If you wanted to make the argument that women have a higher tolerance for pain, Gold Coast woman Toni Lea Lawrence would be exhibit A in prosecuting that case.
Being diagnosed with an intense pain condition known as ‘Suicide Disease’ wasn’t going to stop her from becoming a mum as she refused pain killers to achieve her dream of parenthood which left her in agony for months on end.
Ms Lawrence, 33, was a senior paralegal for more than a decade but was tragically forced to give up her career after being diagnosed with a rare chronic pain condition affecting the trigeminal nerve, responsible for sensation in the face.
While she was at work in March 2010, she was suddenly overcome with intense pain and her left side stopped functioning.
“I was sitting at my desk reading emails and my first thought was that I was having a stroke because I was in so much pain and my left side was struggling to work, and I could barely talk,” she recalled.
She feared she was experiencing a stroke, and when a colleague commented that her face didn’t look quite right, she panicked and swiftly went to the GP surgery nearby.
The doctor who saw Ms Lawrence thought she could have a brain tumour and sent her for an MRI as she gulped down meds to handle the sharp pain.
As it turned out, it is caused by a condition called trigeminal neuralgia (TN) which sees even minor facial stimulation trigger excruciating pain.
“I had no idea what it was. I was just hoping it was something that could be fixed quickly,” she said.
It is unknown what caused the condition in Ms Lawrence’s case, and although it is practically incurable in most cases, it can be manageable with daily pain medication.
Ms Lawrence explained that the pain can feel like a burning pain on her left side and as though her teeth are being pulled out by fishing wire.
“It is triggered by stress, touching my face, really cold weather, really hot weather and wind hitting my face.”
But there was another major downside.
Ms Lawrence was distraught to learn that the pain medication would have a negative impact on her fertility. But after marrying her husband Kieran, 32, in 2015, she couldn’t ignore how much she wanted to be a mum.
Her longing brought her to the brave decision to wean off her pain medication so she could get pregnant – which fortunately happened in September 2016.
“The unbearable pain means that most women with TN can’t carry a child at all. It was scary, all I ever wanted was to become a mum so the thought of not being one was awful,” Ms Lawrence said.
The pregnancy was incredibly difficult as it heightened the pain, but she couldn’t take any pain relief to ease it, until immediately after the birth of the couple’s son Theo, now 2.
Trigeminal neuralgia is often referred to as the ‘Suicide Disease’ because the pain is so unbearable, yet Ms Lawrence refused to let it stop her from becoming a mum. After discovering she was pregnant she took regular walks to distract herself from the pain and used heat packs frequently.
“When I was pregnant, the pain wasn’t too bad at first but from week five it got increasingly worse,” she said.
At 35 weeks, she slipped down a flight of stairs and landed on her hands and knees. The fall caused the baby to drop and made contractions begin, although doctors managed to hold off Theo’s birth for another week when he was delivered via caesarean.
“Straight after his birth I was able to start taking pain medication again, but because of this I was unable to breastfeed.”
Would she do it again? Sadly, it’s probably out of the question.
“I would love to have more children, but my pain has got so bad over the last few years that it would be impossible for me to cope without medication,” she said.
“I had radiation earlier this year and I feel like it’s made my pain so much worse, so it’s out of the question unfortunately,” she said.
But she knows she’s lucky to have one, and shares her story to inspire others.
“Never give up on your dream, I always wanted to be a mum and it happened. When you have a condition like this, just take one day at a time. It’s tough and you find yourself asking how on earth you’re going to be able to keep putting up with this amount of pain, but you wake up the next day and you do it.”
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