The former first lady conceived her two daughters using in-vitro fertilization.
Michelle Obama may have graduated from Harvard Law School, appeared on the cover of Vogue three times, and served as the nation’s first African American first lady, but just like 11 percent of American women, she’s struggled with infertility. A couple of weeks after her first pregnancy 20 years ago, the former first lady suffered a miscarriage, and she relied on in vitro fertilization to conceive her two daughters, Sasha and Malia, according to her memoir, Becoming.
"I felt lost and alone, and I felt like I failed," Obama said. "I didn't know how common miscarriages were because we don't talk about them. We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow we're broken."
And the former first lady's thinking isn’t unusual. Even though miscarriage is the most common pregnancy complication in the United States, occurring in upwards of 20 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies, a study found that 55 percent of survey respondents believed it was rare, taking place in less than six percent of pregnancies. This misunderstanding can intensify the isolation felt by those who had a miscarriage and place a greater burden on their shoulders; the majority of miscarriages are caused by having an abnormal number of chromosomes in a cell, but nearly half of those who had a miscarriage felt guilty and more than 40 percent felt as though they had done something wrong, according to the study.
Despite the 41 percent success rate of in vitro fertilization for women under 35 years old, Obama, then in her mid-30s, resorted to the assisted reproductive technology, which involves combining extracted eggs and a sperm sample in a lab and transferring the resulting embryo to the uterus. One single IVF cycle can cost at least $12,000, and in order to stimulate the ovaries, women must take injectable fertility medications. While her husband worked in the state legislature, Obama was left to self-administer her shots, “leaving me largely on my own to manipulate my reproductive system into peak efficiency,” she said.
In opening up about her battles, Obama is helping to raise awareness of this downplayed public health problem. And since 28 percent of the study participants responded that miscarriage disclosures by celebrities and other public figures make them feel less alone in their experiences, she’s providing a sense of comfort, too.