Michelle Obama thought miscarriage was her fault. Now she’s trying to help women like her

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Twenty years ago, Michelle Obama had a miscarriage. Now the former US first lady is going public about her experience in an effort to let other women who’ve gone through the same thing know that they’re not alone.

Obama reveals these details for the first time in excerpts from an ABC special set to air Sunday as part of a promotional tour for her book, Becoming, set to be released on Nov 13. She tells Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts that she and her husband, former US president Barack Obama, had to rely on in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments to conceive their two daughters.

After having a miscarriage, Obama says, she felt ”lost and alone.” She blamed the lack of public health information and open conversations about fertility problems for her anguish. ”I felt like I failed, because I didn’t know how common miscarriages were, because we don’t talk about them,” she said. “We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow, we’re broken.”

“I think it’s the worst thing that we do to each other as women,” she said, “not share the truth about our bodies, and how they work, and how they don’t work.”

Obama says her miscarriage showed her that getting pregnant is not a matter of will or means. As she explains, “even two committed go-getters with a deep love and robust work ethic can’t will themselves into being pregnant.” So she and her husband resorted to fertility treatment when she was in her early 30s to get pregnant with their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, now 17 and 20.

It’s true that, while miscarriages are incredibly common in the United States, there is a stigma attached to women who experience it. Miscarriages happen when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy, but a majority of miscarriages happen before the 12th week of pregnancy, meaning that many women have miscarriages before even knowing they were pregnant. March of Dimes, an organization that focuses on infant and maternal health, estimates that, for women who do know they are pregnant, about 10%-15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Some other studies have estimated this number to be as high as 20%-25% of all pregnancies in the US.

But miscarriages, while physically and emotionally taxing for women, are not necessarily indicative of overall fertility problems: Most women who miscarry go on to have a healthy pregnancy later. That’s why Michelle Obama’s message to women going through this experience is so important: It’s not your fault, don’t give up, and take care of yourself.