How Migraines Have Affected My Life

I’ve lost count of the number of times that someone has told me that ‘migraines are just in your head’ or ‘what’s the big deal; it’s just a little headache.’
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How Migraines Have Affected My Life

Cherie Brunetti

I got my first migraine when I was five years old.  As a matter of fact, it was on my fifth birthday.  My mother vividly remembers my party.  All of my friends and cousins were playing outside while I was lying on my bed, with my head under the pillow, crying.  Migraines have affected me my entire life. 

In third grade, I had a teacher who was…less than pleasant.  I was a good kid and student and never got into trouble but I actually remember being scared to go to school because this teacher was a screamer and seemed to enjoy embarrassing her students in front of the class.  My migraines that school year were terrible, I believe in large part, to stress.  There were multiple times when I would ask to go to the nurse’s office because my head was hurting so badly.  I was informed that ‘third graders do not get headaches’ and I was ordered back to my desk.  This drama ended when I got a particularly painful migraine one day before recess.  Shaking, I again asked to go to the nurse’s office and, again, I was told to go back to my seat.  Despite my best effort, I threw up on the floor in the front of the classroom because of the pain.  It was an incredibly embarrassing incident but the teacher did permit me to go to the nurse’s office thereafter. 

Growing up, I missed out on many important events due to my migraines.  These have included everything from school dances, friends’ birthdays, tests at school, even the PSATs.  Fortunately for me, my parents were very supportive and understanding.  They took me to countless specialists, had dozens of tests done, and tried a myriad of different medications.  Many of the medications would work for a while and then seem to become ineffective over time.  Some of the medications had side effects that I just could not deal with.  In graduate school, I was prescribed a medication that caused me to gain weight and it made my hair fall out.  I opted out, deciding that fat and bald was not the look for me!

I’ve lost count of the number of times that someone has told me that ‘migraines are just in your head’ or ‘what’s the big deal; it’s just a little headache.’  Believe me, I would not have missed one of my closet friend’s wedding because of just a little headache.  I do not believe that someone who has never experienced a migraine can ever understand the pain and helplessness that an attack causes. 

Whenever I get a migraine, I am completely incapacitated.  The pain can become so intense that it makes me physically ill.  I typically get a severe migraine two or three times per month.  That is, until I became pregnant. 

During both of my pregnancies, I began getting migraines several times per week.  On top of this increase in frequency, I was unable and unwilling to take any medication.  Although my doctor has told me that there are some migraine medications that are ‘thought to be safe during pregnancy’ I just could not bring myself to take the chance with the health of my babies.  During my first pregnancy, my only recourse was to lie in bed with the shades drawn.  Any light or loud noises, even smells, are unbearable when I have a migraine.  During my fourth and fifth month of pregnancy, I literally think that I was in bed more than I was out of it!

When my daughter was seven months old, I was still nursing her on a regular basis.  I was, therefore, still unable to take anything for my migraines other than Tylenol.  At this time, I developed an extremely severe migraine.  My husband had to take two day off work because I was unable to take care of our daughter or even get out of bed.  He had to feed her with breast milk that I had stored in the freezer because I could not stop vomiting long enough to even nurse her.  My daughter hated drinking from a bottle and became very upset and listless.  I did my best to nurse her as much as possible during those two days.  At four in the morning during the second day, I was vomiting so uncontrollably that my husband took me to the emergency room.  My mother-in-law had to come to our home to watch over our still sleeping daughter.

The emergency room doctor informed me that because I was nursing and because I was so sick, I became severely dehydrated.  My dehydrated state made it impossible for me to recover from my migraine, which, of course, made me more ill.  It was a vicious cycle that only ended after the doctor administered two bags of saline and an anti-nausea medication, intravenously.  My husband was forced to take a third day off while I recovered. 

It is incredibly difficult for me to deal with the fact that my migraines not only affect me, but my family as well.  My husband has had to take off days of work, cancel meetings, and call off evening and weekend plans in order to take care of our daughter.  My daughter has had to deal with a mom who is too sick to nurse her and care for her.  I have called in countless favors from family and friends to ask for help caring for my daughter during my migraine attacks. 

Thus far, the most significant way that my migraines have affect my life and the life of my husband is my decision not to have more children.  I am currently pregnant with my second baby and the migraines have been as bad, if not worse, than with the first pregnancy.  I am definitely suffering more during this pregnancy because, unlike the first time, I cannot simply lie down every time I get a headache.  My husband is at the point where he cannot take any more days off from work.  Because of all of her past help, I do not feel comfortable calling my mother-in-law unless the migraine is completely incapacitating.  There have been many days during this pregnancy where I have closed the safety gate into my daughter’s playroom and laid on the floor with a pillow over my head while she played with her toys.

I cannot even imagine trying to cope with frequent migraines while having two young children.  I am tired of asking for help.  I am tired of dealing with pain and nausea.  I am extremely tired of ruining my husband’s plans and missing out on important events with my family.

About a month ago, I went to see a migraine specialist.  She told me that there was not much that she could recommend or prescribe while I was pregnant.  However, she stated that she feels very confident that she will be able to help me once I have had the baby and I am done nursing.  She informed me that there was no reason for anyone to suffer at the level that I do because there are so many treatment options for migraines and migraine pain. 

My husband would like to have more children and I truly hate to disappoint him but I just cannot put myself through this again.  I am desperate to find something that will help me.  I don’t want to have to constantly ask other people to take care of my children because I am sick.  I have missed so many important events in my own life and I am terrified of missing these milestones in the lives of my children.  I need to find something that will help me get the migraines under control so I do not miss my daughter’s fifth birthday party, or my son’s first day of kindergarten. 

So, yes, I do get upset when people say that migraines are ‘just a little headache.’  A little headache would not have caused my husband to use all of his vacation days before our son is even born.  A little headache would not make me sick to the point of dehydration.  A little headache would not have caused me to make the choice not to have more children.  At this point, having ‘a little headache’ would be a relief. 

I feel sad when I think about the things that I will be missing out on by not having more children.  I just do not feel that it is fair to anyone for me to go through another pregnancy.  I cannot expect my husband to take off work every other day during a third pregnancy, or my mother-in-law to care for two little ones while I am suffering in bed.  I cannot expect my daughter and son to be understanding when I am unable to play with them or care for them.  And, although it was a long time in coming, I am finally reaching the realization that I have to take care of myself too.  It is not fair to put myself through this again.  Especially when it is likely that there is a medication or treatment out there that can help.  I have decided to be thankful for what I have:  a wonderful husband and two healthy children.  Who can ask for more than that?

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