Dear Michelle Obama – One Asthma Mom to Another
Dear Michelle Obama,
With all the focus on your husband, his transition team, his appointment of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, and his potential moves to shore up the U.S. economic situation, I’ve been reading a little bit about the transition to the White House you’re facing as well.
And I’ve got a proposal for you.
Asthma families need a national spokesperson, someone who can highlight the face of asthma and draw attention to both its alarming rise in recent years, especially in children, and the environmental influences like smog that can trigger flares or make them worse. Who better than you, the most famous mom in America right now and the daughter of 10 year-old asthmatic, Malia?
Plus, there’s that essay you wrote on raising a child with asthma for the Healthy Child Healthy World book, and we’ve already got a little momentum going, what with all the talk of buying a hypoallergenic family dog recently.
People are excited at the thought of a young family in the White House again, as you well know, and I have to admit I feel a bond with you myself, Michelle, since I’m also the mom of an (almost) 10 year-old asthmatic. Don’t worry–it’s not the obsessive, stalkerish kind of bond that will get my name put on a short list somewhere but it’s an ability to relate to your family better than any other First Family in my lifetime instead.
In fact, I love that your husband regularly highlights Malia’s asthma when he discusses his past environmental work and efforts to clean up the air and water in Illinois. Quotes, for example, like this one from a 2004 Kerry rally with the League of Conservation Voters:
“Environmentalism is not an upper-income issue, it’s not a white issue, it’s not a black issue, it’s not a South or a North or an East or a West issue. It’s an issue that all of us have a stake in,” Obama shouted. “And if I can do anything to make sure that not just my daughter but every child in America has green pastures to run in and clean air to breathe and clean water to swim in, then that is something I’m going to work my hardest to make happen.” – Grist.org
Because–while I hate to draw comparisons between my freelance work and your husband’s statewide initiatives–it’s my daughter’s poor lung health that prompted my involvement in issues like clean air and water and global warming, too. Her struggles with asthma prompted the Asthma Mom blog in the first place, in fact.
As I understand the First Lady role, tradition dictates that you’ll probably choose a non-partisan issue to focus on while your husband serves as president. You’ve dropped a few hints about possible issues here and there, like when you called yourself “mom-in-chief” and spoke of women and family concerns in that Ebony interview earlier this fall:
Michelle Obama said the challenges women face in balancing their families and jobs should be highlighted in government policies â whether it’s through better health care or more family leave time.
She also expressed her support for military wives and the additional stress they face when their husbands are away and have done multiple tours of duty. “Tack on the fact that there is no sustained mental health support for these families as they are struggling with loved ones who are coming back dealing with emotional issues,” she said. “You’ve got people in pain and we don’t hear those voices a lot.” – USA Today
With that information and your background in law and hospital work, it seems safe to assume you’ll be focusing at least part of your time in the White House on U.S. health care. And your October essay in U.S. News and World Report highlighted your desire to work on domestic issues with families, and especially women, too:
We’ve talked to mothers whose salaries can’t cover the cost of groceriesâbut if they take a second job, they can’t afford the additional cost of child care. More than 22 million working women don’t have paid sick days. Millions of women are doing the same jobs as menâbut they’re earning less.
It’s even harder for military spouses. Their husbands and wives are away serving our nation for months at a time. So they have to be Mom and Dad.
There are so many chronic health problems with a famous spokesperson attached to them out there. Autism has Jenny McCarthy now. Colon cancer has Katie Couric. Pediatric cancer has all those celebrities in the St. Jude ads. And while lots of famous people suffer from asthma, I can’t think of one name anyone connects with the chronic lung condition, a name and image that could debunk some of the popular misconceptions about asthma that still persist today. Misconceptions like these:
– Asthma patients wheeze all the time.
– A kid with asthma can’t play or exercise very strenuously.
– Asthma patients need to carry around a rescue inhaler around all the time, and that’s all.
– Maintenance corticosteroids are dangerous for kids.
Recent news articles suggest you’ve got a very protective attitude towards both Malia and Sasha, a stance any mother could relate to, but I hope your family’s time in the White House raises the profile of asthma in this country and especially the portrayal of asthma sufferers, most of whom–like Malia and like my own daughter–lead happy, healthy, well-adjusted lives that just happen to involve a little extra breathing maintenance.
Yours in better breathing,