In a world were women are placed under immense societal pressure to have children, it makes speaking out about the difficult sides of conceiving all the more difficult. For so many women, having children is tied to their sense of self, so if it doesn't happen, the grief can be overwhelming. Films, books and TV will give you an illusion the majority of the time; it doesn't 'just happen'. And nor is the other side of this totally true, that we're going off in droves to freeze our eggs. Couples may not be able to conceive for a variety of reasons, but more often than not, we only hear the success stories. The woman who joyously got a 'miracle baby' as opposed to the one whose life was forever changed despite the time, effort and heartbreak put into fertility treatments, due to the fact that she couldn't have the children she so longed for.
It seems natural that we should be able to openly discuss this, but the reality is that we don't. Even though treatments such as IVF are becoming increasingly popular, still there comes a stigma surrounding it. It can be an isolating, very emotional and painful experience that few feel they can speak openly about. A study last year said that Irish people were more fertile than almost all of our European peers, but research this week suggests that almost half of the world's nations, including Ireland, are experiencing a 'baby bust' because there are not enough children to maintain their population size. So perhaps, fertility treatments really do need to be discussed more, after all.
"We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow we're broken."
To this end, former First Lady of the United States, the always eloquent Michelle Obama (oh, how we miss her) has been praised for candidly opening up about her own difficulties, and shining a light on the too-often-unspoken about heartache that can come with trying to conceive a family. Intimate details are revealed for the very time, in her highly anticipated new memoir Becoming, about her struggles. The fact that she and husband Barack had trouble conceiving twenty years ago. And then when they did, she suffered a miscarriage.
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"We were trying to get pregnant and it wasn't going well," she wrote in her upcoming memoir. "We had one pregnancy test come back positive, which caused us both to forget every worry and swoon with joy, but a couple of weeks later I had a miscarriage, which left me physically uncomfortable and cratered any optimism we felt."
She said that when she was around 34 years old, she realised that "the biological clock is real" and that "egg production is limited", which made her decide to seek IVF.
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IVF was the next step for the couple, as she revealed that both her daughters, Malia, 17 and Sasha, 20, were conceived in this way. She also said she undertook much of the treatment alone; she writes of being alone to administer herself shots to help hasten the process. Her "sweet, attentive husband" as she describes Barack was at the state legislature, "leaving me largely on my own to manipulate my reproductive system into peak efficiency."
"I felt like I failed because I didn't know how common miscarriages were because we don't talk about them," the former FLOTUS said on Good Morning America this week. "We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow we're broken", adding that "it's important to talk to young mothers about the fact that miscarriages happen."
"I think it's the worst thing that we do to each other as women, not share the truth about our bodies and how they work."
She also revealed that she and Barack underwent counselling when their relationship felt a strain. "Marriage counselling for us was one of those ways where we learned how to talk out our differences," she added, saying that for them, even in the most loving of relationships, their marriage took work."I know too many young couples who struggle and think that somehow there's something wrong with them. And I want them to know that Michelle and Barack Obama, who have a phenomenal marriage and who love each other, we work on our marriage."
"And we get help with our marriage when we need it."
Becoming by Michelle Obama (Viking, approx. €18.99) will be released on November 13th.