Last weekend I went to my first ever baby shower, for my oldest friend in the whole world. I wish her, above all, a pain-free smooth-sailing birth, and a healthy happy baby. The below, so she doesn’t punch me in the face, is no reflection on her at all.
But being surrounded by all the baby grows, which inevitably led to talk of epidurals versus cesareans versus hypno births, once again got me thinking about the similarities between the pain of childbirth and the pain of migraine.
So I am now about to have a debate – with myself – on the topic of Childbirth v Migraine. You might think this is impossible, you might think I am crazy (probably true), and I also hate debating so this will probably fail. I was the kind of child who, when taunted in the playground, would return two days later with the perfect come-back retort, usually to a blank face as the bully had, by then, completely forgotten what we were debating/pulling hair over. But here goes…
I should also point out that I have never given birth, so obviously I don’t really know what I’m talking about and don’t mean to cause offence!
On the introduction page to “The MigraineBrain” (actually the opening lines) by Dr Carolyn Bernstein, is a quote from Melissa, a woman in her 30’s, who has suffered excruciating migraines since childhood. She has just given birth to her first child, and asked to describe labour she says that the obstetrician instructed her to let him know when the pain got really intense so he could give her an epidural but before she knew it – her daughter was born “without any anesthetic”.
“When people say childbirth is one of the worst pains there is, I’m sorry, it’s not!”
(Melissa, pg1. The Migraine Brain.)
(Melissa, pg1. The Migraine Brain.)
The main difference, as I see it, between migraine and childbirth is that after 48 hours (or however long your labour lasts) of excruciating pain, you have a beautiful new baby to show for it. It has been worth it. It has been for something. Migraine, by contrast, is a totally pointless pain. Untreated my migraines will last about 3 days, so 72 hours. At the end I will feel battered, bruised, tearful and it will take me days to recover - all for nothing. I also know I’ll have to go through the whole process again sometime soon.
- Choice. Women, mostly, chose to bring life into this world. So they willingly (personally I think you’re all crazy and we need to invent some kind of system where you can lay an egg) go through this ‘natural’ process. Migraineurs have no choice.
- Perseverance & Judgment. No one denies that childbirth can be one of the most painful experiences, for some of course it’s a breeze. I love the moment in Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning Of Life' when Terry Jones’ character just plops out a baby whilst doing the washing up! (Video below – warning outrageous language!). And of course, it can be the same with migraines. A woman who gets migraines might say childbirth was, for her, far more painful. Everyone experiences these things differently, they’re totally individual and almost impossible to quantify. But I often hear mother’s to-be saying they feel they have a challenge to overcome with getting through labour, they want to prove they can do it. It almost seems to be a matter of pride, of perseverance. Conversely, I have no pride. Knock me out and wake me up when it’s over. And those women who judge mothers for getting cesareans and epidurals, well I judge you. If my migraines last 72 hours un-medicated and I’ve been getting them coming up 14 years, doesn’t that mean I’ve essentially given birth about 1,000 times? I have nothing to prove. I know my body can handle pain thank you very much.
('Every Sperm is Sacred' from The Meaning of Life - explicit language)
- Why don’t we talk about what happens? I’ve seen so many new mothers, right after childbirth, literally shell-shocked at what their body has just put them through. They are traumatized, even the ones who have been to antenatal classes. But people, every other person on the planet, since the beginning of time HAS BEEN DOING THIS. It’s nothing new!!! I don’t understand why it’s all shrouded in mystery, well it’s not so much any more – but I’m always astounded when I meet pregnant women or new mothers who are surprised at what’s happening, or just happened, to them. When new mothers find it hard to breast-feed, for example, no one told them it didn’t just happen ‘naturally’ and they feel ashamed, or when they’re judged for using formula; that is shocking in this day and age. And it’s the same with migraine – we’ve known about this condition for thousands of years. 1 in 6 people in the UK have migraine, 190,000 people every day get a migraine so why don’t we talk about it more, and help each other instead of judging one another as neurotic hypochondriacs? Of course migraine doesn't hold the threat of mortal danger that childbirth can, but that's even more reason for women to openly talk to one another about their experiences.
('The Miracle of Birth' sketch from The Meaning of Life, I hope this never happens to anyone!)
- We forget pain. Or rather we forget the searing heat and intensity of that specific pain. If we didn’t, no one would ever have a child again! My sister has three of them. I also think this is the single biggest reason I’ve been able to get on with my life. When you don’t have a migraine and feel fine you forget you ever had one in the first place.
Ok, I’m now aware this debate isn’t really a very balanced argument, I did warn you I was terrible at debating. I once lost our school a national debate because I thought it was ridiculous that fans could possibly be upset at the band Take That splitting up. The opposing team responded that Child-Line has been inundated with calls from suicidal teenagers. Whoops. I also really wish I’d seen Take That live in concert.
In closing, my argument is that all I really want to do is highlight the similarities between the two experiences. My wish is that all lovely mothers to-be get the help and support they need, and that no-one judges them for whatever choices and experiences they go through, and that they prepare as much as possible for childbirth. Likewise for migraineurs. Educate yourself about this potentially disabling condition, learn everything you can about your migraine and get specialist help and don’t be ashamed to get all the help you need. And if it’s comforting to know that, for some, childbirth has been just as painful, or even nowhere near as painful, as a migraine then tell that to those who dismiss you as a moaning minnie with “just a headache”.
I’d love to hear from women who have both given birth and have migraines. How did the two compare? Obviously, as I mentioned above, both are such individual and variable experiences, it’s impossible to generalize but it would be great to hear some more first hand accounts…and obviously I wish all those who are about to give birth a smooth speedy labour.