It’s safe to say that motherhood is universally challenging for everyone. The joys are real, the fun times are great, but we all suffer in some way or other on our child rearing journey. Sleepless nights, horrible diaper blowouts, sick kids, defiant toddlers, it’s all part of the package, what we “signed up for.” Being a migraine mom, is strange, because in some ways we’re just like everyone else. We weather all the typical mom struggles, often in solidarity with our mom friends. But it’s also very isolating because we’re simultaneously facing unique challenges that come with the disease. We may have supportive friends and family to lean on, or we may be suffering in silence, not even telling the people in our lives about our disease. Either way, chronic migraine will inevitably .shape our experience as mothers, whether we like it or not.
One question I hear a lot is “how do you do it?” How can someone be a mom with chronic pain? This issue comes up for a lot of women who haven’t had kids yet, and are worried chronic illness will make that impossible. My answer is that it certainly is possible for some people to survive and thrive as a mother with chronic illness. Chronic illness isn’t an automatic motherhood-disqualification by any means. Personally, I guess I’m lucky because my migraines went chronic 1 year after my daughter was born, so I never faced the decision whether to have kids or not. But for any spoonies who are thinking of having kids, or expecting a baby, there’s a few *ahem* issues I would urge you to be prepared for:
Meds. First let me say, the issue of medications-to take or not to take, which ones are good and which ones are bad, etc is something all people with chronic illness face. From chronic pain to mental illness to autoimmune disorders and beyond-whatever your specific plight- the decision to take or not to take medication is usually agonizing. The process of trial and error is agonizing. The side effects are often miserable. It goes without saying, this dilemma is not unique to migraine sufferers. Nor is the judgment and unwanted opinions you will receive. People in this society have a hard time accepting that each individual is unique and should have agency over their health care. Tired of hearing about the evil pharmaceutical industry? Are you inundated with well meaning acquaintances suggesting “natural” remedies? How about that weird tincture that cured you sisters’ coworkers’ cousin? Well mamas- I’m here to tell you that this kind of unsolicited societal pressure will only get ten times worse.
Because once you are pregnant or become a mom, you suddenly enter “mom world.” In this world, it’s not just friends and family who feel at liberty to harass you with unwanted advice. It’s ANY person on the internet. And sadly, there are whole armies of sanctimommies out there who believe medications (I mean chemicals!) are toxic, evil, and unnecessary. Be prepared for this. If you are open about your use of medication, don’t be surprised when a “concerned mom” PMs you about the dangers of Western medicine. Or when someone aggressively hints that your problems would be solved by losing weight. Or doing yoga. Or meditating. As upsetting as it is, as a migraine mom you must remember that most of the people you come in contact with are either totally ignorant about chronic migraine, or even worse, misinformed. It’s not your job to educate or placate. And you don’t need to justify yourself to these people. They’re being rude and intrusive under the guise of “caring” and for some reason they feel even more ok doing it to a mom. And this leads to the next sticky issue to be prepared for:
BREASTFEEDING. This topic is huge in mom world. It’s literally a warzone out there. No matter what modality you choose to feed your child, just accept that there is no right way. From pumping, to formula, to weaning and extended breastfeeding, this is a highly contentious realm of conversation and all sides are fairly polarized. As a migraine mom, your experience with breastfeeding may include more obstacles than the average woman. In addition to issues like latching, insufficient supply, mastitis and reflux, there’s a plethora of additional obstacles you may face. A migraine mama may be out of commission at times if she’s experiencing an attack. Round the clock feeding is hard for anyone, and sleep deprivation is often a significant migraine trigger. A lot of us will have to choose between medication and breastfeeding. Am I comfortable with a category B? What about a category C? Thankfully I’m past this stage. But having gone through it, I can say the same attitude about moms and medication is true for moms and breastfeeding. Many many opinions. Opinions for miles.
It’s important for you, the migraine mom, to be secure in your choice-whatever it may be. If you’re able to breastfeed- that’s wonderful and ideal-for you! But if you’re pumping, combo feeding, or using formula, do not let anyone guilt trip you for one second. Not only is it no one’s business, but most of the keyboard warriors in mom-world have no idea what managing chronic illness is all about. They don’t realize that the most loving act you might do for your baby is to take the medication you need to function, even if this means you can’t breastfeed. Or that Dad feeding baby a bottle so mom can rest allows that family to remain intact and healthy. Don’t allow anyone to preach to you. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Stay friends with people who want to learn more about your illness; people who support you in your migraine journey. Anyone who doesn’t is not a friend.
The truth is, dear migraine mom, that you are not only living in mom-world, you’re also living in migraine world. And Migraine world is very tricky sometimes, with lots of dead ends and detours. Lots of potholes and bumps in the road. We often have to be twice as tough, twice as enduring twice as brave, And anyone who can bounce between both realms is a true warrior mom.