Part 1. Motherhood and Migraine: a Double Whammy

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My chronic migraines coincided with my inelegant and devastating initiation into motherhood with a c-section operation. I had migraines before becoming a mother, but the perfect storm of surgery, medications, sleep-deprivation, and years of breast-feeding put me into a years-long tailspin of chronic, debilitating migraine.

Chronic migraine fundamentally reorganized my life and who I thought I was. It put immense strain on my marriage. My obsession with finding a natural solution was a huge distraction from connecting with my son, but I couldn’t stop because I could not get on the pharmaceutical bandwagon. It was never an option for me, because I knew medications had caused my migraines by throwing my gut flora, minerals status, and liver and kidney health out of whack.

 

My young son got quite used to seeing me puking my guts out in the toilet, and hiding beneath the covers. Throughout this process of his early life and my chronic migraine struggle, we moved four times and lived in three states. Isolation was the name of the game. As painful as my migraines were, they also got boring because they had literally become the focus of my life. Every evening my husband had to listen to what I had most recently learned about healing migraine. I had no life other than research and caring for my son. My life had tailspinned.

 

The Motherly State of Affairs

There seems to be a cultural assumption that in our “1st-world” society, women and mothers are reaping the benefits of more egalitarian partnerships, improved education and rights, as well as the benefits of access to birth control. And yet, modern motherhood also is showing up to be an experience fraught with some unprecedented challenges that are often simply not acknowledged and which can feel like a paradoxical maze to navigate for the mothers trying to raise kids in a highly technological and corporate cultural landscape. Add migraine to the mix and it can be an experience fraught with pain, isolation, and intense stress.

Beth Berry, who coaches mothers at Revolution from Home, outlines an extensive list of challenges that mothers face now that they didn’t previously, leading to their frustration and stress. In her blog post, “Why Modern Day Motherhood Feels so Frustrating”, she points out that:

The irony is that we’re more intentional, better resourced, and more informed than any generation of mothers in the history of the world, yet we still feel inadequate, burned out, defeated, and unfulfilled much of the time.

In her 32-point list of challenges that mothers these day face, Berry nails the issues that truly affect us. Here’s a streamlined bullet-point from her article in which she goes into greater detail.

  1. Parenting standards and expectations have risen, while support has dropped.
  2. Motherhood is all-consuming, yet often inadequate for the job of cultivating a whole sense of self.
  3. We’re bombarded with unrealistic images of what motherhood and womanhood are supposed to look and feel like.
  4. Our instincts are being minimized.
  5. The 1950s wasn’t that long ago.
  6. We’re being spread thinner than ever.
  7. We know more, and feel the need to do more with that knowledge.
  8. We have no villages or tribes to support us.
  9. Postpartum care is entirely inadequate in our culture.
  10. Our energy is already limited.
  11. Grandma doesn’t live next door.
  12. Car culture is especially hard on children, and mothers as a result.
  13. We’re wired to care deeply.
  14. It’s us against marketers backed by millions.
  15. Part-time jobs with benefits are few and far between.
  16. We’re accustomed to survival mode.
  17. Neighborhood kids are nowhere to be found.
  18. Mothers’ needs are not often honored within workplaces.
  19. Fathers’ roles are shifting, too.
  20. We’ve been fed unhealthy messages about independence.
  21. Our souls are starving.
  22. Marriages and partnerships are severely stressed.
  23. Our needs are rarely considered.
  24. We’re trying to make up for so much that’s missing.
  25. We’re drowning in our stuff.
  26. We’re starved for deeper connection.
  27. We’re taught that we’re supposed to bounce back after having babies.
  28. Sacred ceremonies and rituals are few and far between.
  29. We rarely feel successful by conventional measures. 
  30. We’re a pain and discomfort-avoidant culture.
  31. We’re disconnected from women’s stories, myths and traditions.
  32. We’re taught to resist aging.

The list could continue on . . . but you get the gist.

 

Now, Add in Migraines

To her list, I would add the following challenges that mothers with migraine also face, and other factors playing a role in chronic migraines:

  • An epidemic of medicalized birth practices including ever-growing c-section rates.
  • Frequent moving for economic advancement for many mothers makes forming support networks difficult.
  • Years of sleep-deprivation and breastfeeding make it harder to heal.
  • Medications used to treat migraines cause migraines themselves.
  • Even the most loving partners may become desensitized to migraines when they become chronic because suffering is the status quo and they don’t know how to help.
  • Single mothers and ethnic minorities suffer even more migraine due to social justice challenges and systemic sexism, racism, and economic hardship.
  • Pharmaceutical approaches to health which are the standard of care available to most women in the treatment of migraine generally compromise the liver, the kidneys, the gut microbiome, and mineral balance (see the book “Drug Muggers” and this article).
  • Women are often given medications to treat post-partum depression that is actually coming from social isolation and lack of local family support. These medications further exacerbate the mineral imbalances that cause migraine.
  • Hormonal birth control is causing copper/zinc dis-regulation and contributing to migraines.
  • Pregnancy itself can cause imbalances in these two key minerals.
  • Most healthcare professionals are ignorant of the role that copper and zinc play in postpartum depression and migraine.
  • Natural approaches which involve the use of supplements are often done without an awareness to the dynamic relationships that vitamins and minerals have to each other, and so can unintentially contribute to the mother’s migraine. Example: high dose vitamin D depletes vitamin A, which is needed to get copper into cells to make estrogen and break down histamine.

What Can We Do to Have a More Empowered Experience of Motherhood?

Luckily, Beth Berry is to the rescue. In her article, “In the Abscence of the Village, Mother’s Struggle Most” she offers up a few suggestions for tackling the maternal overwhelm:

  • Get really clear on one thing: the fact that you’re struggling is not a reflection of your inadequacies, but the unnatural cultural circumstances you’re living within.
  • Own and honor your needs. Most mothers are walking around with several deeply unmet needs of their own while focusing almost exclusively on the needs of others. This is precisely the thing that keeps us from gaining traction and improving our circumstances, both individually and collectively.
  • Practice vulnerability. Rich, safe, authentic connection is essential for thriving. Cultivating this quality of connection takes courage, and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. What you want most exists on the other side of that initial awkward conversation or embarrassing introduction.  
  • Own your strengths. What makes you feel strong and fully alive? What lights you up and gives you energy just thinking about it? Who would you be to your village if you had one? Tapping into your strengths and engaging them is one of the greatest ways to attract the kinds of people you want into your life, bless and inspire others, and build a sense of community in ways that fill rather than drain you. 
  • Become an integral part of something. Whether it’s a knitting group, dance troupe, church, kayaking club, or homeschool collective, commit to growing community around one area of your life that enlivens you or fills a need. Use the connections you cultivate within this community to practice showing up bravely and authentically and asking for what you need, be it support, resources, or encouragement.
  • Do your part and ONLY your part. Though it’s tempting to fill our lives to the brim with commitments that make a difference, doing so only further disempowers us. Read Essentialism if you struggle with this one.
  • Learn self-love and self-compassion. In a culture of “never enough” it is essential that we forge healthy relationships with ourselves in order to be able to fend off the many messages hitting us about who we’re meant to be and what makes us worthy of happiness and love. In fact, I see self-love in action as the greatest gift our generation of mothers could possibly give to the mothers of tomorrow. 
  • Speak your truth. Even when you’re terrified. Even if it makes you the bravest one in the room.
  • Imagine a new way. Where we’re headed looks nothing like where we’ve come from. Creating the kind of future we want requires envisioning that future and believing a new way to be possible. Get specific and think big. What do you want?

Sounds good, but also rather ambitious if we also live in a headache. What we want is a clear head, first and foremost. After that, we want to be able to go pee alone for a change. After that maybe we can get to the self-improvement lists, right? So if we want to really get rid of our migraines what do we have to do?

This is part 1 of a 3 part series.

Part 2 is here, and part 3 is here.


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Marya Gendron is a biodynamic craniosacral therapist and health coach specializing in chronic migraine headache relief through plant-based solutions and hair tissue mineral analysis. For the past 3 years, Marya has been helping those with chronic migraine to clear their head, heal their digestion, regain their energy, and transform their lives using simple, natural solutions.

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Disclaimer

The information in this article is for educational purposes only and not meant to replace diagnosis, treatment, or prescription by a qualified medical professional.

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About Marya Gendron
Marya Gendron is a biodynamic craniosacral therapist and health coach specializing in chronic migraine headache relief and alleviation of brain fog, indigestion, and histamine intolerance through plant-based solutions and hair mineral analysis. She practices out of White Salmon, Washington.

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