say, “Irene, when are we coming to your wedding?” And you feel that pressure. But I always tell them it’s not about ‘When are you going to get married?’ It’s more about, “When do you find the right person to marry?” Because I could marry Joe Bloggs, but that doesn’t mean we’re compatible.

I want to be in a relationship with strong foundations, with shared values ​​and an understanding of how we merge into one. I’ve seen friends who got married in their early twenties because their families wanted to, and now they’re in their late thirties and getting divorced. They did it as our culture traditionally dictates, but they are not happy.

Another reason I wanted to share my trip on Highlife was that when I was researching egg freezing, a lot of the information came from the US and really not much from a UK perspective. I didn’t know how long the process took or what it involved, I figured it all out myself. I had no one I personally knew had been through, no one to ask what to expect. But the more I started having these conversations on my network, the more everyone else opened up and asked me questions about it and said they wanted to do it.

The cast of Highlife © Channel 4

I’ve learned so much – freezing eggs itself actually only takes two weeks, but there are tests you need to take that are very time dependent. For example, you will need to have a blood test for your hormone levels on the first day of your period. You are not in control of when you want to have children – it is your body that is in control. And the way you maintain your car and get MOT every year is the way you should take care of your body with things like swab tests.

I’m in my mid 30s and some people have said it’s a little late to freeze your eggs. In fact, I think the timing is perfect because the government recently extended the frozen egg retention period from 10 to 15 years. If I had done it in my mid 20s, ten years would have passed and now they would expire and I still haven’t met anyone so it would have been a waste of money!

One thing I learned during this process is that it is actually more about understanding your relationship with your own body and less about social pressures. I wanted to take responsibility for my own body and find the right person to have children when I am ready. Every woman should have this choice.

Irene Agbontaen is the founder of the TTYA Franchise that includes her Nigerian fashion brand, events program and podcast series TTYA Talks, in which she portrayed Leomie Anderson, FKA Twigs and Neelam Gill. Irene is one of the stars of Highlife, which will air at 10 p.m. tonight as part of Channel 4’s Black to Front Project, when it will be available to stream channel4.com



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