As soon as they see me reach for the light switch, they know. "Do you have a headache, Mommy?" they stage whisper, their little eyes huge and round with concern for me. I feel my own eyes fill with tears every time, not just because yes, I do have a migraine, but because as a mom with migraines, I don't want my kids to bear any part of my suffering.
I've had migraines since college, but in the past year or two the frequency with which I get them has increased tenfold. It used to be that I'd get them once a month when I went on the placebo pills for my birth control or when I ate certain foods like moldy cheeses and red wine. Once I learned I had premature ovarian failure and the crash in hormones triggered by the placebo pills were causing that once a month head thumper, my doctor adjusted my medication so I never stop taking the pill and I stopped getting that monthly migraine (I also stopped getting my period, so win/win). Then I poured out a glass of Merlot for my good friend Gorgonzola and that seemed to help the random migraines from striking too.
But ever since my kids were infants, I get hit with migraines at least once, sometime times as often as three times a week. And these aren't just headaches. They are all-consuming, my-head-feels-like-it's-in-a-vise, what-have-I-done-to-deserve-this-pain type of headaches that sometimes last as long as three days.
When I get a migraine, all my senses are heightened. The overhead light in our dining room feels like I'm sitting under the harsh bulb of an interrogation lamp. The boys gently rolling a car across the floor sounds like an actual car driving through my living room. My head feels like there's someone hitting it with a hammer and more often than not, I vomit.
I worry they'll think I'm faking or exaggerating or using my headache as an excuse not to spend time with them.
I hate how my the status of my migraines dictates my kids' lives. We can be having a great day at the zoo and bam, I'm struck down with a migraine. Or if I'm home with a migraine and they want to play with me, it's hard for them to understand why I don't want to get down on the floor and have a tea party with them. I do my best to try and play through the pain, to last as long as I can before we have to leave for home, or before I have to retreat to the quiet dark of my room. Still, I worry that my boys won't understand. Migraines are internal, and beyond my pained expression there's no way for them to see the pain I'm in. I worry they'll think I'm faking or exaggerating or using my headache as an excuse not to spend time with them.
I worry about this with my partner as well. He's fantastic at offering to take the kids out to the store so I can have some quiet when my head is really bad, but I know my migraines have put a strain on our relationship. They're so much more frequent now than they were before we had kids. And even when I did get them before we became parents, having a migraine back then didn't effect his plans all that much. We might have to cancel plans to go to a movie or out for dinner but before we were parents having a migraine meant a day in bed listening to podcasts while he played Mario Cart next to me and ate Chinese takeout. Now it means he's forced to parent solo, and I know that's not what he signed up for when we decided to have kids. I can hear him sometimes, as I play Rapunzel upstairs in my tower cell. I hear the frustration in his voice when the kids act up, and when he sounds like he's close to snapping I'll get up and walk gingerly down the stairs to try and referee. It leaves us both resentful: me because I can't get the rest I need to feel better, and him because I'm unwell in the first place.
I've tried all sorts of things to cure my migraines because I don't want to feel this way forever.
I've tried all sorts of things to cure my migraines because I don't want to feel this way forever. Homeopathic remedies like peppermint oil, special migraine head wraps, even having sex (supposedly drawing blood away from your head to your lady bits works for some people, but all it did was make me throw up on my husband — in sickness and in health, right?), but nothing has worked.
Down I went, and I was out cold.
Fed up with always feeling sick, I made an appointment recently with a new neurologist and he gave me hope that I didn't have to live like this: always in pain and in fear of when my next migraine will strike. He prescribed me a plethora of medications and while I wasn't thrilled to have a medical protocol that's more complicated than the assembling an IKEA dresser, I was excited at the idea of not having more migraines. His plan: First, a daily preventative pill. Then, if I get a migraine, I take two pills in combination to try and knock it out. After 15 minutes if I'm still in pain, I give myself an injection. If that doesn't work, then I snort a crushed up pill from this special inhaler. It's like a nerdy version of Pulp Fiction.
I was super excited to try this new plan and for the first two weeks it was like a fairy tale. The nighttime pills seemed to work. I had not a single migraine, not even a faint headache. But then the honeymoon phase was over and I got hit with a vicious head thumper one day while my husband was at work. I took the medications as prescribed by my doctor and after 15 minutes, the pain in my head started to fade. I was amazed and felt giddy. It was over — or so I thought. But when I got up to get my kids a snack I realized I wasn't giddy, I was actually light-headed.
Down I went, and I was out cold. I came to a couple minutes later, and luckily the boys hadn't moved from their spot on the couch with the iPad. Never in my life have I ever been thankful for Caillou, because he held their attention so they didn't go play with knives or something while I had passed out. But that sealed the deal for me: The medications do work, but the side effects knock me out so hard that I can only take them when my partner is home to take over kid duty. So unless it's the weekend or the evening, I have to suck it up.
Of all the chronic medical conditions there are in the world, I know that migraines aren't the worst. In fact, they're very common. And I know that as my kids get older they'll be able to take care of themselves enough so that I can take my medication right when I need it and also understand what it means when I say I have a headache. But just thinking about how long it may be until that time comes and how I may never fully be free from migraine pain is enough to make my head hurt.