Like a Pill (#208)

I had headaches most of my childhood. Maybe it was my poor eyesight. Maybe it was bad nutrition. Maybe it was the stress of divorces, remarrying parents, and more siblings. I tried all the drugs in various parents’ medicine cabinets, to no avail. I learned to power through head-pounding misery.

I worked as a cashier in high school. An assistant manager noticed one night that I was more sullen than usual. She asked if I was okay. I explained that I had a headache.

She said, “I have something that will fix that right up.”

“It won’t work,” I told her. “I’ve tried aspirin, Tylenol, Excedrin. Nothing helps.”

“Give it a shot,” she said, handing me a maroonish, brownish pill with “Advil” written on it.

Twenty minutes later, my headache was gone. I turned cartwheels and called it a miracle.

I’ve worshipped at the altar of Advil ever since. Or at least until the generic version of ibuprofen came out, because that is way cheaper. If I feel a headache coming on and I can get to ibuprofen fast enough, I can prevent migraines, even the ones with nausea and stabbing pain in my eye.

I carry a bottle in my purse, my gym bag, and my backpack. I’ve taken it for the flu and torn muscles. Ibuprofen was the only pain reliever that made menstrual cramps bearable until I went on birth control pills in my twenties.

But you know what? When you’re trying to get pregnant, ibuprofen is forbidden. Early in pregnancy, it can cause a miscarriage. Later, a fetal heart defect.

When my gynecologist broke the news, I let out an involuntary moan. Okay, maybe it was more like a loud shriek. A nurse poked her head into the room to ask if everything was okay.

“NO!” I howled. “The mean doctor says I can’t take ibuprofen while trying to get pregnant or being pregnant! And it’s the only thing that works!”

The nurse clucked sympathetically and left.

“You can take Tylenol,” the doctor said.

“Oh, yay,” I told her. “I’ll take it with some fairy dust and foo cha tea and I’m sure any headache will disappear immediately.”

“Some of my clients swear by acupuncture,” she offered.

“That’ll go great with my vasovagal response to needles,” I shot back. “We’ll get to spend a lot of quality time together in the Emergency Room after I pass out.”

“Essential oils—”

“Essentially useless!”

“Then you’re down to icepacks and moist heat on your forehead. Good luck and take your prenatal vitamins.”


My luck lasted three weeks.

I missed my ibuprofen the day after a grueling volleyball tournament, but the hot tub at the Y and some stretching got me through.

When a loose pit bull mix went after my dogs on a walk, I got knocked down and dragged before my ferocious Fey sent him on his way (with scabs). I pined for my ibuprofen that afternoon as I covered my bruises with ice packs.

Then came the evening when my forehead started to throb. My stomach grew queasy. The pain spread over my head, down to my neck. I lay in a dark room for a while before crawling to the bathroom.

“Want me to get anything?” Andy called out. “Some ice?”

After I finished retching, I weakly called back, “A gun. So you can shoot me.”

Bastard only brought me a pillow and a blanket, though.

I fell asleep some time before dawn, and woke up pain-free.

I repeatedly congratulated myself on surviving a migraine without ibuprofen throughout the day.

The next day I got my period.

And I cursed. I could have taken ibuprofen and spared myself all that misery because there was no fetus in danger of being miscarried, damn it.

I called Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister and bitched. “I can’t believe it. I was so sure I’d get pregnant right away!”

“You might be lucky you didn’t. There’s no official stats on it, but when I was working my OB rotation, this one super experienced obstetrician talked about how she’d just seen too many weird pregnancies with multiple embryos and complications when her patients got pregnant on their first cycle after going off the pill. She always advised at least one regular menstrual cycle before attempting to get pregnant.”

“Huh. I didn’t know that.”

“It’s just anecdotal,” Dr. Sis said. “It’s not like there’s any research to back it up.” Dr. Sis is a mega-fan of peer-reviewed studies and has killed no small number of mice in her own research. “But I found it moderately interesting. And hey, how are you enjoying your first period off the pill?”

“Oh, it’s fabulous.”


“Of course not, Dr. Sadist! It’s come back with interest or a vengeance. I felt like there was a knife in my gut and now I’m bleeding like there’s a knife in my gut.”

“You don’t sound that bad.”

“Of course not,” I told her.

“Because I already took four ibuprofen.”

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

36 thoughts on “Like a Pill (#208)”

  1. I didn’t know that but then again I never was pregnant. I never got over the “you can’t drink anything or everything will be deformed” thing although my Mom had a glorious pregnancy enjoying the Christmas holidays right before dumping me into the world. BTW I love Fey. She’s a street dog. I had a cat like that. She once chased a greyhound down the street.

    1. Yeah, since I don’t drink much, giving up alcohol is no hardship. Giving up chocolate or cheese would suck, though.

      On the other hand, I’m pretty sure my mom did not completely give up cigarettes or alcohol when she was pregnant with her first four kids. Sometimes I wonder if we could have been smarter…

      Fey is awesome. She never starts a fight, but she will damn well finish it.

          1. It probably is. I can’t really eat cheesecake. Not without those lactose pills. I’m not exactly intolerant but I am lactose sensitive and cream cheese sends me to the potty!

  2. Ibuprofen. Yes! Like you, it is one pain reliever that actually works for me, for periods, migraines, colds and all the pains that come with it especially. I do try to avoid it when I can because I heard iburofen can make stomachs bleed – and I have a history of stomach ulcers. But can’t deny it works wonders for me when I am in so much pain.

    Maybe you have a low pain tolerance level. But you don’t strike me as that kind of person to be honest.

    1. Oh, man, I am sorry to hear about your stomach. I’ve heard similar stories. Luckily, in my family we give people ulcers and don’t get them.

      I wouldn’t say I have a low pain threshold or a high one. I’m just good at enduring when there are no other options.

      But I know I’m short-tempered when in pain and that is definitely unpleasant to be around; however, it does make certain people have a vested interest in keeping me pain-free, which is very beneficial?

      1. If we ever hang out I’ll make sure to have ibuprofen on hand so you will always be at least a bit sane 😀

        Don’t know about you but I actually like the ‘head in the clouds’ or ‘cotton wool head’ feeling pain medications give me…more than the numbness from the pain.

        1. Does ibuprofen have that effect on you, or just stronger stuff like opiates? Vicodin made me puke, but percocet,now, that had the effect you’re talking about. It was the only nice thing about having a wisdom tooth extracted.

          1. Panadol already makes me have cotton-wool head – and that is just a mild kind of drug. That and ibuprofen and any kind of cold and flu medicine. Never had opiates (to my knowledge…). I remember taking a cough syrup with vicodin – no problem. Strangely any medication I took at the dentist just numbed my gums and not my head.

      2. Doctor-husband always adamantly tells me:


        Taking ibuprofen on an empty stomach can really damage your internal organs, according to Richard. If you need pain medicine but you haven’t eaten yet, then he says tylenol is better.

        Both medicines are bad for you in different ways (I forget how), so it depends on pre-existing conditions. Like Autumn, I think ibuprofen works way better for me so I prefer it… but now, I try not to take it unless I can do so with a meal/snack.

        1. I take my ibuprofen with a lot of water. Apparently it’s hard on the kidneys. Acetaminophen is terrible on the liver, though, whether you take it with water or not. And I think it sucks.

  3. I had no idea ibuprofen was bad for pregnancy. That list seems to get longer and longer every year.

    I also find Tylenol completely useless for headaches, and for some reason ibuprofen is impossible to find in SA. I always stock up when I’m home. Thank god I’m coming for a visit in two weeks because I’m down to my last two pills. (The jerk ex-bf stole an almost full bottle of Advil when he moved out. I guess he realized he was losing his American supplier and would never get any ever again.)

    1. You know, if jerk ex-bf weren’t already an ex, ibuprofen theft would be grounds for a goddamned divorce. I do not currently have enough middle fingers for that situation, I really don’t.

      If I thought it would get to you, I’d Fedex you a supply of ibuprofen from Costco.

                1. Well, yes, but usually there is a reason/ excuse: “it’s not you, it’s me,” “I needed to find myself,” “I just can’t handle a relationship,” etc. Except that usually, with men, there’s another woman waiting somewhere…

  4. I am glad that my wife didn’t had too many isssus with the pregnancy/ with the restriction of medication as she never really takes anything except the doctor forces her to…
    Now that I am thinking about it I am also not using any ibuprofen or similar for a long time anymore. Back then during my swimming years I had to use it too often due to all kind of small (and big) injuries and for few years afterwards I still used it for any kind of aches. I think this changed about 5 years ago and I can pretty much count on one hand the amound of painkillers I had to use! But then again guys have it easy without any monthly pains bringing them down…

  5. Thank God for menopause. I had migraines–frequent, frequent bad migraines–for thirty years. None of the NSAIDs did any good. The doctor prescribed cafergot, which worked more or less, but it seemed like a dangerous drug, and it made me feel weak. Fortunately, my migraines stopped when I reached menopause. Hurray!

    When I was getting pregnant, we didn’t have as many rules. I don’t even think alcohol was off limits, at least not that I can remember. I’ve never been a big drinker, so that worked out.

  6. Omg. I did not know this. Now I REALLY never want to get pregnant, haha.

    I am also like you–I carry ibuprofen everywhere (the pill bottle rattles in my purse like Christmas bells jingling). I can’t survive my period without ibuprofen. I think I would just die. Many of my Chinese girlfriends didn’t take medicine when they got menstrual cramps and now I know why they had to take the day off work.

    Ugh. I wish I were a man. Periods, pregnancies, and now no ibuprofen! Women get the shit end of the stick for sure.

    Did you have to go ibuprofen-less later on?

    1. Women do get shafted, but if we survive the whole pregnancy thing, we get to live longer. Provided that the men who’ve been running the planet haven’t run it into the ground, of course.

  7. I remember taking ibuprofen for cramps! I think I was taking them like candy in college until I realized that hey, maybe I’m taking too many. 😀

    Didn’t know about all the preggers restrictions. God, that sucks. I can’t imagine living with horrible migranes either. I dont’ know. Is the kid worth it? Hahahahahahahahhaa.

    1. I think the bigger question is: is any kid worth it? They must be, right? My mother used to say that childbirth was terrible but you forgot how awful it was. But maybe that’s just her. It’s not like she kept all her kids’ names straight!

      1. Good point. I do think the pain of childbirth is worth it. I don’t think any parent has ever said otherwise (unless it was under extreme circumstances).

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