Defined as an invisible disability, pain can be difficult to navigate being a mama – forcing us to check our ego and our guilt at the door when we must put ourselves first.
Yet as moms, we often give up on our very basic needs, putting everything from the kids, the house, our spouses, the PTA, jobs, etc. first. I’ve suffered from chronic neck pain and migraines for a little while now and I can tell you this: sometimes, I have to put myself first in order to be able to meet the needs of those I love. I know I’m not steering this boat on my own, as many other migraine mamas out there have commented and shared their experiences with me as I’ve occasionally [over]shared on Facebook. For anyone new to this game (my migraines kicked in after I had kids), I thought I’d share what I have learned along the way to help take care of me so I can take care of my crew.
Please note – what I share below does not replace medical care or expertise in any way.
I use this acronym to slow myself down, identify what is going on, investigate the “why” on my own before I get anyone else involved. For me, it stands for “Here’s Everything; Let’s Plan.” Clearly, I’m a Type A, and I need lists and rationale to know what I’m battling against and know what resources I need. Whether it’s something emotional or mental, such as a current challenge with managing my oldest son’s outbursts after school and my reaction to it causing heart pain or the physical pain I deal with having migraines and a neck with a reversed curve, I find it’s helpful to get out an old school notebook (I’m sure you could find an app if that’s your style) to jot down notes.
When is this happening? What was I doing before that could have triggered or inflamed it? How long is it lasting? How often is it occurring? What is my next step: a doctor, a counselor or someone else?
The faster you can recall the answers through the mom brain fog, the faster you can get results.
Build Your Team
It’s so hard to admit when we aren’t doing our best. And invisible disabilities are the worst. We may put on a smile and look just fine – but every sound, every noise, every movement could be causing us pain. And women tend to experience pain syndromes at a higher rate than men – so there’s a higher chance you or another mama you know may be suffering in silence. So – first and foremost, whatever friends and family you may have close by, get them involved.
Let them know what you’re struggling with and ask them to be your backup plan. Knowing who is available in a pinch and what they are capable of matters. Me having 3 (wild and crazy) kids means not everyone can just step in, but I can send 1 or 2 with someone and the other with someone else – keeping the burden and impact light while addressing my immediate issues. For me, this has been anything from needing to take some medicine and laying down in a quiet space with ice packs on my head to an unknown length of time at an ER visit. Knowing who you can trust and with what helps so much.
Building your team also means finding the right care providers.
Your pain will decide who you see. Knowing what you want the treatment and outcomes to be (are you on board for medications or more alternative options for example) will also help you define the members of your team. In my experience, I also had to teach myself it was ok to break up with a provider who didn’t seem to be hearing my concerns and was over pushing medications I didn’t find to be helpful. This can be a hard decision to make and not one without extra work and effort being added to your already busy day. This is especially true as every new provider needs to run through every med, every test, every treatment, every trigger. It’s so much information to move around – so take good notes along the way. I highly recommend finding a provider that has a portal so quick questions can be asked through MyChart or whatever they use vs. requiring many visits – this has saved my sanity.
Make the Time and Make Your Case
Research has shown us that women experiencing pain often have a lot of leg work to do to be heard, to be understood, and to get the right treatment. Women often seek medical care more often as we tend to be more aware and more willing to address issues as they come up. An older article titled the Girl Who Cries Pain in the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics talks about bias in medicine specifically when women have pain, and from my experience, this still holds true. And as you may have experienced yourself, many specialists are male and quite frankly just don’t have the same perspective as their female clientele. Be ready to take the time for your initial appointment, and allow time for additional follow-ups, and be ready to share the details until you have all of your symptoms and concerns being addressed.
Don’t Keep It [all] From the Kids
My kids know when mommy is having a not so good day. If I just say, “Mommy owy,” to one of my twin toddlers, he immediately runs to the freezer to grab my ice pack. While I hope this isn’t our life always and am determined to find a root cause leading to better balance and way to manage my pain, it is sweet and comforting to know that my kids want me to feel better, and want to help me get to a better place. There are activities that are quieter (play doh, coloring) that I generally save for days I need less of the running and noisy stuff around. But I also have to give credit to my husband on days when I just can’t take it and he sends me to bed – keeping the kids quiet and chill so I can try to recoup for the next days’ adventures.
Enjoy your good days and know that you need to take care of you when it’s time to press pause.
Pain is no joke. And if you’re experiencing this too, I hope this encourages you to take some time out for you. If you are pain-free but know someone who isn’t, consider reaching out. Just because they may look okay, doesn’t mean they are.