Padma Lakshmi wears a sari when she hosts the Endometriosis Foundation of America’s Blossom Ball held this week at New York Public Library.
The Top Chef host, 40, opens up about her struggle with the disease, her surprise at being able to conceive and the Indian traditions she incorporates into her daily life with daughter Krishna, 13 months.
Being a role model for endometriosis was a no-brainer for the former model, who is supported by pals Dr. Oz, Susan Sarandon and Bridget Moynahan this evening.
“It’s never easy to talk about your period, but it was such an important subject, and I’m so thankful that I have my daughter, that I couldn’t help but pay it forward and speak out, because I don’t want other women to go through what I went through,” she tells me. “I have so many women friends who didn’t know they have endometriosis until it was too late, and it was such an important cause that I had no choice. I would’ve been morally corrupt if I didn’t put my own ego aside, and open my mouth. That’s really how I feel about it.”
Padma hopes she can save women from the trying times she endured beginning in her teens until her mid-thirties when she was finally diagnosed with endometriosis. She urges other women to pay attention to the signs of severe menstrual symptoms.
“Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong,” Padma says. “You don’t have to suffer. You have a right to get the best treatment and the best quality of life that you can.”
She looks stunning in her skin-baring sari. Hm, what Indian traditions does she weave into life with Krishna?
“We eat with our hands, we sleep together [laughs], we get up in the morning and we shower together,” she says. “We have a bath together. My daughter eats lentils and rice and cumin and vegetables. She doesn’t eat meat, but she has a primarily Indian diet at home. She eats all kind of things, but at home she eats pretty much the same food that I eat, it’s just not spicy.”
For Padma, the curveballs of motherhood began when she discovered she was pregnant with the baby whose father is venture capitalist Adam Dell.
“I get surprised every single day,” she says of parenting. “It’s huge.”
Dr. Oz praises her work.
“Padma’s a wonderful person,” he tells me. “We got to spend some time together. What Padma’s done is beautiful. In addition to bringing a wonderful woman into the world herself, she’s become the face of endometriosis. She went public about an ailment that we know affects 10 million Americans. These are women who are embarrassed about their problems, because often times they have pain with defecation, pain with urination, pain during intercourse. They don’t want to talk to anyone about this, so they carry the guilt and the pain for years. The average diagnosis period is ten years. Think about that. By the time they finally figure it out, they’ve had unnecessary procedures and it’s hurts them in many ways.”
Time to head inside, where Padma jokes, “I’m glad Dr. Oz is not my doctor. I wouldn’t want to tell him all my health problems. I’d be like ‘yeah, everything’s fine.’”
She adds, “I will tell you me and my privates are doing well. We’re happy, we’re healthy. I didn’t mean for this to be all about my genitalia, but it’s OK! I wanted to speak out about this disease that affects 176 million women worldwide. I missed Drama Club, all kinds of professional and personal engagements until I got healthy, and it was painful.”
Padma gives a special shout-out to EFA founder Dr. Tamer Seckin, saying, “He made me able to have my daughter Krishna.”
After dining on a spinach salad, Atlantic cod with smoky mashed potatoes and sautéed string beans, the Top Chef host calls the spuds “a little spicy” before turning the mic over to Susan Sarandon, who also battles endometriosis.
“It is not a woman’s lot to suffer,” she says. “To miss a part of your life because of pain and excessive bleeding is not OK. It is not OK to miss out on 2-3 days a month. [audience applauds] It is not OK to have pain during sex. It is not OK to have major bloating during this time, or nausea. Even if you are a woman, and are conditioned to accept it as normal. it is not OK.”
The crowd goes wild.
“It is not OK to suffer,” Susan says. “Believe me, I know we do it well, but those beliefs were made a long time ago, and now is a new scenario. Endometriosis affects every member of a woman’s family and those at her workplace. It affects her emotional well-being, her power to earn a living, her ability to become a mother.”
The Oscar winner offers up a message for the men in the house.
“Just because you’re a man doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you. If your sister or your girlfriend or your wife or your daughter is suffering every month, missing work, social occasions and doesn’t talk about it, go online and tell her she can get help. Be understanding, have empathy, and whatever you do, don’t accuse her of being sensitive, delicate, overly dramatic. This is a big opportunity to show you care. This is your opportunity to be a real man.”
Like Padma, endometriosis didn’t impact her fertility – she has three kids.
“I’m definitely one of the lucky ones,” Susan says.
Time for dessert, which is a thin apple tart with cinnamon and calvados sautéed apple slices and calvados-infused Mascarpone ice cream. Mmm!
Padma swings by my table in her second outfit of the evening, a gray number, on her way to the dance floor, where she boogies the night away to the sounds of Grammy-nominated bossa nova singer Bebel Gilberto. Fun times!
Want to support the Endometriosis Foundation of America? Bid on items such as two tickets to the Anna Sui 2012 fashion show and a seven-night stay at The Grenadines Palm Island Resort through CharityBuzz.