‘I Want To Take Ownership Of My Body, And Have Kids When I’m Ready’

Irene Agbontaen, star of Channel 4’s Highlife, explains why she decided to freeze her eggs - and share the journey on national TV

Irene Agbontaen

by Irene Agbontaen |

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I made the decision to freeze my eggs because I wanted to relieve some of the pressure that we feel, as women, about time ticking away before you find the right person. Some of my older friends have been quite open about regretting leaving it late to have a baby, and so I wanted to take control of that and take ownership over having kids when I'm ready to. It’s just a case of giving myself a bit more time without feeling: tick, tick, tick, time’s ticking!

It was important to me to be really honest about my egg freezing journey on Highlife, Channel 4’s new docu-reality series focusing on British-born first generation Nigerians and Ghanians. A lot of our culture is based around tradition, so the series shows how we navigate our traditional heritage versus growing up in a Western world. The main reason I wanted to be part of this show is because, when I was growing up, I didn’t see many girls who looked like me on TV, so I’m hoping that we can be part of the change that we’ve always wanted to see.

In our culture, it is mind-blowing that you can be in your 30s and not married and not have kids. My gran can't understand it. I wanted to change that narrative and show other women that they’re in control. That's definitely something that I want to highlight through this conversation: taking ownership of your body and not conforming to societal expectations.

My mum is on the show with me, so you get to see her reaction to me freezing my eggs, and her not understanding, or trying to understand. It's a generational conversation. When you go to Nigerian weddings, you will have your aunties that will be like, ‘Irene, when are we coming to your wedding?’ And you do feel that pressure. But I always say to them, it's not about ‘when will you marry?’ It’s more about, ‘when will you find the right person to marry?’ Because I could go and marry Joe Bloggs down the road but that doesn’t mean that we're compatible.

I want to be in a relationship that has strong foundations, with shared values and an understanding of how we merge to become a unit. I’ve seen friends who did marry in their early 20s because their families wanted them to, and now they're in their late 30s and going through divorce. They did it the way that traditionally our culture says they should, but they're not happy.

Another reason I wanted to share my journey on Highlife was because, when I was researching egg freezing, a lot of the information out there is from the US, and there really isn’t much from a UK perspective. I didn’t know how long the process took, or what it involved, I found out everything on my own. I didn’t have anyone that I knew personally had gone through it, no one I could ask to tell me what to expect. But the more that I started to have these conversations within my network, the more that everybody else was opening up and asking me questions about it and saying they wanted to do it.

Highlife
The cast of Highlife ©Channel 4

I’ve learned so much - the egg freezing process itself actually only takes two weeks, but there are tests you have to do that are very time-related. For example, one blood test you have to get on your first day of your period because of your hormone levels. You are not in control of when you want to have kids - it’s your body that is in control. And the way that you would service your car, and get an MOT every year, is how you should be looking after your body, with things like smear tests.

I’m in my mid-30s, and some people have said that's a bit late to freeze your eggs. Actually I think it's the perfect time because the government only recently extended the amount of time that you can store frozen eggs from ten years to 15 years. If I did it in my mid-20s, then ten years would have passed and now they’d be expiring and I still haven’t met anyone, so it would have been a waste of money!

One thing that I've learned throughout this process is that it’s actually more about understanding your relationship with your own body and less about societal pressures. I wanted to take ownership of my own body, and find the right person to have kids when I'm ready. Every woman should have that choice.

Irene Agbontaen is the founder of the TTYA franchise, which includes her Nigerian fashion brand, events programme and podcast series, TTYA Talks, in which she has profiled Leomie Anderson, FKA Twigs and Neelam Gill. Irene is one of the stars of Highlife, which airs tonight at 10pm as part of Channel 4’s Black to Front Project, and will then be available to stream at channel4.com

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