My 1-year-old daughter just recently started hugging her nearly 4-year-old big brother, and it’s the current highlight of my life. They’re best friends in the making, and I absolutely adore it. But when I have more than five minutes of free time to marvel adequately at just how obsessed I am with these little monsters of mine, I remember just how easy it would have been to not have them at all. Had I listened to the very unsolicited doctor’s advice I got nine or so years ago, I wouldn’t be a mother today. I also wouldn’t have the life that makes me stressed AF sometimes (a lot of times, truthfully, because #post2020lifeisstillhellahard), but that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in college, during my second semester of junior year. I had been sick for months with one ailment after another: bronchitis, pink eye (twice), a UTI. You name it, I had it. Now, I’m the painfully annoying kind of perfectionist who will push myself to the point of excessive overachievement and end up killing myself in the process (like, actually); so, once we all returned to school after winter break, I had noticed things start to take a turn for the worse, but instead of listening to my internal “something’s not right” radar, I just kept rallying. I’d get up, look in the mirror, notice that I had lost another half pound, realize my vision was getting blurrier, grab a bottle of Glacier Frost Gatorade to quench my thirst (a thirst so intense, I can’t even describe it), and head out to class.
Long story short, I was only back on campus for six days before I called my parents one morning and said I couldn’t get out of bed. I think I even skipped my comms class and wrote to my professor, while under the covers, that something was really wrong and I couldn’t make it to class (but that I was “so sorry,” of course). My mom drove from New Jersey out to Allentown, Penn., to pick me up, and before I could even comprehend what was happening, I was gowned and sitting in an ER bed, listening to the nurses talk about diabetes and how I’d be like Nick Jonas. Sick, but famous, can’t be that bad, right? Once I got my preliminary T1D diagnosis, I then spent four, maybe five days in the ICU for related complications of diabetic ketoacidosis, a lab-checked blood glucose of 1036, and an A1C well over 12 percent (an average level for nondiabetic people is no more than 6, just for reference). It was bad, I should have died — or, at the very least, passed out in the gas station bathroom where I made my mom stop so I could pee for the 10th time on our little more than an hour-long ride to the hospital.
I don’t want to go on and on about my diabetes, because it sucks, really and truly does, but it’s kind of the best disease or condition to have for someone with a Type A personality. It just really didn’t hit me that my insulin-dependent life would affect my starting a family one day. That is, until I went to my OB-GYN for a routine annual and had the doctor, who was filling in for my regular doctor that day, ask me whether having kids was on my long-term goals list. My husband and I had gotten married six months before, so I could understand where she was coming from (although, presumptuous much?). I responded, “I mean, yes, I’ve always wanted to have kids; we’ll probably try to get pregnant next year.”
Her follow up wasn’t at all what I expected, though.
“Oh, really, with your diabetes? Hmm…” she shrugged. “I know my sister-in-law who has Type 1 really struggled with her pregnancies. She never had a stillbirth, thankfully, but endured several miscarriages before getting pregnant finally. And then the pregnancy was like nine months of the worst diabetic days she’s ever had, so she’s happy with just one.”
At 27 years old, those words destroyed me. The “but you never know, your experience could be different” wasn’t much help, and I remember leaving the office in tears — crying all the way home on the phone with my husband (who had been with me since high school, we fell in love years before my diagnosis), telling him we’d never have kids. Ironically enough, only days before my appointment, girls in my office were talking about Steel Magnolias and how Julia Roberts’ character dies from post-pregnancy-related diabetes complications.
I still haven’t seen the movie, but the premise is haunting, and since the doctor shared similar sentiments about diabetic pregnancies, it wasn’t hard to arrive at the decision to put a pin in the “having kids” conversation for the foreseeable future.
But months later, my endocrinologist asked me the same question. (BTW, why is it that the second you have a wedding band on your finger, everyone thinks it’s OK to ask you about baby-making?) I broke down.
“I obvi want kids, but my OB says I probably shouldn’t because of my diabetes, so I’m trying to get over it,” I said.
She kind of laughed and then said, “Wait, why? Are you nervous they’ll have diabetes, too?”
I wasn’t prepared for that, quite frankly, because I had just been thinking about the high-risk pregnancy issue itself, but yay for more concerns to worry myself with.
After she and I talked a bit, she reassured me that women with diabetes have babies every day. While the risks are as high as they were decades ago, advances in medicine, more in-depth fetal scans, and frequent monitoring have made diabetic pregnancies much safer and a lot more successful. She let me know that as soon as I got pregnant, I’d just have to give her a call and we’d set up a cadence for tight blood sugar control. We would also schedule a nutritionist session to help me navigate all things food and diet related, while keeping an eye on trimester-fluctuating glucose readings, highs and lows all brought on by those wonderful child-bearing hormones.
Needless to say, when I did get pregnant for the first time and experienced a miscarriage shortly thereafter, I was reminded of all those “maybe you shouldn’t plan for kids” cautions and did think that maybe we should just cancel children altogether. But after my endo reaffirmed that it had nothing to do with my diabetes, that my blood sugar maintenance was perfect, I perked up and decided that maybe I just needed the right support team behind me to make this motherhood reality happen.
In addition to seeing my endocrinologist regularly, getting a brand-new, continuous glucose monitoring-enabled insulin pump, and finding an amazing OB-GYN practice (a new one entirely) that was aligned with an incredible group of high-risk specialists and a maternal fetal medicine counterpart that I can only describe as ROCKSTAR, I started trusting myself. Like all medical diagnoses or prognoses, second opinions are important and valid. It took me a while not to get hung up on all the “it could happen” potential harms of pregnancy. But it also forced me to find my “pregnancy pack,” one that supported and encouraged, advised and protected me. This is major and, sometimes, the only thing you need behind you when you decide to become a mama.
I absolutely had bad days during my pregnancies. With my son, for instance, my husband had to call for an ambulance when I was unresponsive in bed one morning. The first trimester low blood sugar struggle is real and I was 10 weeks at that point. But the good days far outweighed the bad. I tried to make sure I had an airtight sounding board in my high-risk support team, so that when those concerning moments came to pass, I could check in and not feel judged, just empowered. At the end of the day, diabetic or not, every mama (first time or fifth time) deserves to feel safe.
Celebrate the beauty of different breastfeeding journeys through these photographs.