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Child like fort with toys scattered around it with a speech bubble with a sobbing emoji coming rom inside.

Did I Cause This? Parenting Children with Migraine

The other day, I watched helplessly as my son writhed on the couch in pain. His hands clutched his small head in a pose I am all too familiar with. His cries hurt my heart.

That morning, I had woken at 6 o’clock to the sounds of him crying and yelling for me. When I entered his room, he was curled up on his side in bed — his hands pressed tightly against his ears — whimpering. He looked at me with tears on his cheeks and said, “Mommy, my head hurts. It hurts so bad!”

He’s six years old.

This isn’t the first time he’s complained of head pain. But every time it happens it seems worse than before. And every time it happens I feel partially to blame.

Migraine or not migraine?

Is it migraine? I wonder as I stare helplessly at his small body contorted in pain.

When my daughter was the age my son is now she had abdominal migraines. She also had other health problems, including seizures, but she most definitely had migraine disease. However, her migraine attacks did not manifest with head pain until she was much older and had gone through puberty. My son, I worry is different. And that difference makes it harder for me to know what is happening inside his brain.

Like adults, kids experience migraine in ways unique to them as individuals. Still, there are clues that migraine may be what he’s facing.

Signs it could be migraine

His head pain came on the same day I too experienced a severe migraine attack. That day, our small Central Texas town got its first rainstorm in months. Changes in weather always prompt an attack on my end. Perhaps, he’s the same.

He also was complaining of nausea and didn’t want to eat. This, too, matches my symptoms and most others who live with migraine. I often feel horribly nauseated during a migraine attack and rarely want to eat anything other than simple, salty foods.

During the time his head hurt, he vomited three times. However, he didn’t have a fever and no one else in the house was sick.

After the pain passed, so did the nausea. He was miserable for two days. Then, as suddenly as he was ill, he was fine.

Feeling responsible

So was it a migraine? I don’t know. When it comes kids, I’m never 100 percent sure. However, based on his symptoms, my symptoms, and what I remember from when my daughter was young, the answer is that it very probably was a migraine attack. And that breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart because I know there’s a genetic component to this disease. And I can’t help but worry and feel responsible for passing that gene on to my beautiful children. (Although I know I didn’t actually cause their disease.) But, for now, I can’t fix that.

I can’t fix any of it; migraine still has no cure. So all I can do right now is mention the symptoms to his pediatrician and love my son — tending to him the best I can during these episodes using all the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from my own decades of living with chronic migraine.

And maybe, just maybe, cut myself a little slack in the process.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Primrose17
    4 months ago

    One option I wish were open to women with migraine is that of gender selection via IVF. As far as I’m currently aware, you cannot select for gender via IVF even in cases of inherited disease influenced by gender. If that had been an option we would have taken it, and perhaps my husband & I would currently have a son. But we would not risk having a daughter & observing her going through the hell I’ve (we’ve) lived through. Men do of course experience migraine, but statistics are in their favor & they do not experience the daily, weekly, monthly, annual, decades… changes in hormones that are uniquely female & make migraine control so infuriating & complicated. Its a uniquely female problem to attempt to discuss migraines with your gynecologist only to be told (by your top female gynecologist) that they are clueless how to help so ‘please discuss with your neurologist’ and vice versa with the neurologist & back to square one. Womens reproductive choices are still woefully limited & misunderstood.

  • Primrose17
    4 months ago

    My personal experience & those of my other migraineur female friends is that they inherited migraine from their father. In every case while the disease was a minor frustration in the quality of life of the father, it was a crippling & disabling condition in his female offspring, affecting relationships, quality of life & of course employment. I’m not of course saying men cannot experience crippling migraines. In my personal circle (and my own experience) the father with the less disabling migraine has great difficulty understanding the impact of the negative inherited genes in his daughter. I hope very much that scientists will pursue & seek to understand better migraine & genetics, and provide more helpful statistics on genetic probabilities. It seems to me there is far greater than 25% or even 50% occurrence of migraine being inherited when one parent has the condition.

  • Primrose17
    4 months ago

    My deepest sympathies to you & your children for their pain. I do hope your son finds relief & assistance. The topic of migraine & genetics comes up every so often on these forums, and it seems I’m going to be the first to say this. Yes its an option to be childless due to migraine. I have chosen that option because during my fertile years I wasn’t well enough to care for myself, never mind a baby. As bad as my pain was I KNEW I couldn’t stand seeing a child of mine go through that same hell. And when migraine is at its worst, yes we do question the value of our existence, we’ve all been there. There are thousands of kids begging for adoption. I eagerly wait for the day when genetic engineering is a reality so our kids don’t have to inherit our flaws. I’m also hoping that egg freezing becomes less expensive so that women can get a second chance after migraine has done its worst (usually affects women most during peak fertility years.) Often when women reach their 40s & 50s they have a better handle on the disease & how to manage it. If we are going to discuss this topic can we please recognise being childless or childfree however you want to call it, IS an option, it can be a choice.

  • HuskyMom
    4 months ago

    I guess I am a little different. My now 30 year old daughter was diagnosed at age 5. She was having a really bad headache and I asked her to describe it to me. What she said sounded a lot like an aura to me. I never felt guilty for this. There are migraines on both sides of the family. It was confirmed that she indeed was having migraines by a pediatric neurologist. She had the “perfect” pedigree according to the neurologist, family history of migraines, she tended to get car sick, and she had colic as a baby. I was just relieved she was diagnosed so early that she could get help much sooner than me. I was 27 before I was diagnosed. My daughter has had better control because of this early intervention.

  • carrieL
    4 months ago

    Thank you for this article Sarah. I can wholeheartedly relate. My middle child (who is 8) has had 2 ‘episodes’ over the last year which have worryingly presented as migraines and it also broke me into pieces. As someone who has suffered (and I do not use that word lightly) with migraines since the age of 12 (well that’s the age I remember my first full attack) I have dreaded the day that any of my children present with migraines and 8 seems far too young to begin on this journey. I would gladly bear the cross for him but sadly like you say all we can do as parents is love them, care for them, find them optimal health care and hope and pray that treatments continue to advance at a rapid rate. Good to know we;re not alone xx

  • Kim DH
    4 months ago

    I remember talking to my neurologist about my son’s and daughter’s headaches, only to have him confirm my fears: they both have migraine. I cried. I felt dispair at what lays ahead of them, knowing how bad migraine can be. And I felt guilt, for passing the gene to them. I know I have no control over it, but I felt like I’d failed them.

  • Peggy Artman moderator
    5 months ago

    @Sarah, I’m so sorry to hear that your 6 year old is already having symptoms of migraine disease. I have an adopted 6 year old and it would break my heart if she developed those symptoms. One positive note is that your children have a mom that can advocate for and empathize with them. Thanks for sharing.
    Peggy ( team)

  • Sarah Hackley moderator author
    5 months ago

    Thank you for commenting. I agree. All children, no matter their specific needs, need an empathetic and caring parent. I am glad that I can be there for my son as he grows.

  • glassmind
    5 months ago

    So sorry to hear of your son’s woes.

    But yes, cut yourself slack. Cut that tie completely!

    A genetic component to any illness, is faultless. You did not purposefully cause your son pain.

    What would have been the alternative? To have been childless?

    Living with Migraine is challenging, but it is still life.

    I have migraines, but I’m glad I was born.

    Think of all the good times, even small ones, your family has and hold to those.

    Wishing you, your son and family the best!

  • Sarah Hackley moderator author
    5 months ago

    Thank you for your kind words and sympathy. I absolutely agree, and often hold our good family times close in order to get through the more difficult days that all of us with chronic illness face on occasion. Thanks again for commenting!

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