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Trying to Conceive with Chronic Migraine

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Having a baby is one of the most fundamental things in life, and yet, I feel that so many people take it for granted. For me, however, falling pregnant seems to be an insurmountable problem.

I have always wanted to be a mother. In fact there has never been any point in my life where I haven’t been 100% sure that I wanted to be one.  In an ideal world, I wanted to have two kids after I got married and before I turned 35.

I got married in 2012 shortly before I turned 32, and that’s when the journey of trying to conceive began for me. I specifically bought a house in a good area for families and with enough room to raise kids in.

I’m now 39 and I’m still childless and not pregnant, and I can firmly place the blame for that with my chronic migraine.

Exploring ‘safe’ treatment options

It was only six months after getting married when my migraine nurse put me onto the contraceptive pill. This was specifically to try and combat the menstrual migraines, and I felt like this was okay to do for a while as I still had time. I was still relatively young, and I needed to prioritise managing my migraine symptoms better before I could realistically introduce something as disruptive as a baby into my life.

I talked to my migraine nurse a lot about my desire and intention to get pregnant. It came up during every appointment I had with her, and it informed all of our decisions about my treatment. Every time I tried a new treatment, I was always strongly recommended not to get pregnant while taking it. The implications of one particular medication were so severe that if I fell pregnant, I would have had to have a termination.

Eventually, we managed to get me to the state where I was only on one potentially problem-causing medication. This was prescribed to reduce blood pressure and is usually given to women while they are pregnant (typically in lower doses than I was taking). Finally I had the go-ahead to try for a baby, with a plan to reduce and come off the medication as swiftly as possible once I became pregnant.

By this point, I was already well past the age of 35 – an age by which I had always wanted to have two kids already.

Migraine is not conducive to conception

I don’t know if this is the case for everyone with chronic migraine, but my migraine attacks come parcelled together with chronic daily headaches. Until I stopped working, I could very easily count the number of pain-free days I had in one year, on one hand. The longest I went without a pain-free day was over 14-months.

You know that old stereotype of: “Not tonight dear, I have a headache”? Well, that stereotype made me feel wretched about my situation for so many years. When you’re living with daily migraine or bad headaches, it is an absolute killer on your sex life – especially when any movement exacerbates the pain.

This is even more detrimental as my menstrual migraine means I am basically guaranteed to have a migraine at menstruation and, more importantly, at ovulation. Combine that with a very irregular cycle and the fact there is only roughly a 12-24 hour period after ovulation during which the egg can be fertilised and it makes the whole process very unlikely to happen for me.

Fears and worries

Eventually I gave up on my hopes to have the two children I had originally wished for and only planned for one. I was already struggling to look after myself and couldn’t imagine how I would look after more than one baby as well.

I spoke to a few chronic migraineurs online who are parents and asked them how they cope with parenting, as well as living with chronic migraine. They all pretty much said the same thing:

“You adapt, you learn, you cope, just as you did when migraine came into your life.”

I also asked how their kids react to migraine and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t realised sooner that, of course, they are great about it. They’ve lived with their parent’s migraine from the get-go so they have learnt everything about the condition and how to behave during an attack – just as they have learnt absolutely everything about how to live in the world.

Another thing I worried about a lot in the process of trying to conceive is the possibility of passing the condition on to my child. There is no getting away from the fact that migraine is commonly hereditary, so any child I have could inherit migraine too.

I would, however, be very well equipped for how to help them if/when that happened.  More importantly I would believe them. Not being believed is often a problem for kids with migraine, especially as child migraine symptoms commonly manifest in the stomach rather than the head.

Managing disappointment and hope

After so many years of trying to conceive and failing, I have had various people ask if I would try in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Notably, every person who has asked me this is someone who either doesn’t struggle with a long-term illness themselves, or doesn’t take daily medication to deal the effects of a long-term illness.

I have struggled so much to get to the stage where my migraines are as under control as they can be, while taking the least amount of medication possible. The thought of adding not only the emotional stress of IVF, but also the additional hormones to the mix, is something I just cannot put myself and my husband through.

The most devastating news came last year when I had a miscarriage. Six-and-a-half years after starting my journey to fall pregnant I finally managed to, but miscarried at only 6 weeks. This emotionally destroyed me, and I am still hurting every single day from it. Although bizarrely I didn’t have a migraine for a full month after the miscarriage!

I am desperately trying to take away the positive of the fact that at least I did manage to get pregnant, but I also don’t want to cling on to false hope. I may not become the mother I have always wanted to be, which at 39 I have to seriously consider. In the meantime, I will keep on trying and keep on hoping though.

UK/MED/19/0308 December 2019