Michelle Obama shares struggle with infertility
In a week that saw tremendous gains for women in public office, Michelle Obama just broke another major barrier.
The former first lady, in an interview promoting her forthcoming memoir, shared a painful and personal secret: She and Barack Obama struggled with infertility, had a miscarriage and used in vitro fertilization (IVF) to have their two daughters, Malia and Sasha.
What makes her story so remarkable is not that she and her husband had issues with fertility, but that she’s now talking about it and opening the door for the millions of women who had or currently have trouble conceiving to share their own stories.
“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, and how they don’t work,” Obama said in an interview Friday on Good Morning America.
That this particular woman broached this subject could move the focus immediately to how public policy treats it. Obama’s new willingness to discuss her previously secret struggles can shine a new light on the preva- lence of infertility and the incredible emotional and financial cost of going through medical treatments to have a baby.
While the Affordable Care Act, her husband’s signature legislative achievement, mandated coverage of maternal health care, it did not require coverage of fertility treatments. Neither does Medicaid. And while 15 states have passed laws that insurers cover or offer coverage for infertility treatments, women in the remaining 35 states often must pay out of pocket if they hope to conceive. And even when it is covered, it’s sometimes only partially, and still requires a massive outlay of cash that is out of reach for most people.
IVF can cost as much as $20,000 a cycle, so the ability to have children becomes a question of means. In other words, only infertile couples with that kind of disposable income have full options when it comes to getting pregnant. It’s perhaps the starkest example of health access disparities.
In May, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced legislation requiring insurers cover infertility treatments without raising premiums or co-pays. The bill never went anywhere, but could find new life in a Democratic-led House with a record number of female members.
Much like mental health is an invisible illness that people often fear speaking about, so is infertility.