Michelle Obama: Pregnancy and Fertility Challenges

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Becoming" by Michelle Obama. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How did Michelle Obama struggle with pregnancy? How did the Obama family affect Barack’s political reputation?

Michelle Obama always dreamed of being a mother but when the time came, she struggled to get pregnant. After trying many different methods, she finally became pregnant thanks to IVF. But it wasn’t smooth sailing from there. The Obama’s new family impacted both of their careers.

Continue on to learn about Michelle Obama’s pregnancy and the effects it had on her life.

Michelle Obama’s Career Change

Michelle, now 32 years old, prepared to make another career transition. After three years running Public Allies, she accepted a job as an associate dean at the University of Chicago. Her role was to focus on community relations and make sure the university was better known to everyone in the city. With a larger paycheck and less-demanding hours, she could focus on her personal life, which for her meant it was time to become a mother. However, for Michelle Obama, pregnancy wasn’t so easy.

The Obamas’ Quest for a Baby  

Both Barack and Michelle wanted to have a baby, but conception didn’t happen easily. After trying to get pregnant for several months, Michelle had a miscarriage. The couple sought the help of a fertility doctor, who recommended Michelle take a drug to help with her egg production. That wasn’t successful, and a few months later the couple decided to attempt in vitro fertilization (IVF). Michelle felt she was extremely fortunate because her job at the university came with top-notch health insurance benefits that would cover the cost.  

As Michelle took the drugs, got the tests, and administered the daily shots needed for IVF, she felt her first twinges of resentment toward Barack’s political commitments. She came to realize that no matter how great a husband Barack was and how great a father he would be, she would have to heft most of the responsibility for getting pregnant and, most likely, parenting their future child. She realized that equality in parenthood is a myth—it’s simply not equal. 

Considering the lonely road she was up against, Michelle briefly hesitated before putting the IVF syringe into her thigh. But she wanted a baby so badly, she was willing to do whatever was necessary to make it happen. 

Once Michelle became pregnant, all traces of resentment disappeared. She was finally going to fulfill her dream of being a mother. On July 4, 1998, she gave birth to their first child, Malia Ann. 

Michelle’s Reflection

Michelle’s difficulties in conceiving taught her an important lesson—that while hard work and perseverance made a big difference in many areas of her life, no amount of “hard work” could make her get pregnant. Fertility wasn’t just another achievement. It was a gift and a privilege. 

Joys of Motherhood

Barack was reelected to the Illinois state Senate and was busier than ever, but he was also thrilled to be a new father. Both he and Michelle were hyper-focused on baby Malia. Michelle was “heady with the responsibility” of parenthood, and she obsessed over every burp and murmur the baby made.  

Vacation Tainted by Politics 

After a long maternity leave, Michelle eventually returned to a part-time job at the University of Chicago. Barack was still an Illinois state senator, but he planned to make a bid for a U.S. Congressional seat. That Christmas, Barack, Michelle, and Malia went to Hawaii to visit Barack’s grandmother (and Malia’s great-grandmother). The Illinois Senate was in the midst of debating an important crime bill, and in the middle of their holiday, Barack was called back for a special vote on the bill. 

The Obamas immediately changed their plane tickets and prepared to fly back, but baby Malia suddenly fell sick with a mysterious fever. Until she could see a doctor, there was no way her parents could put her on a plane. Michelle and Barack discussed the option of him going back and leaving Michelle and Malia in Hawaii, but both parents were deeply concerned about their little girl. Torn by competing responsibilities, Barack chose to stay with his family and miss the vote. 

As it turned out, Malia had nothing more than a typical toddler’s earache. But the crime bill failed by a narrow margin, and Barack faced strong criticism from other state senators and the media. Despite his explanation that his baby daughter was sick, they accused him of choosing a Hawaiian vacation over important legislative work. 

Michelle was mortified that the family’s private life was being publicly judged, and she was also concerned that this one event might destroy Barack’s favor with the Democratic party, poison his hard work and progress in the Illinois Senate, and ruin his chances to win a seat in Congress. 

Baby Sasha Joins the Family  

After another round of in vitro fertilization, Michelle became pregnant again and their second child, Natasha (Sasha) Marian, was born on June 10, 2001. Big sister Malia was almost three years old. 

Now with two children, Michelle considered quitting her university job and staying home to be a full-time mother. Her beloved babysitter, who had looked after Malia, had recently quit, so Michelle no longer had childcare. 

Michelle interviewed for the position of executive director for community affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She took three-month-old Sasha with her to the interview because she wanted to be honest about her reality: She was a mother of two young children. She felt empowered by her assertive display of motherhood, and her new boss didn’t seem to mind at all. 

Most of Michelle’s close friends were, like her, educated and ambitious. Michelle observed as this tight group of women juggled high-powered careers and babies and supported each other along the way. Some worked full time; others part time. Some had help at home and some didn’t. She learned from watching these women that there is no “right way” to be a mother. 

When she was offered the hospital job, her friends and Barack encouraged her to accept. It was a great opportunity to make a difference in her community, and her new salary would be enough to pay for a housekeeper and caregiver for her children.  

Michelle Obama: Pregnancy and Fertility Challenges

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Michelle Obama's "Becoming" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Becoming summary:

  • How Michelle Obama went from the South Side of Chicago to the White House
  • Why much of her success came from her being determined from a young age
  • How Michelle Obama continues to push herself and discover new opportunities

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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