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‘This is just how we live’: Michelle Obama on coping with menopause

by Jennifer McShane
22nd Aug 2020

Menopause is something every woman will experience in her lifetime, yet it is still shrouded in stigma. There are 34 symptoms of it with insomnia, night sweats and hot flushes being among the most common symptoms. But the not-so-common ones we don’t speak about either, including loss of libido, and vaginal atrophy. To this end, we need more awareness and prominent figures speaking out about their experiences – talking about it is the only way we’ll normalise it

Michelle Obama discussed it on a recent episode of her eponymous podcast, aptly titled What Your Mother Never Told You About Health with Dr Sharon Malone. She candidly spoke to Washington DC-based gynaecologist about all things women’s health – including the day-to-day impact her menopause side effects had on her life.

She explained she had begun to experience an onset of symptoms quite early, as she had been undergoing fertility treatments, before describing a particularly distressing hot flush when she was First Lady.


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“I have a very healthy baseline, and also, well, I was experiencing hormone shifts because of infertility, having to take shots and all that. I experienced the night sweats, even in my 30s, and when you think of the other symptoms that come along, just hot flushes, I mean, I had a few before I started taking hormones.

“And I remember having one on Marine One. I’m dressed, I need to get out, walk into an event, and, literally, it was like somebody put a furnace in my core and turned it on high, and then everything started melting. And I thought, ‘Well, this is crazy. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t do this’.”

Ending taboos 

It’s time to end the taboos around women’s health, she says, so that menopause is easier for women to talk openly about.

“What a woman’s body is taking her through is important information. It’s an important thing to take up space in a society, because half of us are going through this but we’re living like it’s not happening.”

The former First Lady then explained her husband, former US President Barack Obama, also learned a lot about the menopause during his time in the White House.

“Barack was surrounded by women in his cabinet, many going through menopause, and he could see it, he could see it in somebody, ’cause sweat would start pouring. And he’s like, “Well, what’s going on?” And it’s like, “No, this is just how we live,” you know,’ she explained.

“He didn’t fall apart because he found out there were several women in his staff that were going through menopause. It was just sort of like, ‘Oh, well, turn the air conditioner on’,” adding that believes women also need to be more honest about their reproductive health with men.

“How many men, do you think, could deal with the severest form of cramps? Which literally feels like a knife being stabbed and turned, and then released. And then turned! And then released. And you’ve got to do that, and you got to get up and keep going [snaps]. It’s like, go to work, go to school, go play on the basketball court.

“Every woman who’s playing a sport now is doing it through all those circumstances. And I don’t know any men who could possibly conceive of what that feels like.”

“When you think of all that a woman’s body has to do over the course of her lifetime, going from being prepared to give birth to actually giving birth, and then having that whole reproductive system shut down in menopause, right?

“The changes, the highs and lows, and the hormonal shifts, there is power in that. But we were taught to be ashamed of it and to not even seek to understand it or explore it for our own edification, let alone to help the next generation.”

You can listen to the full episode HERE

Read more: Perimenopause: The symptoms you may not know about

Read more: You’re not imagining it, menopause symptoms really are worse in lockdown

Read more: The Menopause Diaries: The change brought me back to myself, and I will be eternally grateful for that