Unexplained

In addition to having chronic migraines, I also have what the fertility doctor called, “unexplained infertility “. My husband and I are the 1 in 8 couples who have no known medical reason WHY we couldn’t get pregnant on our own.

This week is National Infertility Awareness week, and in support of advocating for more stories and less stigmas attached to infertility I thought for my blog post this week I would share my story.  In hopes to inspire someone else who is also struggling.

My husband and I got married in 2005, fresh out of graduate school. With our masters degrees in hands we were ready to blaze some serious professional trails. Both being extremely passionate about working for colleges and universities, we figured we would spend the first few years of our marriage moving up in our careers. We decided that at 30 would start officially “trying” to have a baby. That would give us 5 good years of marriage and career time before creating our 2.5 children (remember I had that road map from my last blog posts, and am a planner so this was the plan!).

Seeing as I was a perfectionist, I knew we would get pregnant right away. Well, 6 months went by, then a year then two years. At this point I was well into a Ph.D. Program and we decided to make a huge move across country for a job.

It was also around this time if you’ve been following my blog, you’d know that my “chronic”migraines began..so over a 4 year period we ping ponged between headache specialist and neurosurgeons trying to fix the structural problem that was causing my pain. In between surgeries and recovery periods, we had been meeting with my OBGYN, trying IUIs to get pregnant. After 6 tries, our OBGYN said you guys need to go see the fertility specialist. At this point, I’m 35 years old, and almost done with my Ph.D.

It took several months to get in to see the fertility doc, so when we finally saw him, we met with him for over 2 hours discussing everything and anything that could be causing us to not get pregnant. We also explained to him my history with chronic migraines and neck surgeries. So he suggested we try one more round of IUI. After that if I was still not pregnant then we would need to start thinking about IVF.

Hearing him say the words IVF immediately threw me into a tailspin, there was NO way we could afford that. But I put that thought on the back burner and pushed forward. The final IUI was a failure. All together we did 8 IUIs. Which if you have ever had to go thru infertility treatments you know those two week waits are the worst..praying that your pregnant but also trying not to get too excited..it’s an emotional roller coaster.

At this point, I began VERY ill again with my chronic migraines and we had to put fertility on hold. I was now 36. In 2016, I had a procedure done that my neurologist hoped would help with the migraines. So after I had some healing time from my procedure, my husband and I begin to try to decide what we were going to do. Do we adopt? Do we foster? Do we just suck it up and do IVF. There were so options, and I could feel my biological clock ticking inside me…as you creep closer to 40 you have less chance of getting pregnant.

If you know me, or have been following my for a bit, you know that I am a spiritual person. Through my years of chronic pain, migraines and infertility, I have grown in my spirituality.  Learning to trust him, and lean into him when times were tough.  Which as a recovering perfectionists is a hard thing to do.  So anyways,  through our fertility journey, I ended up becoming really good friends with a girl who was also using our doctor to try to get pregnant. She was telling me about how IVF was affordable and how our clinic was willing to work with you, etc.  My husband and I were still SO unsure about what to do, but I had this moment where I had an overwhelming sense that we needed to do IVF.  Almost as if someone had whispered it into my ear.

So one month later we call the doc, and get everything set up to do IVF.  Knowing that we really only had one shot of doing this, we wanted to do it right, so we went on a fertility diet, stopped drinking,and even changed the types of items in our home that had chemicals in them that had been found linked to infertility.  We really went ALL IN!

In March 2017, we began our first round of IVF with all the injections and trips to the doctor. IMG_0128

We had our embryo transfer on March 23 (we were so excited and nervous)!

IMG_0130

On April 1, 2017 we took our blood test, after the two week wait, to find out we were PREGNANT! It was a miracle…statistically, getting pregnant on your first round of IVF is pretty low. But by the grace of God, we were pregnant.

IMG_0120

On December 9, 2017 we had our baby boy, Keaton Joseph. He arrived ON his due date (he is already a perfectionist like his momma).

We still have 3 embryos left that are in storage. We are still trying to decide what we want to do with them, since I turn 40 this year, and my chronic migraines have been so terrible and uncontrolled. So we shall see…

Going through fertility treatments while managing chronic pain was one of the hardests things I have ever done in my adult life. I am so grateful everyday for my sweet miracle baby.  He truly was a gift sent from above, and even though managing chronic migraines with a baby is hard; he is my motivation to keep going and to keep fighting for better control of my migraines.

Throwing Out the Road Map

When you are young, you never imagine yourself having a chronic pain condition. You make plans for your future. For me, being a (recovering) perfectionist, there was ONE plan, and this ONE plan had to be executed perfectly, or I would implode (wow makes me sound scary when I say it like that, but that is what I thought at the time). You’ll notice that I have (recovering) in parenthesis related to perfectionists. Because you see, after 6 years of struggle, strife and enduring immense physical and emotional pain from my chronic migraines AND infertility. I have learned that life is NOT perfect. And being a perfectionists, was certainly not going to help any of my situations. I have had to learn to adapt and grow to my situation and its taken me years to get to this point mentally, quite honestly. It has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do as an adult. Basically, completely rewire your brain to not see “perfect”, in fact, throw it out of your vocabulary entirely, because NOTHING is perfect in life.

Now back to THESE plans. Here is what I wanted my life to look like:

  1. Complete Masters Degree and land PERFECT job where I would flourish and be promoted and be OH so bright and shiny in the world of higher education.
  2. Meet and marry my soulmate by 25; this in fact did happen according to plan!
  3. After years of a SPECTACULAR career in higher education, I would then go back and pursue my Ph.D. A dream I had always had.
  4. While working full time and pursuing my Ph.D, and writing the most interesting and influential piece of research, maybe even find my calling for something greater
  5. At age 30, go off all birth control methods, cause, DUH we are going to pregnant no problem, right away, and have 2.5 kids.
  6. Continue to move my way up the ladder of success in my career, graduate with my Ph.D and become somebody super important on a college campus, all while being a spectacular mother and cook perfect meals every night for our little family.

To a (recovering) perfectionist, plans and to do list are how you get SHIT done, how you feel accomplished, how you MEASURE your self worth. Then BOOM, out of nowhere in drops the CHRONIC MIGRAINES. Having always been a typical “migraineur” the chronicness of the migraines doesn’t really start to send off warning bells to you until you have had them for months on end, and even then you think, well maybe my medications need to be adjusted or I’ve just been pushing myself too hard, this will pass, it will get better, but slowly it crept up on me like a dark shadow casting itself over my HOPES, DREAMS and PLANS.

If you have read any of my other posts you will know that there was one singular event (that we have been able to pinpoint) that made my “regular migraines” become chronic, and that was a small fender bender accident in 2014. But having some time to reflect back prior to the fender bender, I do remember my migraines become much more frequent in my late 20’s, with several trips to the urgent care for injectable medicine.

At first, the chronicness is like a bad cold, its eventually going to go away, RIGHT?! But by the time you are 3 years in, and have tried basically everything under the sun to help..you realize, THIS IS HERE TO STAY for a bit. For a (recovering )perfectionists, with the perfectly laid out plans of her life, THIS DID NOT sit well. It through me into a tail spin. By this point, I had achieved a number of items on my list but the BIG TWO were still left: finishing my Ph.D and having a child.

Writing a dissertation for your Ph.D with chronic migraines is a NIGHTMARE. I started and stopped writing and doing my research so many times, I thought for sure my committee of professors would toss me to the curb (they did not..thankfully). And between trying to achieve this goal, I was also trying desperately to get pregnant AND rise on the career success ladder. Except NO one that I worked with knew anything about the desire to get pregnant, and they knew only a tiny bit about my migraines. I tried to hide them the best any good perfectionists can, with a smile and a glass half full perspective. But over time, I wasn’t able to hide it anymore, and I could slowly feel myself losing a grip of my HOPES, GOALS and DREAMS.

So, fast forward to present day, I have my Ph.D (defended while 5.5 months pregnant with chronic migraines), and have a beautiful baby boy who was conceived via IVF after trying for years on our own. So at the ripe age of 39, here I sit, with some of those HOPES, GOALS and DREAMS accomplished, but not the way I had ever dreamed or planned.

So what now, Ive checked off all my boxes from the list above..except one..my career. With my health being so poor and up and down, its nearly impossible for me to find a job where I can work utilizing my skills and function at the level that I want to function at. Pre Chronic Migraines Emily has VERY high expecations for herself (recovering perfectionist, remember), and did not waste all that time working weekends, lunch hours and vacations writing and researching to earn my Ph.D to now sit at home and try to manage a toddler while also managing a chronic pain situation.

What I have learned from all this, that life is HARD, and SUCKS. For some life comes easy and you are able to check off all your goal boxes no problem. For others, you have to get creative. And figure out HOW am I going to not only survive in this new box I am in, but THRIVE? How can I get back to the polished, confident, professional person I was 7 years ago, before all the chronicness and ugliness associated with chronic pain, migraines and infertility. That is the part I have yet to figure out..for now, I am leaning heavy into my faith, trying to soak up as many snuggles and special time with my miracle baby, and have HOPE and BE GRATEFUL that I am better today than I was a year ago, and a year before that. As I said in my last blog post, I am getting comfortable with this being as good as it gets…and I can learn to live in that box and thrive. But I am still holding out HOPE that the “chronicness” will eventually fade away, and I will be a typical migraineur again. Able to work and use the Ph.D I worked SO hard for, and to thrive within my career, and be the Mom I always dreamed I wanted to be. But for now…this is as good as it gets and I am just grateful to be here.

CBD for Pain Management:

An honest review of a few products

I first learned about CBD oil derived from hemp when I was living in Oregon, and my headache specialist suggested I give it a try to help with pain associated with my migraines. He indicated (and this guy was wicked smart yall, MD/PHD in headache medicine), that Cannabidol, or CBD for short, was essential another way to block those pain pathways in your brain. So, being as I was desperate to try anything (at the time I didn’t have my medical marijuana card, and recreational was not legal in Oregon), so I ran right over to the local nutrition shop and purchased my first bottle of Hemp derived CBD. The first bottle (I don’t even remember the brand), was ok, it seemed to help SOME with the pain, but it was the nausea that I needed the most control over. But essentially I had so much spinal issues going on it wouldn’t have mattered WHAT medicine you threw at the pain, it wouldn’t touch it..unless it was an opioid. I was in THAT MUCH pain guys..10/10 each day, felt like my brain was on fire.

So, fast forward through three spinal surgeries, a boat load of opioids and medical marijuana (all which helped me TREMENDOUSLY as I dealt with surgical pain and also the time leading up to the surgeries when I was in the “brain on fire” kind of pain I mentioned above and was down 25 lbs from the nausea and vomiting; I was SICK Yall..REALLY REALLY sick).

Once I got through that portion of my chronic migraine journey I begin trying to find other ways to tamper down the pain, so that I could hold down a job, and be a HUMAN BEING! I tried EVERYTHING (like most other spoonies have), and nothing seemed to really work, except opioids and phenegren, which I REALLY didn’t like taking on a regular basis. So I ended up getting a medical card (as I mentioned above), where I could go to the local dispensary (in Oregon), chat with a Budtender (yes that is what they are called), and they would give me HIGH CBD products with little to no THC(the stuff that makes you high), which helped ENORMOUSLY until..I went through In Vitro Fertilization and got pregnant (after 8 years of trying), which meant NO MORE Marijuana! Or drugs of any kind for that matter! Cold turkey I had to just muscle through the pain. The OBGYN said, well a lot of women dont’ have migraines during pregnancy…well NOT ME! I was one of those SUPER lucky people that had migraines EVERY SINGLE day of my pregnancy, along with all the other super fun prego side effects.

So here I am in my current time (not pregnant, but have a one year old!), new circumstances, same problem: CHRONIC MIGRAINES, and living in a state that doesn’t support Medical Marijuana…So I started doing a BOAT load of research on the newer brands of Hemp CBD products on the market, since I really really want to try to stay off opioids if possible for pain (and the fact I have a child to tend to day in and day out). I’ve tried some HORRIBLE ones, and some AMAZING ones!

My initial search for CBD, was met with a BUNCH of legal jargon, which made it seem like that I couldn’t even PURCHASE CBD online from my state, but some new laws passed, so now its legal to have, which is GREAT, because there are even places around town that have it in their stores now!

I am not going to bore you with the horribleness of the ones I tried that I will NEVER use again (PM me on my instagram account @the_mindful_migraineur), but I will tell you the ones that WORK for ME and are pretty tasty too!

These are MY FAVORITES

(Note: I am in NO WAY endorsed by either of these products, I am just a consumer giving my experience with the products!)

Lord Jones High CBD Tincture & Historical Remedy Hemp Flower Extract

By far, Lord Jones is my FAVORITE…they offer tinctures you can take under your tongue a few times a day, or put a few drops in a your tea or smoothie. They also offer muscle rubs and a high CBD gel capsule, which you can take and has a higher amount of CBD if you are having a REALLY bad pain day and don’t want to be taking the liquid tincture all day. They also have a subscription program, where if you sign up, you can receive discounts on shipping. This is what I do, since I know I go through about a bottle a month, its worth it for me to have it coming in a consistent subscription. If you are on the fence about trying them..TRY THIS ONE first..and you’ll never look back! LIFE changing! Doesn’t make me feel crazy or weird, only takes away the pain of a migraine. You know kinda how tylenol is supposed to work for headaches!

My second favorite, is the Historical Remedy Hemp Flower Extract. This one I found at our local smoothie shop. It comes in two dosages, 250mg or 500 mg a bottle. I always get the 250 mg. The orange flavor is AMAZING. It taste like an orange creamsicle. When Im in a pinch, and run out of my Lord Jones before my next shipment comes, I will run up and pick this up. It works well, but not as well as the Lord Jones. I find that I have to take a few more droppers full to receive the same pain relief.

I am SURE there are plenty more great CBD options out there for individuals who want to give them a try to combat chronic pain, these are just the ones I have tried and had GREAT success with. As always, please contact me with any questions!

Blessings and Light,

Emily

How on Earth Did I GET HERE?!

I feel so cliche saying this, but I never imagined it would be me! I was the one who was rarely sick (except the occasional migraine), and was just getting into the groove of married life, professional life, and just LIFE in general. Growing up I had remembered having “bad ” headaches, but wouldn’t be “officially” diagnosed with migraines until I was in college; after a serious bout of stress had left me unable to see out of one of my eyes and in extreme pain. It was then that I begin seeing neurologists, once a year, usually, just to check in and make sure that there had been no major changes in my headaches. I would call the headaches at this time “mild and occasional”; I would get them once every few months, and I could take some medications and fall asleep. Where I would most of the time sleep between 12-16 hours straight. When I awoke, I was like a brand new person!

All of that began to change DRASTICALLY in February 2014. All had been going GREAT for my husband and I, we had recently taken a HUGE leap of faith and left everything that we knew for a BIG adventure on the West Coast. We fell in love with Oregon immediately, the people, culture and the OUTDOORS! We both had good jobs that we liked, and were just embracing each day living in what we saw as “the perfect place to live”. February 2014, like I said, was the time when things changed drastically for us.

We had spent an evening out at one of the many wineries in the Willamette Valley, enjoying an early celebration of Valentines Day. Our plan was to go to wine tasting, then out to dinner in town. My husband and I are NOT big Valentines day people, but we decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal that evening. All that changed in single instant… driving home from the winery, my husband swerved to miss something in the road, which resulted in us getting in a MINOR fender bender. I only note this because, no one was hurt, and I was more ANGRY that my car was wrecked than worried about anything being physically wrong with anyone involved. The evening ended with us hitching a ride with some friends, and deciding to deal with the car situation on Monday when we could get a better idea of what was going on. We went ahead with our nice dinner, and even just Ubered home because we had “so much fun” with the whiskey/chocolate tasting course for dessert. We went home that evening completely unaware that the minor car accident would change our lives forever.

It was two weeks to the day of the car accident that I awoke with an AWFUL migraine…I attributed it to stress at work, took some meds and went back to sleep. But 6 days later, the headache, still had not gone away. Fast forward a bit, and I go and meet with my neurologists for a check in, who confirmed that something seemed incredibly wrong. So then ensued a trip to the neurosurgeon, MRIs, CAT scans etc to figure out WHAT was going on. The diagnosis was herniated disc at C5/6. It was putting so much pressure on my spinal cord that I had started having symptoms of neuralgia in my hands and feet and kinda walked like a drunk deer. The surgeon was VERY hesitant to operate on someone as young as I was (I was 32 at the time). But after several months of PT, YOGA, Biofeedback, Acupuncture, etc…it was not getting any better, so I had my first cervical spine surgery in June 2014.

The surgery went well, immediately I awoke from surgery with no headache and no nerve issues…it was considered a success! Based on my age and how physical active I was, the doctor recommended that I could return to my “regular” activity in 6-8 weeks. I was so excited..I couldn’t wait to get back to running and training for the half marathon I was signed up for in 6 months. BUT…less than 6 months later, all the symptoms came back but this time MUCH worse. I had to step away from my career, because I spent most days in a dark room throwing up. It was a miserable existence.

So I went BACK to my neurologists, who suspected that the discs above the last surgery had herniated…he was correct! The two discs above my prior surgery had herniated and now were pressing against my spinal cord. I was in EXTREME pain. Nothing short of pain medication or medical marijuana helped to keep the pain and nausea under control. So in May 2015, I had my second spinal surgery, this time at C3/4 and C4/5. THIS TIME , the surgeon that I had, insisted that I was NEVER allowed to return to the lifestyle I had once had. I was to quit running, and all extreme exercises for many years or even for the remainder of my life. THIS was a HUGE blow to me emotionally. Two years prior, I had been an EXTREMELY active person, and now I was told I could swim, water aerobics, or yoga. I became SO depressed.

The next year or so seemed to float by in a blur, I was in constant pain from the surgeries, which had made my upper back and neck muscles to basically turn into concrete. I again was having terrible migraines, debilitating to the point that I barely left the house. It was SO hard. Hard on me, our marriage, our friends…just hard.

I went back to my neurologists for a check up during this period, and he suggested I get some “trigger point” and occipital nerve blocks from the headache specialists within the office. I said SURE sign me up…at this point, I was basically at the Urgent Care Office at least once a week for a shot of pain meds and nausea meds. I spent my days in sunglasses, in a dark room, just absolutely miserable. My incredible husband TRIED, like really tried to understand, but unless you are walking in chronic migraine shoes, you have NO idea what it is like

The headache specialist that I begin seeing suggested that perhaps, with all the trauma of the surgeries, that I could have some impinged nerves, and he knew a neurosurgeon that was performing surgeries on the Occiptial Nerves to un-impinge them. SO, In September 2016, I had bilateral occipital decompression. All in all the surgery did seem to help with my daily migraines, but I still just didn’t seem to be able to get them under control. I was seeing an acupuncturists twice a week and a massage therapists. I would say at this point I was having a migraine at least once a week, which was SO much better than before, but still…once a week was hard!

At this point in our lives, my husband and I were like, HOLY CRAP we are 37…we need to think about having kids. In the midst of all my surgeries, we had been trying to have a child, but with no success. After my final surgery, we made an appt to meet with a fertility doctor, who indicated the BEST chance for us to get pregnant was to do IVF. So in March 2017, we went through our first round of IVF, and were successful..we were pregnant. EXCEPT, my headaches seemed to be worsened by the pregnancy, not lessened (as many doctors had indicated could happen).

The next 10 months were an absolute blur, in midst of all this, my husband was presented with an opportunity that we could not turn down, so at 5.5 months pregnant, we sold our house, packed it up and moved cross country to NC. The move was harder on me than I anticipated. I am a fairly positive person, so I just kept trying to make lemonade out of lemons.

In December 2017 our son was born, I was so relieved. I had been having such horrible migraines while pregnant, that I had hoped that once he was delivered, they would subside. But I WAS WRONG!

The year of 2018, I like the call the year Emily completely and utterly hit rock bottom. For anyone that has been there, its a lonely, HARD place. I was living in a new town with no support system, had a new born baby who was very challenging AND a POUNDING headache every single day. I tried everything to remedy the headaches. I tried sleeping more, eating better, walking, yoga..you name it I tried it. I was not until I began seeing a new headache specialists in Raleigh, that things seemed to begin to look up for me.

This new doctor was AMAZING. Like, he listened, ACTUALLY listened. And didn’t just throw a new medicine at me. He wanted to get to the root of WHAT was causing all this pain. By mid year 2018, I spent 90% of my day in a dark room. I was caring for my child, but at the bare minimum. My husband would have to come home at night and take over all responsibility for him, because I was in so much pain I could not even take care of myself, let alone another human. It became apparent that I needed help, so over the next several months, I had a brigade of house guests, who helped me care for my son. I was miserable.

My doctor in Raleigh was trying EVERYTHING he could possible do to help me. He was thinking outside the box, trying experimental drugs, you name it I was trying it. But after several months, we came to the decision that I needed to be referred to an inpatient head pain program that was run out of a facility in Ann Arbor, MI.

This inpatient program, quite honestly, saved my life. When I was admitted, I was a depressed, hopeless human being who was on the verge of ending my life. I know that is shocking, it shocks me to even write it, but I was in SO much pain, i figured that I would be better off if I could just go to sleep. I was a disappointment to myself, I wasn’t able to be the mother that I wanted to be, nor was I able to be the wife I wanted to be. I was not myself at all, a shell of a person riddled with constant overwhelming chronic migraines.

I am going to do an entirely separate blog on my experience with the inpatient program. But the one thing I will say is that it CHANGED my life.