Liege, Belgium February 15, 2018
On February 15 2018, at around 2.00 am I admitted myself to the hospital possibly to give birth to my daughter at 38 weeks pregnant. I was already exhausted. I had just finished a PhD thesis, taken up a research position for a project where I did not stop one single day during my pregnancy. I could not think about any of the above anymore. I had lost my water and they had to do something about it. I spent 24 hours on the delivery room. I was given hormones to speed up the process and an epidural, which in other conditions I would have never asked for. During pregnancy, they had scared me with a possible diabetes scenario and the doctors following my pregnancy put me on a diet that unfortunately resulted in my little Cali being low in weight during birth. Cali would not take my breast and for about 1 week, straight I did not wink an eye. I tried the hardest I have ever done in anything in life. On that first week, Cali had somehow gained enough weight, they came to discharge me, and there it was the first symptom of this rare condition called: “Vestibular Migraine” a migrant attack that could come with a headache but also without one. A disorder that leaves you disoriented and out balance sometimes for days. I was experiencing what doctor Beh Shin (2020) calls, Alice in the wonderland syndrome, depersonalization. I could hear the nurse giving me the take-home advice but she seemed so far away. I felt my feet drowning in water. The condition has other endless symptoms like ringing in the ears, nausea, light sensitivity etc.
During the first weeks, everyone around me was mad at me. I was the smart little woman who took her bags on fieldwork for her thesis back forward between Latin America and Europe countless times. I had been to almost every country in Europe for conferences and was not afraid of anything. What was wrong with me? On the outside, I looked perfect, I was even skinnier than before pregnancy and for the outsiders that was what mattered. I mean no stretch marks and extra baby weight, girl go on!
One month into Cali’s birth, I had no idea what was wrong with me. I thought maybe I had experience multiple conditions such as stroke, a brain tumor, multiple sclerosis. I self-diagnosed myself multiple times. I went on online forums. I went to see multiple doctors where all test came back with a positive outcome. Until one, fine day I found a forum for women experiencing unexplained neurological symptoms after giving birth. There again patriarchy had hit us hard. All of us discharged home with anxiety or post-natal depression as the main diagnosis. I guess for those of us doing Gender studies this is not surprise. I mean it is just that this time it was hitting me right in the face. Another woman in one of the Facebook groups, across the Atlantic someone who had such a similar life experience pointed me out to vestibular migraines as a possibly diagnosis. There we were suffering in silence through the distance but somehow connecting. Laura and I never stop sharing through the experience it has been 3 years for me and not a day goes by I do not think about her to push through. My real friends also did not let go of my hand. They took me on walks and made sure I had enough food to keep breastfeeding Cali.
The point here is that connection is the only thing that makes us heal. Connection is that thing which allows us to go past what the Nagosky (2020) sisters call the “human giver syndrome”. This condition imposed on women, and particularly in women of color that implies we are only worth it if we can give care and not when we actually need it from others. I have needed care. I continue to need it. Vestibular migraines cannot be cured but controlled said my neurologist, a beautiful doctor I found after 3 years of silence from the medical community. I do what it takes but sometimes the condition still grabs me by throat and leaves me in bed for hours or days.
So, if like me you too have been hit with an invisible condition do not hesitate to reach out. I can say I am out of the water now. I hold a permanent position since this past week at Maastricht University as a Data Specialist. I am not Migration scholar anymore, but I am here and I am learning constantly how to thrive with this condition and be the Mother my daughter needs nothing else and nothing less.
– by Maria Vivas-Romero
If you are looking for growing material, be sure to check the following publications. I have revisited them many times I go through my journal.
Burnout: “The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle Hardcover”, 2019, by Emily Nagoski PhD (Author), Amelia Nagoski DMA
Victory Over Vestibular Migraine: “The ACTION Plan for Healing & Getting Your Life Back Paperback”, 2020 by Dr. Shin C. Beh (Author)
what a wonderfully honest story. I am glad you have found a way out of the water and that you and your young family can now thrive. Certainly, it is important to talk about the invisible conditions one experiences and not being demotivated by official diagnoses putting people in drawers. So thanks for encouraging others to follow your example.
thank you so much for leaving a comment. Although I am also sharing personal stories, this one was written by Maria.
I will let her know to have a look here and reply herself.
Have a great weekend and best wishes,
Brings me hope and healing to know others might find light while reading it.