Marina Medved-Lentini is a wife, mother and writer for Migraine Strong. She shares her story of Migraine during pregnancy as well as her journey of taking control of her life using various treatment methods.
Thank you, Marina for sharing your story!
I read the “What To Expect Before You’re Expecting” book from cover to cover before I got pregnant. As soon as I saw two lines on my pregnancy test, I moved on to its highly anticipated sequel, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting”. I even bought the “What To Expect When Your Wife Is Expanding” for my husband, but he never opened it. Unlike him, I plan for every contingency and outcome by doing thorough research no matter the importance of the subject. Sometimes resulting in analysis paralysis.
I researched everything baby related. From the baby carrier that doesn’t cause back pain to the natural diapers that offer the most overnight protection. I spent hours preparing my birth plan and picking out organic sheets for my first born.
My Life with Migraine before Pregnancy
So, in retrospect, it is absolutely shocking that I did not plan ahead for Migraine during pregnancy. Ever since I was 13, I’ve had episodic Migraine (defined as less than 15 headache days per month). Back then and up until my pregnancy, I was taking Excedrin Migraine to successfully abort my attacks. After rounds of preventive medications proved to be ineffective in my adolescent years, I went off to Syracuse University. I relied on Excedrin Migraine as my sole method of Migraine treatment. I learned to live with Migraine and navigated successfully through college, law school, and my career as an attorney.
No Plan For Migraine During Pregnancy
Fast forward to 2014 when I was ready to start a family. The thought of what would happen when I got an attack during pregnancy did cross my mind a few times. However, the thought also terrified me. I was misinformed that none of the medications were allowed during pregnancy. So, I would have to deal with the pain. Since I wanted to have a baby, then Migraine be damned. So I did what was opposite of my character, I buried my head in the sand instead of doing the research.
Once I became pregnant, the hormone fluctuations significantly changed my Migraine pattern and not for the better. Although many women actually get relief from Migraine during pregnancy, I was the opposite. My attacks gradually became more severe in both frequency and severity. I was not prepared to handle this since my only method of fighting pain was over the counter pain medication (my trusty Excedrin Migraine that got me through to this point).
At that time I did not have an established headache specialist or plan for combatting Migraine during pregnancy. And my Migraine quickly morphed into Chronic Migraine (15 or more pain days per month.)
The neurologist’s office I was referred to did not provide me any relief other than a suggestion to take Tylenol and hydrate myself. Those suggestions proved futile. My OBGYN, however, approved the use of Fioricet after she saw me writhing in pain in her office. Unfortunately, Fioricet soon lost its effectiveness. This often happens as it’s one of the top drugs that can cause rebound headaches.
I was monitored closely by my OBGYN and a high risk OB. They also prescribed Tylenol with Codeine, allowed me to take Excedrin without Aspirin, as well as Ibuprofen during the second trimester. None of these medications provided complete relief, but they did take the edge off the pain allowing me to function to some capacity.
It was not long before I was trapped in a horrific rebound headache cycle and began experiencing daily pain. I did not know it then but rebound headaches, also known as medication overuse headaches, occur in headache-prone patients when they take pain relievers on more than 10-15 days per month.
During that time, acute medications, such as Excedrin Migraine and Imitrex eventually stopped helping as well, but I was taking them anyway because I was desperate for relief. Somehow in this state I went through three pregnancies, two births, two breastfed babies, well visits, a lot of sleepless nights spent in a rocking chair, teething, birthdays, first smiles, first steps, and first words.
Every day I felt like I was stuck in a very bad dream. Even before I opened my eyes, I already felt the familiar sensations in my temples that warned me that the pain was about to grasp a hold of my brain and not let go. The fatigue and weakness were always present from the daily pain, medications, and vomiting.
Motherhood With Daily Pain
Spending all day long with a crying baby and a rambunctious toddler while in a state of constant pain tested my sanity. I couldn’t lie down in a quiet dark room, which is what my body needed because I had to take care of someone else’s needs instead.
The days were a blur while I focused on feeding, changing diapers, singing songs, reading books, doing puzzles, while mostly in a fetal position on the floor. My husband helped as much as he could, but I was on my own during the day and in the middle of the night while breastfeeding. I was having daily Migraine attacks which meant I had no chance to recuperate from the hell Migraine put my body through each and every day.
Every morning I wished for bedtime and a chance for respite from the pain, yet every evening I dreaded falling asleep because it meant I would wake up to yet another day filled with pain.
Once I gave birth to my younger daughter, Ella, I found a new headache specialist. We began trialing different preventive medications, but nothing worked. It is not surprising now because during a rebound cycle, preventive medications do not normally work.
Once I stopped breastfeeding, my headache specialist put me on a birth control pill in an attempt to regulate my hormones. Although the pill does help some women, after a week of use I was experiencing 24/7 pain. I was vomiting even more at that time, so much that my throat was bleeding. I was so weak that I had to hold onto the walls while walking down the hallway because my legs could barely hold me. Every time I moved my head I felt as if something inside my head was shifting. I cried myself to sleep. prayed to God. I felt despair and hopelessness.
I leaned on the support of my family who came to stay with me whenever they could. They helped take care of my kids and tried to fill my heart with positivity and hope.
The turning point for me was joining the Migraine Strong Facebook group. I learned that my daily intake of Excedrin Migraine in addition to my Imitrex prescription, was actually feeding my pain cycle. So, I finally understood that in addition to chronic Migraine, I was also suffering from rebound headaches.
I read the book, Heal Your Headache by Dr. Buchholz, which explained this so thoroughly and it motivated me to take control of Migraine.
Ending Rebound Headache Cycle
The only way to escape the rebound headache cycle is to stop all pain relievers. I consulted with my headache specialist who explained that the hormone fluctuations were fueling Migraine which was exacerbated by the rebound headaches (pretty much the worst case scenario ever, right?).
She prescribed a Medrol steroid taper to help make the pain manageable during the attacks. Meanwhile, I stopped all acute medications which at that time included Imitrex and Excedrin Migraine (saying goodbye to my go-to friend was challenging; but necessary).
The steroid helped decrease the severity and frequency of the attacks so I was able to avoid all pain relievers. I also began a Migraine diet (Heal Your Headache), received a second round of Botox, occipital nerve blocks, and began chiropractic treatment.
Although I was still getting Migraine attacks, I got through each one without any medications. There is no consensus how long one must stay off pain relievers in order to successfully break the rebound cycle however, we know that it’s months not weeks. I went without using any pain relievers for approximately 5 months!
This, in addition to the Migraine diet (according to which my husband had to learn to cook), helped my cranky neurons to calm down and allowed my brain heal.
What is a Treatment Pie?
In Migraine Strong, we often discuss the concept of the “treatment pie” which includes different slices: medications, hydration, mindfulness, meditation, therapy, sleep, diet, exercise, and supplements. Breaking my rebound headache cycle and following the Migraine Strong treatment pie is how I took control of Migraine.
Currently my treatment pie consists of two preventive medications, Botox, Aimovig, and supplements (Magnesium Glycinate, Migraine Stop and Ginger). Occasionally I get occipital nerve blocks, trigger point injections and chiropractic treatment.
I meditate every night and follow a Migraine diet. Living with Migraine takes work; but knowing how to manage Migraine allows me to enjoy life again.
Here And Now
I still get Migraine attacks but I am now back to having Episodic Migraine. Stress is one of my big Migraine triggers and coincidently stress happens to be one of the requirements of parenthood.
My children test me every day while we are getting ready for pre-school in the mornings. Our chaotic mornings are anything but Migraine friendly. As we battle the tough tasks between waking up and getting out the door on time. There is a potential toddler tantrum lurking behind every sweet hug and kiss and with that, a potential for head pain. Places with too much noise and stimulation tend to trigger an attack, which is hard to avoid with little kids. Every day, I’m cognizant of what I need to do to keep my mommy brain from becoming the Migraine brain.
Migraine is, and likely will always be, part of my life. Accepting that has been a large part of my healing process. But I am the one who is in control of the disease now. I have many pain free days which I spend with my kids; (who are now 4.5 and 3) and my husband. Now I am working again part time as a lawyer and am an active member of the Mom’s Club in our town. I have found a way to thrive, not just survive with Migraine.
Raising Awareness for Migraine
After this experience, I became passionate about raising Migraine awareness and educating others about Migraine. I stress the importance of finding a headache specialist to those with episodic Migraine based on how easy it is for them to morph into Chronic Migraine.
I encourage pregnant women to explore options with their doctors that I was not aware of when I was pregnant. The nerve blocks, magnesium and ginger supplements, trigger point injections, chiropractic treatment, and some preventive medications may be possible.
This is why I joined the admin team at Migraine Strong on Facebook and why we launched a website earlier this year. We are here to help others learn to control Migraine and find hope. And there is hope. If anyone is proof of that, it’s me.
Migraine Explained Topics:
- Migraine Explained: Cognitive Dysfunction
- Migraine Explained: Migraine Triggers
- Migraine Explained: Season Change
- Migraine Explained: Allodynia
- Migraine Explained: Status Migrainosus
Disclaimer: This blog post provides general information and first hand accounts about a serious medical condition. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice.