Despite living with chronic migraine, Ciara O’Rourke knows she’ll never regret her decision to have children.
I have wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of me cuddling dolls within an inch of their lives while mimicking my mother.
I had a great role model in my mother, and my dream was to emulate her. I sometimes pity my little brother as he was born when I was eight, which was the perfect age to commence my mothering duties. That poor child was picked up and played with at every opportunity – I had to be with him all the time. I knew from a very early age that this was something that had to be in my future.
Migraine vs motherhood
By the time I was 31, I was in a serious relationship with my partner, Shaun. I was secure in my job, and we had just purchased our first home. The pangs calling for motherhood were in full swing. It felt as if it was time. Although by this age, migraine was already very much part of my life.
I had been diagnosed with chronic migraine and was having headaches almost every day. I could have between two to three severe migraine attacks per month, which sometimes left me bedbound for up to three days. The diagnosis played heavily on my heart. I worried about how I would manage pregnancy and then a newborn. There were parts of the month when I could barely care for myself.
At the time, I remember finding it so hard to see a pregnant woman walking down the street. It jolted me to a response that I was unable to control. And of course, when you’re thinking about getting pregnant or worrying about it, pregnant women are suddenly EVERYWHERE!
Seeking professional advice
Shaun and I talked a lot about my concerns, and his advice was for me to go and speak to my consultant neurologist about it. I knew I wouldn't be the first woman with migraine to face this issue, so I wanted some professional advice.
My consultant was great and explained that as my migraines were triggered by my hormones, there were two possible side effects of pregnancy:
- The change in hormones could mean the migraine attacks may continue or - worse - become more severe.
- Or - and this was also a possibility - my migraines could cease entirely during pregnancy.
Ultimately there was no way for me to tell. Each person living with migraine is different. It is easy to guess which option I was hoping for.
Weighing up the pros and cons
I didn’t know what to do. I wanted a baby so badly, but could I realistically handle my migraine symptoms getting worse? We weighed the pros and cons, but to be honest, each scenario eventually returned to me having a baby - it was all I wanted.
So we decided to go for it. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long, and within a couple of months, I saw those two positive lines on the pregnancy test. I was going to have a baby! I was over the moon. Shaun and I began dreaming about our plans for the future, but the thought of what troubles might lie ahead was never too far from my mind.
Then, a miracle
I was six weeks along when I found out I was pregnant, and it wasn't long before the symptoms of the first trimester took over. I was always tired, nauseous, and felt like I could eat a house, but I was also the happiest I had ever been.
As the weeks went on, I noticed something else: I wasn’t having migraines. I couldn’t quite believe it, so I looked at my migraine diary, and there hadn’t been an entry in over a month! I honestly couldn’t believe my luck. Not only was I having a baby, but this miracle also relieved my migraine symptoms. I was elated.
My pregnancy went so well. Don’t get me wrong, I had the usual pregnancy symptoms, and nausea never disappeared. Still, I didn't mind as I was going to have the baby I had always wanted.
Finally - after what can only be described as the most hellish two days of labour - my son Cillian was born. The labour pain faded away as soon as I held my newborn in my arms.
I decided to try and breastfeed for as long as possible as I only wanted the best for Cillian. This decision also had another unexpected side effect - the hormonal changes that breastfeeding brought continued to keep my migraine attacks at bay.
One baby became three
Over the years, I went on to have two more boys: Cormac and Cathal. After my second son, Cormac, was born, I remember begging my husband for another baby just so I could stay migraine-free. Needless to say, eight months later, I was pregnant again with Cathal.
During my journey with pregnancy and breastfeeding, I had almost four years with barely any migraine attacks. I had never felt so good. Of course, I was tired with three little boys to care for. Still, I was more than capable of caring for them without the daily stress of dealing with my migraine symptoms and thoroughly enjoyed my time doing it. My breastfeeding journey ended when Cathal was six months old, and I returned to work when he reached nine months.
The return to work… and the return of migraine
Before going back to work, I’d have the odd headache here and there, but nothing as agonising as before my pregnancies. But as soon as I started working again, my migraine symptoms came back.
And this time with greater intensity.
I was back to having near-daily headaches. I could have 20-25 headache days, on top of two to four severe migraine attacks per month. I knew the extra pressure of working while caring for the boys was taking a toll on me. My health began to suffer, and I no longer had the energy to exercise. I was exhausted after a busy day of work and caring for the boys.
My kneejerk response was to wish for another baby. After all, pregnancy was when I felt at my best. And as a bonus, you got a baby at the end! But unfortunately, I had to look for other options as I honestly think my husband would have divorced me for even bringing up the conversation.
Returning to treatment
I went back to my consultant neurologist for some more advice. I had been off treatment for several years while I was pregnant, so I wanted his guidance on the best treatment options available to me going forward.
This turned out to be a godsend as his advice and support were so helpful. Getting information from a professional is so important when managing your condition. I also think a great way to find information and support is to link in with your local migraine support group. Suffering from migraine can be a very lonely place, especially when you are juggling motherhood and work. It's helpful to know you are not alone and others are experiencing similar symptoms.
If you need to talk to a professional, there are many services available that can offer support. Here are links for the UK and Ireland.
Migraine is still a daily battle for me, and I'm not sure it's something that will ever go away. But knowing that there are people out there who can help and support me is reassuring.
Motherhood is fantastic and all that I dreamt of it being. Of course, I have my bad days. The days I can’t lift my head off the pillow. The days when I want to run away from three young boys who are screaming at me for television and snacks. But as far as motherhood goes, the good certainly outweighs the bad. I honestly wouldn’t go back and change my decision for anything.
NPS-IE-NP-00452 June 2022