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.”
“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.”