Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Motherhood and migraines

I have long looked forward to being a mom – for so many reasons – one of which, I must admit, is quite selfish.

I have battled migraines for 25 years.  Several years ago, my primary care physician told me that almost all of his female patients who suffered from migraines stopped having them altogether after having babies.  It had something to do, he hypothesized, with the hormonal changes during and after pregnancy.

Unfortunately, I am apparently the exception to the rule.  I had migraines all through pregnancy, and I still get them now – and Ava is nearly a year old.

I was 11 years old when I got my first migraine.  The intense pain woke me up in the middle of the night.  My crying woke my mother.  I remember that she was frightened – she had never seen me in so much pain, and she didn’t know what to do.  She did her best to remain calm for my sake.

I remember that night like it happened yesterday – the pain was so intense that I could hardly move.  My mother was trying desperately to help – bringing cold compresses, ibuprofen, telling me to change positions from sitting to standing to lying down.  The only thing that seemed to help slightly was to sit on my knees on the bed, hunched over so my head was pushing down into the pillow.

After about three hours, I suddenly got very sick to my stomach and vomited.  At that same moment, it felt like a fragment of the pain escaped from my head.  For the next two or three hours, I had waves of nausea and vomiting every 30 minutes or so, and each time the pain subsided just a little.  By morning the pain was tolerable and I was able to go to sleep.

Migraine pain has always been difficult for me to describe – it’s sharp, concentrated, and overwhelming.  The pain is sharp like a knife, but it also feels like it is continually swelling or inflating, and radiating from the front of the head to the back.  And it doesn’t relent.  Like a certain percentage of migraine sufferers, I usually get an aura – like a warning that a migraine is coming.  My aura includes spots in my vision, sensitivity to light, and a feeling I will call a general “dullness.”

I have had treatments that run the gamut, having tried nearly every migraine medicine that has been manufactured in the last 20 years, as well as massage therapy and acupuncture.  Some of them work better than others, and eventually, I find that each medication tends to become less effective over time, like your body gets used to them.

I have met so many others who suffer with migraines – mostly women – and it seems there is always an immediate, unspoken understanding between us.  It’s a “club” that we all became members of by default.

The general understanding of migraines has definitely improved in my lifetime.  As a young adult, I had more than one boss who thought migraines were just a worse-than-average headache and an excuse to take a day off.  But migraines can be debilitating.  And they don’t make appointments or work around your schedule – they almost always come at inopportune times, and they interrupt life in general – not just work schedules.  I have had migraines come on at parties, picnics, while driving, and even at the grocery store – and I had to leave a full cart of groceries without checking out.

I do wish I would have been one of those moms who could say, “Later!” to migraines after my baby was born.  But I would rather deal with migraines for the rest of my life than to see them passed on to Ava.  So here’s hoping Ava never “understands” migraine – and – let’s aim for the stars – here’s hoping that some brilliant scientist somewhere finds a cure.

Rachel Raya is director of Internal Stakeholder Communications for Texas Health Resources and Mom to Ava.

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