By Tonilyn Hornung
“I want to see her because I love her,” a tiny voice explains from the darkness.
“He really wants to see you,” my mom says apologetically.
I really want to see him, too. For two days I’ve really wanted to see my son, but pain has kept me immobile. If I could remove the red-hot waffle iron stuck to the side of my head and stop vomiting like I’ve been eating all the waffles my head has been making, I’d be able to be a mom to my three-and-a-half-year-old. However, my chronic condition is winning this round. My migraines always win.
Even though I’m one of 28 million women in the United States who has chronic migraines (15 or more migraines a month—mine are daily), I feel very much on my own. When I tell people that I’m a migraine sufferer, I’m met with tips like, “Have you tried letting your husband rub your feet?” Yes! I have tried that. I’d let my husband rub the insides of my eye sockets if I thought it would help.
Many people don’t understand that my disorder is just that—a neurological disorder for which a cure has yet to be found. I’ve gone through a list of medicines and treatments as complex as one of Cersei Lannister’s revenge plots from Game of Thrones. I’m constantly working with specialists, researching new procedures, and trying to remain hopeful—if not for me, then for my son. Now I’m on several different medications and completely dependent on my abortive pills, which only work about 70 percent of the time. These odds are pretty good if I’m doubling down in Vegas, but not so good as a stay-at-home parent.
I’m a mom. As a mom I should be able to power through anything. When my son was a newborn, and my migraines were on hiatus due to my high hormone levels, I once went seven days on only 2 1/2 hours of sleep a night—and then I made dinner for my husband, milked two of the cows, flew a mission to Mars and was back in time to breastfeed. (Some of that might be exaggerated. We don’t have cows.) Without a migraine, I can be that mom my son needs. With a migraine, I become a useless shell of a mother. My chronic pain stops me from reaching my full mom potential. I feel like a failure.
In the midst of a full-blown attack, I lay in a dark room while he is mothered by others—his father, his grandparents, his babysitter, a friend. If my husband is unavailable, I have back-ups for my back-ups. I’m totally dependent on others, and I feel helpless. What kind of mother am I if I can’t even be a mother to my child?
There are times I’ve had a migraine and also had to be a parent. I fear those times like I fear eating sushi from a gas station. (Alright, even more.) The pain is all-encompassing, and it worsens every moment I try to function. My son and I sit in my bed, and I lie curled around his little body, praying he can watch TV until nap time, bedtime, or until another human arrives to rescue me. I can’t think a complete thought. Each minute feels like a day. I cherish every moment spent with my son, but it’s the worst kind of torture trying to be a mom with a migraine.
When I was a waddling preggo, I looked forward to teaching my child so many things: how to say his name, how to give hugs, how to ask his dad for the credit card, but I never thought I’d be teaching him how to be sick. How is that good parenting? I worry and wonder how my health affects him.
“Mom, are you feeling better?” a small hand rubs my arm.
“Not right now, but I will,” I reassure him.
I feel his head move close and in the tiniest of whispers I hear, “I know this is hard for you.”
“Yes, it is.” I choke out. “I love you.”
And with that he is off again.
I am so moved by my little one’s compassion that his phrase I know this is hard for you stays with me during the rest of my episode. It doesn’t dull the pain of my migraine, but somehow I feel less alone in the darkness. Where did he learn that level of compassion? I am in awe of my three-and-a-half-year-old.
Later, when I’m feeling more like myself, I thank my son again for his caring and kindness. I tell him how loved his words made me feel when I was sick. I’m also curious where he heard that phrase. It’s too adult for his usual Paw Patrol jargon, and it’s not one his Dad’s feel-better phrases. When I ask him, his response floors me: “I didn’t hear it anywhere. I just knew.”
My migraines are an unwanted dinner guest in my body. If I could kick them out and make them go eat elsewhere (gas station sushi, perhaps?) I would. They make my life challenging and painful in ways that I never knew possible. Yet, amidst all this turmoil there is a tiny ray of hope. It comes from the most unexpected place—my son. I’m not going to worry about him quite as much. He’s smarter than I thought. In a darkened room, my little guy has taught me more about my migraines than I’d ever known: My migraines don’t always win. Love wins.
About the Author
Tonilyn has always preferred writing in her room to playing kick-ball outside. She is the author of the humorous self-help book How to Raise a Husband available where books are sold. Her essays have been published in The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Redbook, Harper’s Bazaar, Woman’s Day, Parent Co., Mommyish, Scary Mommy, Today’s Woman Magazine, Underwired Magazine and other magazines her husband has never heard of. She was a blogger for Skirt! Magazine and Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine–but then her baby grew up and she hasn’t stopped crying ever since. She lives in Los Angeles with her two dogs. one cat, one husband, one toddler, and never enough closet space.