There are times when we all wish we had a smart doctor friend to assure us that yes, what we’re experiencing and have experienced with our bodies is normal. In the latest episode of Michelle Obama’s “The Michelle Obama Podcast,” she brought that fantasy to life in conversation with her friend OBGYN Sharon Malone (@smalonemd on instagram) where pretty much nothing was off-limits in the realm of women’s bodies doing their thing. Menopause sweats on Marine 1? Check. The little “first period” kit you get from your mother? Check.
“So one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about health, especially in this series of conversations where we’re talking about relationships, and all the things that make us who we are, as women, in particular,” Obama said early in the episode. “We can’t really full unravel that, that, that idea without us fully understanding the relationship we have with our own bodies.”
She and Malone went through the range of different complicated and hormonal parts of growing into your body as a person with a uterus — emphasizing that these are moments men and other non-uterus owning people should be privy to as well.
“So this episode might not be one to listen to alone. You may want to put this on the speaker and blast it throughout the house, so that your husband or your boyfriend, or your brother, they can hear it too,” she adds. “I think this one might help open up some eyes, and help you open up a conversation that you’ve been meaning to have. It’s worth it for everybody to hear this kind of stuff.”
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For this week’s conversation on The #MichelleObamaPodcast, I’m talking to one of my dear friends, Dr. @smalonemd. Sharon is an OBGYN, and she’s someone my friends and I always turn to for perspective on our health and our bodies. As women, we often have questions about our bodies—what we know, what we don’t know, what we’re uncertain or anxious about. In our conversation on The #MichelleObamaPodcast, we talk about everything from puberty to menopause, from body image to hot flashes. And I know that this might sound like a conversation that’s just for women, but to be honest, men can learn a lot from this one, too. It’s a conversation that might help open up some eyes—or foster conversations that you’ve been meaning to have. You can listen to our conversation now on @Spotify at the link in my bio.
There’s the early years of puberty (she shares that her own mother had “the talk” on lock, with one of those menstruating supply kits waiting under the bed for her big first period debut), her time dealing with infertility and approaching menopause while being a member of the first family (which is cause to sweat and stress on its own).
“This sort of perimenopausal, menopausal phase is also a time when, either women who’ve had, history of depression, or anxiety, it’s worse, around the time of the menopause, and sometimes it’s women who’ve never had a history of either of these things, and then they find that, around the time, it’s this great unmasking of all the, sort of emotional changes that go on,” Malone adds, noting that decisions on taking hormones/beginning a hormone replacement therapy can be personal and complicated and really depend on each person’s experience in their bodies.
“I think, the first, divide, is hormones or no hormones. Do you want ’em or do you not want them? And it depends upon which category you fall into. I think the women who have the most symptoms who are most bothered, who’ve got hot flashes and night sweats, and you know, and just all the mood stuff, that’s an easy sell, because you’re going to, when you take hormone replacement therapy, there are a lot of other alternative things you can do, and that’s assuming that you’ve already exercised and you’re eating right, and you’re, you know, mitigating the stress in your life,” she says. “But nothing is going to hit all of those things as efficiently as hormone replacement therapy. The other imponderable about this, is that even though, after I’ve told you all those symptoms that you could have, and you say, well, how long does it last?Well, if it lasted for two months, you might be fine and say I’m good…It’s the same thing. Those sort of immediate things, hot flashes, sleeplessness, the bleeding stuff, it tends to go away, in time, but there are some other things that actually don’t show up until later. And there are things like, um, you know, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, urinary symptoms, those happen, just when you think, phew, I’m out of that.”
For people experiencing menopause/perimenopause, these symptoms and decisions about what feels right for their bodies are incredibly common but also stigmatized and encouraged to be made invisible — even for the most “powerful” and seemingly out-there/up-front women. Obama recalls how her husband, while in office, 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.'”
But, thankfully, she adds that he knew enough to recognize how to navigate it in a way that wouldn’t make his co-workers miserable: “You know, 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, you know, because, there’s a lot of the functions of day to day life when you’re going through menopause that just don’t work… 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.”
But the two also remind us that menopause isn’t just about sweating and hormones and “puberty in reverse” — though that’s part of it — but also about another transformative moment of getting to accept yourself and present yourself authentically. (And who doesn’t want that?)
“I think the good news, about menopause, is that, even though getting there, is complicated, you know, it may be the first time, in a lot of women’s lives when you’re not tied down by the other things that are, that are just part of your day to day life,” Malone says. “The notion of, trying to present yourself, to someone, other than your truly, authentic self, kind of fades away.”
Obama agrees: “You just get to say, you know, this is it.”
You can listen to the full episode “What Your Mother Never Told You About Health with Dr. Sharon Malone” on Spotify (or check out the transcript if you’re more of a reader.)
Before you go, check out this overview of all the menstrual products we have access to in 2020: