Experiencing early menopause pushes woman to create foundation to help others

At 13 years old, many girls are in the early stages of puberty, but when Kenzie Kelley was 13, she went through menopause. Now, a decade later, she hopes to use her experience to help women who struggle with fertility through her non-profit, the Whole Foundation Co.

“My period had stopped, and I didn’t tell anyone,” said Kelley, now 23, of Flowery Branch. “I was very young and innocent-minded. I didn’t know why it stopped. I had never done anything — I thought I was like the Virgin Mary.”

After going without her period for a year, Kelley began experiencing hot flashes, she gained weight rapidly, and she became very forgetful. Her mother took her to the pediatrician who said that while the symptoms mimicked post-menopausal symptoms, there was no way that’s what it was.

Kelley changed pediatricians several times and eventually met with her mother’s obstetrician. The OB did a full bloodwork panel and discovered that Kelley’s follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) was 180, the equivalent of an 80-year-old woman’s FSH level. It should have been 10 or less for a 13-year-old. There was no evidence of follicles or eggs, and Kelley’s uterus was thin because there was not a supply of hormones to keep it healthy.

“When the doctor saw all of that, she thought I had a tumor, maybe ovarian cancer,” said Kelley. “I had more testing, but there were no tumors or anything suspicious. That’s when we went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to figure out why this was happening.”

Kelley was at the Mayo Clinic three times for two-week stretches during her teens.

“They combed through every part of me,” said Kelley. “I left with 14 other diagnoses, but they never figured out the reason for what they called premature ovarian failure — a nice way of saying early menopause.”

Kelley’s mom gave birth to five children and never experienced fertility issues. Her grandmother went through menopause at 29, but doctors ruled that out as a connection to Kelley’s early menopause. She was placed on hormone replacement therapy to build up her uterine lining and to prevent uterine and ovarian cancers, which are more common in post-menopausal women. Kelley was also checked for osteoporosis, as bone loss typically increases after menopause. Doctors told her she had only a 5% chance of spontaneous pregnancy.

“I didn’t fully comprehend what that meant at the time,” said Kelley. “I was in high school. My mind wasn’t on fertility.”

It was, however, focused on love. Kelley was just 14 when she met Shane Adams, her husband of five years.

“We always felt a couple steps ahead and knew we wanted to get married young,” said Kelley. “Maybe it was my diagnosis, but I grew up fast and he was with me through all of that.”

Kelley began to feel the gravity of infertility after being married for a while.

“The path isn’t straight or narrow. Sometimes it feels like there’s no path at all,” said Kelley. “It created an identity crisis for me. There’s this worldly view that I should be able to reproduce and when you’re unable to, you’re not sure what you’re meant for. My identity is in Christ, but sometimes it’s hard not to focus on worldly things.”

In fall of 2022, Kelley and Adams pursued egg adoption. They quickly learned that it was extremely expensive. They applied for loans and grants and were denied by all of them. When those doors shut, they took it as a sign that the timing wasn’t right, and Kelley shifted her focus to a new mission.

“I want to create something that will help the infertility community with education, resources and financial alleviation,” said Kelley. “I want to create a retreat for anyone with infertility, I want to write about my story, participate in speaking engagements — anything I can do to bring awareness.”

Her non-profit, which launched in May 2023, is called the Whole Foundation Co.

“I chose ‘whole’ because something that was always in my head was that I didn’t feel like a whole person, like something was missing. I don’t want anyone to feel that way,” said Kelley. “No matter your diagnosis, you’re whole. You’re valued, you’re worthy.”

Kelley has found peace with her diagnosis and, while she hopes children are in her and Shane’s future, she has found acceptance with whatever comes.

“I’d love to look into adoption, or egg donation again,” said Kelley. “I’d love to become a mother one day, but also, I look at the word ‘mother’ as a broad term. It can be a sense of mentorship, biological or not. It’s being there to help people in any way, and I know I can do that.”

To learn more about the Whole Foundation Co., visit www.wholefoundationco.org