Living With Migraines

What it's Really Like When Migraines Run in the Family

Georgeana Logan was diagnosed with migraines as a young adult, but her problems started earlier. A self-proclaimed bookworm, her family attributed her head pain to reading without adequate lighting.

“I was raised with the ‘suck-it-up-buttercup’ attitude by my Army medic dad, and most times I did suck it up,” she shares.

Though her dad was sympathetic she was still expected to handle her chores and do her homework. So she did. Except for when she just couldn’t. When that happened, she’d hole up in a dark, quiet room.

Perhaps worse than suffering migraines herself, though, was learning that her daughter, Jorie, would experience them, too.

“Realizing she was going to have a lifetime of migraines was devastating and heartbreaking,” Georgeana says.

Georgeana and Jorie aren’t the only mother-daughter pair who both suffer from chronic migraine. And this isn’t entirely surprising. The incidence of migraine is much higher in women than it is in men and around 80% of those with migraine have a family history of it.

While we couldn’t interview all the mother-daughter pairs out there, we did chat with Kathleen Mims and her daughter, Lauren, and Ann Alston and her daughter, Stephanie, in addition to Georgeana and Jorie.

Getting diagnosed

After struggling with migraine headaches for many years, these moms had plenty of experience with the condition by the time their daughters had their first migraine,

Kathleen, who’s been hit with migraines since the age of five, was always known as “the sick kid.” She vomited during car rides, couldn’t handle all the yelling and sugar at friends’ birthday parties, and would always get a painful headache when her grandmother wore perfume. After a decade of being told nothing was really wrong with her, she received an official diagnosis at age 15.

Kathleen now has three children—one son and two daughters. Her son got off migraine-free and her oldest daughter only experiences hormonal ones, but Lauren gets hit with agonizing headaches whenever there’s a pressure change in the weather.

Unlike Kathleen and Georgeana, Ann wasn’t diagnosed until her mid-30s. When a migraine would hit, she’d push through her work day. By the time she completed her 45-minute commute, she’d be throwing up and needed to go straight to bed.

When Ann’s daughter Stephanie left for college, she started complaining about symptoms similar to Ann’s. Knowing that Stephanie has to struggle through the same pain she does makes Ann’s heart ache.

It’s not fun knowing what their daughters will have to endure for the rest of their lives. And while each daughter has different triggers, symptoms, and pain levels, one thing is for sure: From the very beginning, all three of these moms have been determined to help their daughters manage the pain and keep moving forward.

Advocating for their daughters

When Jorie’s symptoms began, Georgeana sprung into action, ensuring she got the care she needed and advocating for her nonstop. Serving as an advocate proved to be necessary, as doctors often didn’t listen to Jorie, spoke over her, and changed her treatment without discussing it. This infuriated Georgeana.

“My mom is my biggest advocate,” Jorie says. “And that may be the best way she’s helped me in this area—teaching me how to use my voice.”

Though she knows she can’t cure Lauren, Kathleen did as much as she could to help her learn how to cope. She told her about the combination of standard over-the-counter meds that work and taught her to breathe, focus, stay hydrated, avoid her triggers, wear sunglasses, and limit alcohol consumption.

“If I could take her pain from her, I would in a heartbeat,” Kathleen says. “As a mother, I still feel like I didn’t do enough.” But Lauren strongly disagrees with this last point.

“My mom’s been through the wringer,” she shares. “She’s gone through every test and tried just about every medicine. Her trial-and-error process set me up for a lot more success. If I didn’t have anyone to look up to and learn from, I’d be in a world of pain with no solutions.” And, she adds, the moral support—having someone understand her and be able to truly empathize—is the biggest perk.

Though Stephanie started experiencing migraines after she left home, Ann still does whatever she can to help her daughter out.

“When I’m experiencing a migraine, my mom will call me every couple of hours to make sure I’m OK. She knows that no one understands like someone who also experiences it,” Stephanie shares.

One big thing Ann learned from her own experience is that stress can be a huge trigger, so she’s always encouraging Stephanie to slow down and rest up.

Learning to respect their mothers on another level

Though having chronic migraine is far from fun, being able to share the experience seems to have positively impacted all three of these mother-daughter pairs. It allows them to understand each other on a whole new level.

“I suddenly had this massive respect for my mom,” Jorie says. “Seeing how she deals with pain with such grace and also having a cheerleader in my corner at all times has influenced me for the better.”

Stephanie’s views on her mom changed, too. Before she left for college, she hadn’t had a headache as intense as her mom’s. She just didn’t understand it.

“But now I know that it’s completely possible for a migraine to knock you off your feet,” she shares. “I understand her pain a lot better and can empathize more.”

As a child, migraines would send Lauren’s mom (Kathleen) retreating to her bedroom for long periods of time, sometimes for three whole days. Lauren used to think she was just being dramatic, and she developed a bit of resentment. But this all changed when Lauren started getting migraines.

“The negative feelings quickly dissipated,” Lauren says. “I realized my mom was pushing through as much as possible and she’s incredibly strong.”

Incredibly strong. It’s a great way to describe not just Kathleen, but Lauren, Georgeana, Jorie, Ann, and Stephanie, too. All six women consistently move through life while enduring chronic pain. To that, we tip our metaphorical hat.

“We never give up, never surrender,” Georgeana says. “There’s always color in the rainbow. Sometimes we just have to be creative in order to find it.”

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash.