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Navigating Pregnancy with Migraine

Reading time | 7 mins

I have wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of me cuddling my dolls to within an inch of their lives while mimicking my mother as she went around her daily duties.

I had a great role model in my own mother and my dream was to emulate her. I sometimes pity my little brother as he was born when I was eight, which for me, was the perfect age to commence my mothering duties. That poor child was picked up and played with at every given 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. Not only did I worry about how I would manage a pregnancy, but also how I would be able to care for a newborn when 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 talk to my consultant neurologist about it. I knew that I wouldn’t be the first woman with migraine who was facing 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 a pregnancy:

  1. The change in hormones could mean the migraine attacks may continue, or worse, become more severe.
  2. The change in hormones could bring around a change in my migraines meaning that they could stop completely during my 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 up the pros and cons, but to be honest, each scenario eventually came back 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 first trimester symptoms took over. I was tired all the time, 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 had also gotten rid of my migraine symptoms. I was elated.

My pregnancy went so well. Don’t get me wrong, I had the usual pregnancy symptoms throughout and the nausea never really went away, but I didn’t mind as I was going to have the baby I had always dreamed of.

Finally - after what can only be described as the most hellish two days of labour - my son Cillian was born. All the feelings of pain from the labour faded away as soon as I held my newborn in my arms.

I decided to try and breastfeed for as long as I could as I only wanted the best for Cillian. This decision also had another unexpected 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 and I was leaving the hospital, 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, but without the daily stress of dealing with my migraine symptoms, I was more than capable of caring for them and thoroughly enjoyed my time doing it. My breastfeeding journey ended when Cathal was six-months old and I went back to work when he was nine-months old.

The return to work… and the return of migraine

Before I went back to work, I’d have the odd headache here and there, but nothing as bad as what I had been used to 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 that 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 as I was so exhausted after a busy day of work and caring for the boys. 

My kneejerk response was to wish for another baby. After all, during 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 a number of 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 was 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 with migraine can be a very lonely place especially when you are juggling motherhood and work. Knowing that you are not alone and there are others experiencing similar feelings and symptoms to you is really helpful.

If you need to talk to a professional, there are a number of services available that can offer support both in the UK and in Ireland.

The takeaway

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 that can help and support me is so reassuring.

Motherhood is amazing and all that I dreamt of. Of course I have my bad days. The days I can’t lift my head off the pillow. The days where 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.    

UK/MED/19/0264 October 2019