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Why Don't We Take Mom's Pain Seriously?

Photograph by Twenty20

Migraines are a pain. Literally.

When I have a bad migraine (note: I'm not calling it a headache), I just want to crawl into my bed and hibernate. I don't mean under the covers either. I mean physically slice into my mattress, like Han Solo does to the Tom Tom in "The Empire Strikes Back," so no one can find me, and I can come out when I am human again.

I've had migraines so bad I've vomited for 12 hours straight. I am grateful to have a husband who does not listen to me when I ask him to get the power drill and just poke a hole in my head so the pressure can come out. My brain feels like a helium balloon that is only getting bigger, not smaller, and if I could only puncture it I'd feel so much better as the air whizzed past my brain.

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The pain is real. Unfortunately, not everyone believes me.

I remember having teachers in middle school and high school tell me to shake it off. "It's just a little headache," "Stop being such a baby," "Don't use cramps and hormones as an excuse," I often heard.

Problem was, I didn't complain about cramps. I was complaining about a blinding pain that wouldn't go away. It was this dismissive attitude that stopped me from getting diagnosed for more than nine years.

A recent article by Joe Fassler in The Atlantic talks about how women's pain is taken less seriously than men's. Fassler quotes a paper by Diane Hoffman and Anita Tarzian that was published by the Social Science Research Network and which reported that women are "more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the health-care system until they 'prove that they are as sick as male patients.'"

This is often referred to as "Yentl Syndrome." Like we really needed to prove we handle more pain than men. I mean, we survive childbirth! Why do people think we aren't in pain? Just because women chose to give birth naturally doesn't mean it doesn't hurt ... a lot. Epidurals and anesthesiologist were invented for a reason, and it's not because a woman was exaggerating her pain.

Migraines are not fun. They are not simple. And they sure aren't a condition we make up to get a day off to stay in bed.

Now that we have established they are real, let's shake things up a bit. Let's throw kids into the mix. Oh yes, those beautiful, bouncing, loud, bundles of joy we brought into the world. The reason we get up in the morning, whether we want to or not.

It took years for my boys to understand that when mommy says her head hurts, she isn't joking. My oldest, who is now 6, tries to help me out by entertaining his 3-year-old brother so I can sleep. All rules go out the window when mommy has a migraine. Watch all the TV you want. Grab the Kindles and play Angry Birds. Do anything that is safe and will keep you quiet so mommy can take her medicine and wait for it to kick in while she waits in a dark, quiet room.

I'm grateful that my boys can do this for me now, but there was a time when they were babies that I just had to deal. I'd call on friends to come help. My husband would stay home. But, more than anything, I just had to figure out how to take better care of myself.

So first, what I want you to know about your migraine: I believe you. You're in a lot of pain.

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Next, I want to share my top tips to battle and prevent migraines, though sometimes they don't work. I get that! Here you go:

  • Drink a lot of water. Staying hydrated keeps everything working just a little bit better.
  • Keep the caffeine levels low so that when you get a migraine you can take your medicine with a soda or cup of coffee. The caffeine will speed the meds through your body more quickly.
  • Get enough sleep. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Eat on schedule. Keep your blood sugar up and eat healthy, regular meals.
  • Exercise. As my neurologist likes to remind me, this is low hanging fruit. Work out every day, and your body will take better care of you.
  • Massage. Any excuse to get a massage is a good one, but when I started getting a massage once a week (thanks to incredible insurance) I felt better and my migraines decreased significantly.
  • Take your meds. I am always temped to wait it out and see how my migraine develops. Maybe, just maybe, I can get rid of it. Nope. Take it at the first sign so you and your kids will be better off. There is no need to be in more pain than you have to be.

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