“Your dad is going to feed you breakfast today,” I say to my son. Each movement is a struggle, and I try my best to focus on breathing and not vomiting on my 2-year-old as I strap him into his high chair.
“You have a headache today, Mom?” he asks.
“No! No, you don’t!” he yells. His disappointment is acute because he knows the drill. I’m going to be spending the rest of the day in bed. As I kiss him and hand him over to my husband’s care, I can feel the hot curling iron in my head turning my brain into Nellie Oleson ringlets. I can barely function, but I can still feel the guilt rise up from my stomach. I wish that I could spend the day with my little one. I wish that my medicine had worked. I wish that I didn’t have chronic migraines.
These days, my migraines define me as much as my hair color and my poor comma, usage. I hate it. Even though I’m one of 36 million Americans that suffer from this disorder, I feel very much alone and misunderstood. I’ve stopped telling people I get chronic migraines because of the judgment that goes along with it. I’m generally met with a pitying look followed by, “Have you tried taking two Advil?” or my personal favorite, “Have you tried being less stressed?” It’s like telling a person with a broken leg to “walk it off.” They don’t get that a migraine is a neurological disorder that doctors don’t even fully understand. These well-meaning people view a migraine as merely a bad headache. Every migraineur knows that a true migraine is nothing that can be powered through.
Unlike a lot of other sufferers, my migraines only started 10 years ago. At first, I got one every couple of months, but over the years they have increased in frequency and length, and now I’m getting them almost daily. My main trigger is my hormonal changes. Starting my period and ovulating trigger days and weeks of abortive medicine use. As soon as one spell is over, my hormones shift and the cycle starts again.
Of course, I’ve tried everything to stop them. The only respite I’ve found so far is getting pregnant, but since I don’t plan on being perpetually preggo — even though my husband assures me this is something he can help me out with — I’m still looking for a cure. The list of things I’ve already tried is extensive, ranging from acupuncture, yoga, hypnotherapy, diet changes, natural replacement hormone therapy, Botox injections — oh, and let’s not overlook sex with my husband. None of it works. (Sorry, hubby.) Some days my abortive medicine can stop them in their tracks, but other days it’s like I’m taking Tic-Tacs. My meds don’t always work. Without my husband’s support and flexible work schedule, I’m not sure how I’d survive as a mom.
Like most moms, I just want to be the best mom I can be for my son. We moms just want to be there for our kids, but when you’re a mom with a painful chronic disorder, being at your best isn’t always possible. On days when my best isn’t good enough — when my best takes me to bed away from my family and my son — those days my mom guilt carries an emotional weight all its own. Having this condition makes me a mom in name only some days, and sends my mom guilt up to the top of the Guilt-O-Meter, and my head hurts too badly to even let me cry about it. My migraines are a thief, stealing time away from my family. While lying in bed not able to move, I can hear my son and husband laughing, and I know I’m missing out on moments that I can’t get back.
My husband tries his best to be supportive, but still my severe migraines cause friction between us. The status of my head dictates whether or not we can have a date night or if he can keep that social engagement he’d had planned for months. On days that I’m totally down with a migraine, my husband must live my life as well his own — juggling work and parenting. This leaves me dealing with massive amounts of guilt.
I’m not the migraine-free woman he married, and I feel like a fraud as a wife and mother. I’m always dealing with the pain of a migraine — whether I’m dreading getting one or trying to stop one from happening — and they stop me from being fully present, from being the mother and wife that I want to be. I’ve missed birthday celebrations for my husband and myself, days of vacations, Christmases, and my wedding anniversary.
Still, I’m hopeful that one day I will find the right drug or the right procedure, and menopause is looking pretty good right now. I have days here and there where I feel totally fine, and those are the days I cling to. Those days, I remember what life is like pain-free and I feel whole, like myself. Those are the days I try to let define me — not the days I spend bagging on date nights and missing play time with my son. So, while I’m still trying new preventative measures to help me through this, and possibly being the only woman eagerly awaiting menopause, it’s the little things I focus on. Today I was able to be a mother to my son. Today I was able to laugh with my husband. Today I was able to write this. Today was a day that reminds who I am: I am so much more than my migraines.