“No! No! No! You do feel so much better, Mom! You don’t have a headache!” my two-year-old pleads.
I choose my words carefully, partially due to the fact that every word is an effort, but also because I want him to know this is my body, my pain. “I will feel so much better, but right now I have a headache. So, you get to spend the day with your dad,” the last part I try to make sound exciting — as exciting as I can sound with what feels like a hot branding iron stuck in my head.
“I love you,” I whisper as my husband scoots me off to our dark bedroom. I can hear my little guy bellowing for me as I stumble up the stairs. I know in ten minutes he will be giggling and talking about Mr. Toad and his “wild ride,” but even through the immense pain, I can feel the sadness and guilt warm in my chest.
I want to be present for my child, but today (along with countless other days), I’m not. I can’t even summon the tears to cry about it. My head hurts too much. This is not the mother I wanted to be. How do I explain to a two-year-old that I have migraines?
I’m a mom with migraines.
My migraines started ten years ago, happening only every now and then, but in the last couple of years they’ve gotten worse. Now I experience one almost daily. Of course, I’ve tried everything to stop them – a list as extensive as Cher and Dolly Parton’s wig collections combined – massage, acupuncture, yoga, diet changes, hot baths, cold baths, preventive medicine, Botox injections, and even sex with my husband. None of this has worked, but thanks to the Botox I look 10 years younger — while lying in bed with a migraine.
The only cure I’ve found has been pregnancy. My husband and I only ever wanted one child, but he has graciously offered to help me get pregnant again. If getting knocked-up will rid me of this excruciating disorder, then maybe two (or twelve) kids might not be so bad. Still, I don’t plan on being pregnant for the next ten years, thus propelling my boobs to graze the floor (instead of just grazing my knees), so I’m forced to look for other options.
Fluctuations in my hormones are the main trigger. My period and ovulation require what could be days, or weeks, of heavy medicine use. If my meds don’t work I could be in bed for up to four days. Menstrual migraines are some of the hardest migraines to treat. For anyone who's tried to get through the day with a migraine, then you know I'm talking about. For those who haven’t, it’s a little bit like asking a woman during the height her labor contractions to stop and make a pot roast.
Trying to be a good parent is hard enough. Trying to be a good parent with chronic migraines is harder still. Thank goodness my husband has a flexible schedule and is able to help. When he isn’t available, I dig into my back-up childcare options. I even have back-ups for my back-ups.
It’s a constant state of asking for help, just because I might get a migraine. There are times I'm afraid to be alone in the house with my little guy, because I might get a migraine. I can’t even begin to describe the pain and nausea of trying to be a parent during a full-blown episode, taking my son into the bathroom so I can throw-up.
This is not the type of parent I wanted to be.
I want nothing more than to be a good mother to my son. I want to do all those mundane daily tasks that moms do. I want to be there to tell my son that cheese crackers are not a food group. I want to be there to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with him for hours. Okay, maybe not hours.
But what I truly don’t want is to be spending all day in bed alone knowing I’m missing out on days of his childhood. The guilt monster emerges from under my bed (where all good monsters hide), and I find myself wading through shame each time I take an Imitrex, each day I’m in bed with a migraine. As my son grows, will he remember a fun, playful mom who loves him? Or a mom who lives in a dark room and can barely utter “hello?”
I haven’t given up hope that a treatment or a preventative medicine might help. Propelled by a desire to be there for my son, and to end the pain, I’m still seeking a solution.
There are some days I feel like this is just going to be my life – working around the painful reality of my chronic condition. But, I’ve decided to take a piece of advice from my two-year-old. While in the grips of a particularly horrible migraine, my son gently put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Mom. You'll feel so much better.”
And I’m inclined to believe him. Because that’s the type of mother I want to be.
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