Migraines are my Supermom kryptonite.
The pain itself is formidable. Imagine a knife going through one of your eyes and out the back of your head just above your neck. The pain is not worse than childbirth, but close. For me, maybe it is worse because I have experienced at least one hundred times more migraines than I have had babies.
In addition to severe pain, nausea can come on quickly and suddenly, forcing a rush for the bathroom. If you’re in a car, you have to master the ability to quickly pull off to the side and hope your kids and other passing drivers turn away.
Light and sound sensitivity intensify the pain and nausea. And then there’s the general brain fogginess. When a migraine is at it’s worse, it’s difficult to communicate. It’s like your thoughts can’t make their way out of your mouth appropriately. “Can you bring me some medicine?” comes out as “I need that bottle of blue and a wup of cater.” This verbal stumbling and brain fogginess occur before, during, and after the pain.
This is not a headache you can just “sleep off” because the stabbing pain that runs from behind your eye to the back of your neck is so relentless and intense that sleeping is impossible. But you try to sleep anyway because you can’t do anything else. You just exist in a pain-filled nightmare on your bed with a pillow over your face to block out any specks of light hoping you won’t throw up again and praying for a cease to the torture. Though medication lessens the pain, it often worsens nausea and brain fogginess while also causing weakness in limbs.
I have had migraines since I was about 12. I can’t count the times I ended up in the school office hoping I wouldn’t throw up in the adjoining bathroom with the sounds reverberating for students and staff to hear. Once, I threw up in the school cafeteria. I was mortified. I also threw up in a friend’s driveway. Another time, I blacked out on a school field trip while watching a presentation by a radiologist. People thought it was because the broken bone x-rays on display made me queasy, but it was actually the onset of a migraine.
Luckily, I had very understanding family members, friends, and teachers. But doctors weren’t helpful. My headaches and the accompanying nausea were attributed to hormones, stress, and low blood sugar. The diagnosis was probably accurate, but there wasn’t anything to be done. Every teenager experiences hormonal imbalances, stress, and raging hunger. I wonder if it wasn’t common back then to give migraine medication to teens because in lieu of medication I was told to eat frequently, avoid strenuous activities, avoid stress, and carry a pack of Rolaids to help with nausea. The hope was that after I had endured the pubescent teenage years, my body would calm and my headaches would ease.
High school was rough, but I made it. After high school, I had a slight reprieve from frequent migraines for about 10 years. I would get them once in a while, but not too often and not too horrible. After I had my fourth baby, I started to have them more frequently, but still manageable.
Just before I was pregnant with Brooklyn, I began having horrible migraines again. The first few months of the pregnancy were extremely difficult. But as the morning sickness waned in the third month, so did the headaches. Hormones–they cause so much strife for all the good they do.
The reprieve was nice, but a few months after Brooklyn was born, I found myself knocked out at least once a week. Sometimes I would have headaches for a few days in a row. I was having to call Rick to come home from work to be with the kids because I couldn’t care for them or drive to activities. He was able to help sometimes, but he was a new Bishop and often had appointments, meetings, and responsibilities that precluded helping at home. The older kids did what they could, but it was so hard.
I can remember more than once knowing that Rick had a meeting or something to get to and also knowing that I was in no state to care for the children at home. From the couch, I would lie “My headache is getting better. Don’t worry. Go to your meeting.” And he would drive away and I would cry and then maybe rush to the bathroom to throw up.
We have already established that being a mom is incredibly difficult and the tasks and responsibilities are unending. Kids need mothers who are present, involved, and stalwart. Nothing can replace the physical, spiritual, and emotional nurturing that a righteous woman can provide a child. It doesn’t always have to be the mom that provides this nurturing, but when a mom is absent because of death, sickness, addiction, work, or other circumstances; the child suffers in spite of efforts to fill the void.
That void is what I worry about every time I get a migraine. I know it’s okay to get help. Hiring a babysitter or asking friends or older children to help with children is fine–even needed. But I also know, in spite of what others say, my work and influence in my own home with my children are irreplaceable. It’s disturbing for me to consider how much time I have lost with my children because of migraines.
I also see the flip side. How much empathy for others have my children learned? What opportunities for service have they been given because they had to step in and help? In this way, migraines are a blessing. I am a very independent person and I like to just get things done. Being knocked out with a migraine forces me to let others in. Sometimes the house falls apart around me and the kids watch TV for hours, but other times, they have looked outside themselves and served.
Moms carry a heavy burden, and so much of what we do is not readily observed. Every mom has challenges that limit her ability to fully serve her family. These challenges can take many forms. Migraines are not my only challenge. Each day I fight against impatience, selfishness, and exhaustion. The hours in the day are limited and there’s always more to be done than can realistically be accomplished. These challenges are not limited to mothers–everybody fights against inadequacies and time constraints. I believe the barriers and challenges we experience daily are intentional. How else could we learn to rely on the influence of the Spirit to teach us how to spend that limited time and how to act when we are not as naturally patient or kind as we should be? Without the opposition, there is no growth. Do I keep saying that? It seems like every time I write about my life challenges, I come to the same conclusion. I guess the truth never gets old!
Migraines have taught me empathy, service, patience, flexibility, and endurance. Though I dread them–even hate them, as I do many of the challenges posed to me, I can look back and see small miracles and specific blessings that have resulted from this fight.
Like Superman and his kryptonite, my SuperMom kryptonite requires me to look for solutions, adapt, and rely on the help of others. And in the end, I am blessed.