Michelle Obama has been making headlines recently—for her candor about her marriage, her upbringing and, notably, her struggles with infertility. In her new book and recent interviews, the former First Lady outlines how a miscarriage left her feeling “lost and alone” and “broken,” and how she ultimately used IVF to get pregnant with former First Daughters Malia and Sasha.
Take a scroll through social media and you’ll see families thanking the former FLOTUS for opening up about her struggle, and giving her kudos for shedding light on the devastation many feel after a miscarriage. It hasn’t all been positive, however. She has received some backlash for waiting so long to reveal her fertility issues, as well as her pro-choice political views. Some people questioned why she wasn’t more knowledgeable on the topic at the time. (Really.)
When celebrities take the plunge and open up about their fertility struggles—like famous folks including Gabrielle Union, Chrissy Teigen, and Kim Kardashian West recently did—it can provoke some strong emotions from fans and foes alike.
You Are Not Alone
“Despite the large number struggling to have a baby, infertility can be isolating for many women and couples,” says Daniel Kort, M.D., double board-certified OB/GYN and reproductive endocrinologist with Neway Fertility. The more patients understand that they are not alone, the better they feel during their journey—with that understanding coming from many places, including family, friends, counselors and yes, the media, Kort says.
While [patients] can be inspired by a celebrity’s fertility journey, they can also become discouraged, angry, and resentful,” says Hokemeyer. “This is because most celebrities have access to a range of services that most people do not.He continues: “While celebrities discussing their struggles does not replace a broad, strong support network, it can help many women and couples feel less isolated.”
When celebrities reveal their imperfections and vulnerabilities, fans are able to connect with them on a deeper and more meaningful level, says Paul L. Hokemeyer, J.D., Ph.D., a clinical and consulting psychotherapist, who has experience treating issues relating to celebrity, power, and success, as well as interfamily dynamics and conflicts.
“Like other forms of intimacy, this level of connection enables us to feel a part of a community that has a shared narrative of courage, strength, and resiliency,” Hokemeyer says.
Consume Media In Small Bites
Though the overwhelming response to Mrs. Obama’s revelation has been positive, feeling negative emotions about a celeb’s revelation can happen, too, Hokemeyer says.
“While [patients] can be inspired by a celebrity’s fertility journey, they can also become discouraged, angry, and resentful,” says Hokemeyer. “This is because most celebrities have access to a range of services that most people do not. It’s easy to feel validated when the celebrity’s fertility journey mirrors their own, but when their paths diverge by the celebrity’s success, there is a risk of the celebrity becoming [an] object of hostility.”
So how can you make sure keeping tabs on a celebrity’s journey doesn’t bring you down? Remember the food rule: moderation is key.
“Media consumption, especially tabloid media consumption, is like food,” Hokemeyer says. “Garbage in. Garbage out. I advise my patients to consume celebrity media like a condiment. A teaspoon of mayonnaise on a turkey sandwich is OK, but a diet of mayonnaise will make you sick.”
Keep in mind that lots of celebrity coverage and content is meant to sell magazines and products. “If it makes you feel ‘less than’, avoid it like the plague,” Hokemeyer says.
Share On Your Own Timeline
If you’re itching for more details about a famous person’s treatment or wondering why they haven’t opened up about their family plan yet, remember that famous folks have a right to privacy about medical struggles just like you do.
If you’re itching for more details about a famous person’s treatment or wondering why they haven’t opened up about their family plan yet, remember that famous folks have a right to privacy about medical struggles just like you do.“While all patients respond differently, most understand that going public with infertility takes a lot of courage,” Kort says. “Sharing a deeply personal struggle has to be done at the right time and place, which is different for everyone, including celebrities.” A celebrity (or their family) may not be ready for personal details to be revealed on the public’s timeline.
In Mrs. Obama’s case, revealing this information while her husband was in office could have pulled focus from some of her other initiatives, Hokemeyer says.
“With issues that carry intimacy and the vulnerabilities inherent in them, it’s critically important that the person with the disclosure to make does so on her own terms and in a time frame that’s relevant to her—not the public,” he says.
“This is especially important for a person who has a heightened sense of responsibility for her or his public role. As first lady, [Mrs.] Obama’s primary duty was to the public she served [and] revealing highly intimate matters during this period would have only served as a distraction from these duties.”
News Flash: Celebrities Are People, Too
Bottom line: When you learn about a celebrity dealing with fertility issues or even on her or his road to baby, keep in mind that they are both like you and unlike you—just like everyone else.
They are human and may be struggling just like you and on the flip side they may have access to unique treatments or need different treatments than you. Take it all with a grain of salt, like you would regarding similar news of friends or family. No matter how much the media sensationalizes something, try to only absorb what benefits you.
“While much of the media can be helpful to patients, a lot of misinformation remains,” Kort says. “For women and couples undergoing fertility treatment, it is essential to have the right ‘team’ of people—doctors, counselors, friends, and even other patients—to help filter in good and helpful information.”
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