Exclusive: Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins Shares Her Journey To Motherhood Through IVF And Faith

Ashley Nguyen

Although actress Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins is known for her portrayal as Joelle Brooks on the Netflix series “Dear White People,” and is a noted podcast host for the OWN Network, she often describes herself as a vessel of faith for others, as she’s open about sharing her journey to motherhood, how she maintains her mental health, and the intricacies of marriage with her social media audience. Recently, online, Featherson-Jenkins detailed her IVF journey, as she had hopes of becoming pregnant after several years of being infertile and becoming diagnosed with unexplained infertility after over a year of trying to conceive naturally. She highlights her pursuit of parenthood with two Instagram Reels by sharing the seemingly daunting IVF process. The steps she covered included pre-transfer acupuncture, PIO shots (progesterone in oil injections, which helps make the lining of the uterus thicker to prepare for the fertilized egg), and the transference of embryos, ultimately resulting in pregnancy.

During one of her Reels, she expressed disappointment with pivoting to IVF. “I felt like my body was failing me, and no one could give me answers as to why.” However, when she and her husband, Darroll Jenkins, delved deeper into IVF, Featherson-Jenkins had a newfound appreciation for her body. She shared, “I did what I thought I could never do. I endured countless shots, medications, surgeries, brain MRIs, all to now to be on the other side, living amidst a miracle.” The miracle she’s speaking of is her unborn daughter, who is due in August. Featherson-Jenkins is sharing her journey in hopes of inspiring other women who are struggling with infertility to know that they aren’t alone, that there are so many options available, and to keep the faith. She believes it’s our birthright to become mothers, and it is attainable.

Featherson-Jenkins is right; Black women aren’t alone when it comes to infertility and seeking additional options to become pregnant. In fact, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center, four in ten adults (42%) say they have used fertility treatments or know someone who has. The study shows this percentage is up from 33% five years ago.

We spoke to Featherson-Jenkins about her motherhood journey, her IVF experience, and advice for other women tackling infertility.

ESSENCE: Speak to us about your journey to motherhood. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins: It’s been a long journey. I refer to my motherhood journey as the pursuit of parenthood. Typically, you pursue things that you want.

We were open to having our first child after Darroll and I married in September 2021. We tried to conceive for 13 months, but it just wasn’t working. We couldn’t figure out why. At the time, I had some things going on that I think doctors thought could be the reason for my infertility. I have a hyperprolactinoma, which is a benign brain tumor that rests on the pituitary gland in my brain, which kind of tricks my body into thinking that I need to lactate. I’ve had the tumor for about a decade, so there was speculation from my endocrinologist that could be the reason. Later on, I had PCOS. Lastly, I had fibroids, but people have fibroids and get pregnant all the time, and I also had my fibroids removed. So my OBGYN, who I love, finally, after about 15 months, suggested that we pivot and see the reproductive endocrinologist or a fertility specialist. She recommended one to us, so we went to him, and that was in November of 2022. And it was at that point I was diagnosed with what is called unexplained infertility. We pivoted with the fertility specialist, and he thought we were great candidates for IVF. At the top of 2023, is when I started doing hormone shots to prepare for my egg retrieval.

It’s also essential to note that men also suffer from infertility. It’s not the women every time. So, my husband went through a sperm analysis to make sure he was okay. 

Speak to us about the egg retrieval process. 

Our egg retrieval was successful. We got a good number of eggs, and we went on to immediately create embryos. We also got a large number of embryos, around 17, which was shocking to us because we couldn’t get pregnant before, but my body responded positively to IVF. So, after hearing about the embryos, we had to devise a comprehensive plan, which included taking a break. I wanted to continue to work on myself, which meant losing weight, getting my PCOS under control, and trying to wean myself off the medication for my brain tumor. I wanted to take some time to continue to work on myself. It was becoming a bit too much. 

How does it feel to be pregnant and to soon give birth after trying for several years?

A close friend of mine, Teyonah Parris, was on my podcast, Trials to Triumphs. She spoke about being pregnant with her daughter and how she couldn’t wrap her brain around it, as it was so much of a miracle that she asked, “God, is this really happening to me?” 

We’ve been in this parent journey zone for many years. And I remember hearing her say that and saying to myself, “I’m going to try my best to believe the miracle while I’m in it.” Being pregnant is the biggest miracle that’s ever happened in my life. 

I had to go through so many things that felt unnatural, whether it was all the medications, brain scans, a myomectomy, or countless doctor’s appointments. There are so many things that felt unnatural because, in a lot of ways, they were in order for me to have a very healthy pregnancy. It feels now that my body is performing at its peak naturally, and I’m awestruck by it. I’ve been through so much as it pertains to my reproductive system. I’m incredibly grateful. I feel proud of my body. There have been so many things that doctors or people have said that my body might not be able to do. 

I feel the most blessed I’ve ever felt, second to my wedding day.

What excites you most about motherhood?

What excites me the most is raising someone to be a fantastic human. I’m excited to meet my new favorite person. I’m excited to relate to my mom differently and have an even deeper understanding of her journey, who she is, and all she’s done for me.

What’s your advice to black women who are tackling infertility?

My advice to black women who are tackling infertility is to know that you’re not alone. It’s easy to want to alienate yourself, but you are not alone. The best thing you can do for yourself is find community, even if it’s not in person, or do what I did and go to TikTok to find community. I would also say it’s your right to have answers. Seek them out, go to doctors, see what’s covered by your insurance, see what specialist you can go to, and see what tests you can get to know what’s happening. The best armor that we could have when tackling infertility is knowing as much as we can about ourselves. 

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