‘I need to 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.’ – Michelle Obama
Though it’s a commonplace condition that the vast majority of women experience, menopause remains shrouded in secrecy and stigma – like many female health conditions.
But pioneering women like Michelle Obama are thankfully committed to tackling that stigma.
The former First Lady spoke about all thing’s women health on the latest episode of her new Spotify podcast where she was joined by her friend, gynaecologist Dr Sharon Malone. Obama opened up about her own personal experiences, including taking hormones both for menopause and previous struggles with infertility – which she documented in her bestselling memoir Becoming.
‘I, too, am a hormone taker, low risk, on all the other fronts, because I have a very healthy baseline, and also, I was experiencing hormone shifts because of infertility, having to take shots and all that,’ the 56-year-old explained. ‘I experienced the night sweats, even in my thirties, and, when you think of the other symptoms that come along, just hot flashes.’
Obama then detailed how she had these symptoms while working in one of the most-observed positions in the world, as first Lady during her husband Barack Obama’s presidency.
‘I remember having one on Marine one [the helicopter carrying the president]. 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.’
The mother of two then discussed how she spoke about what she was experiencing with her husband, which was helpful to him as he was working closely with many women of a similar age also going through the menopause and therefore he could learn how to accommodate his female colleagues.
‘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, you know?” and it’s like no, this is just how we live.
‘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,” because, there’s a lot of the functions of day to day life when you’re going through menopause that just don’t work, it’s like how we dress, wearing a suit?! Any person who’s going through menopause who’s going to work everyday in a suit, you can be drenched in sweat, down to your core, in the middle of a freezing cold office, and have to shower, and change clothes, and fix your hair all over again.’
On the podcast she discussed having more open conversations surrounding issues of women’s health, so that women don’t have to suffer in silence and feel so uncomfortable, particularly in areas and workplaces dominated by men. The friends then moved on to joking about whether men could withstand the female experience of pain, with Obama commenting: ‘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 got to get up and keep going, go to work, go to school, you know, 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 possible conceive of what that feels like.’