Migraine came first, motherhood came about 18 years later. My migraine was definitely an adult but I felt like a child trapped in its vice-like grip. I’d never been active, or social, or patient. After work, I preferred to sit in a dark room on my bed, and read/write/Netflix. That was my world. Noise, light, smells and movement triggered the beast, and also irritated me so much that I’d snap at anyone around me. So naturally, motherhood itself was a very frightening thought.
Pregnancy with migraine
I knew I wanted a child. I knew that ‘being ready’ was really an illusion. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. And I did not want migraine to take more from me. So we planned. I gradually stopped all my prophylactic treatment as it wasn’t recommended for pregnancy.
The first trimester was a nightmare. I went exactly 90 days with the worst intractable migraine attack ever. I could only take Tylenol and very few. I spent almost all of that month hiding in my room, working from home, lying in a fetal position at times, gripping my head, willing it to stop. I was lucky to skip morning sickness but migraine was happy to fill that void with nausea, dizziness from the pain.
When the throbbing stopped exactly on day 91, it felt strange. I’d never experienced that before. My head felt light for the first time. My neck and shoulder took focus. All those years with migraine, I’d never really noticed that I had chronic neck and back pain. I needed months of physiotherapy. It terrified me to think how I’d survive childbirth and parenting. This is when I started changing my habits a little at a time – long walks with my dog, a sleep schedule, eating healthy and hydrating.
Surprisingly, childbirth was the easy part. Breastfeeding was a nightmare. My daughter had neonatal jaundice. She would get tired and fall asleep while feeding and didn’t have the energy to latch. Which meant a horrific cycle of pumping, breastfeeding, topping up with formula, sterilizing, cluster-feeding (sometimes sitting for 7 hours straight), and a daily visit to the lactation consultant. For weeks, I functioned on an hour’s sleep per day. That, stress, and back pain from hours of sitting rolled out a red carpet for migraine who welcomed me like Romeo meeting Juliet after a lifetime of being apart. This time, I couldn’t even take Tylenol. I was depressed because I felt like a total failure already. I didn’t feel joy (or whatever people are supposed to feel when they have a baby). I was grieving over the person I was before, and the person I could never be again. I was worried about not having ‘me time’, not being able to cry when I wanted to, or eat when I was hungry, or pee when my bladder was almost bursting. Most of all, I was worried that I’d pass all these feelings, pain and migraine on to her.
What saved me was the love I felt for her, and the support from my family in caring for her. When she was 4 weeks old, I took her to work with me for the first time. Three months later, we both returned to work after mat leave. I was lucky to have an employer who was incredibly supportive, and colleagues who loved to have her around a few days a week. Migraine was always there in the background but somehow I’d managed to ignore it and just be a mom. Around the time she turned 1, I quit and we moved to Canada.
Alone in a foreign land with weather being my new trigger
Until this, I always had help. I had a housemaid, a cook, my parents, my uncle, my husband and the neighbors. I didn’t have to bother about keeping the house clean, laundry or cooking. I didn’t have to occupy my daughter for 24 hours a day. I didn’t have to walk with her for hours to get her to sleep. Not by myself. I always had help until I didn’t.
I found myself having to carry her all day long, even when I was cooking, even while cleaning. My back and my feet suffered. She was also struggling with the change, so she was clingy. She would breastfeed all night, wake me multiple times. Once again, I couldn’t sleep for more than 2 hours a day. I couldn’t bathe when I wanted to, or even wash my face. I couldn’t eat when I was hungry. It was overwhelming. The pressure drops didn’t help. I went months with intractable migraine, lack of sleep, lack of medicines, a GP who didn’t believe me until he gave up and referred me to a specialist, a year’s wait time, appointment delays due to the pandemic, a growing baby who wanted to explore, learn and play. Oh! And a weather with a mind of its own.
There was no choice but to be mom regardless of how I felt. I couldn’t rest. She needed me. My dog needed me. My husband needed me. A year of pain, lack of sleep, lack of me-time, and nothing but Tylenol for pain drove me into a depressive episode. I thought this was it. I couldn’t see a future living this way. I couldn’t even do little things like brush my teeth or change her diaper without bawling my eyes out.
A breakdown and a breakthrough
Two weekends in the hospital where I was asleep for most of the time, is what it took for me to gather my strength and really figure out a strategy to make it through the year.
- Adjust lifestyle – I started simple. A routine. Sleep schedule. I woke up at the same time everyday. Went to sleep at the same time everyday. Practiced yoga every day. Meditated. I walked my dog twice a day around the block. I finished all my chores by 11AM. Ate at the same time everyday. Napped with my daughter. This helped me manage some of the stress.
- Stock the right meds – Thankfully, the neurologist called, and prescribed Aimovig. I got a mental health consult and a prescription. I’m also on a whole lot of vitamins including CoQ10, B2 and Magnesium.
- Identify triggers – I made a list of all my triggers. I learned to keep them in check (as much as I can).
- Alternative methods – I know that there is no one way to manage this. Acupuncture, chiropractor, physiotherapy, and massage have made a world of difference
- Support – There are different kinds of support systems. Mine’s on Instagram. I love the community and am so grateful to have found some amazing people who totally ‘get’ it. And are all there for me even at 3AM. 🙂
- Selflove – The best of all. I’m learning to love myself. I’m rediscovering who I am, and what I like to do. Try and not let migraine control everything in my life. Sure, it is not easy but I’m going to work on it anyway.
Living with migraine is a nightmare on its own. Motherhood itself is a monumental journey. So, becoming a mom with migraine seems impossible. There are ups and downs, mostly downs. But it is amazing how strong you become just to keep your child happy and healthy. My 2-year-old daughter surprises me every day with her compassion, bringing me ice packs and just lying with me when I’m in pain. Slowly, the difficult part fades into the background. Slowly, you realize that you ARE the best mom she could ever have!