When I was in my 20s and pregnant with my first baby, life was going along just fine thank you, and out of the blue, my doctor told me I had diabetes. He blew me out of the water, telling me I had flunked the test with flying colors. I had heard of diabetes. I remember a girl in high school passed out and then learned she was diabetic. Other than that, I knew nothing. And this was in the middle of my first pregnancy where I already was realizing I knew less than nothing, and then they threw that at me!
I was told it was likely gestational, which means it happens during pregnancy, and it would probably go away after the baby was born. I was given a diet to follow, and when I asked if there was more I needed to know, I was told, “Just follow the diet.” That was not much help, and it certainly didn’t ease my fears.
Then I heard all the horror stories from various people who really knew nothing. I was told this happened because I ate a lot of candy (not true – well, the candy part was true, but that didn’t cause this). I was told I would probably lose my feet … because that’s what a nurse should tell a pregnant woman who is newly diagnosed with a scary disease. I often got the serious pity look when I told people my news … the look that really helps a person newly diagnosed with anything. One person said, “Oh no! You’re pregnant?? Does your doctor know??”
So as you can probably imagine, it was a very difficult time for me. I was terrified that I would not be able to have a healthy baby. I was pretty scared anyway just trying to bring a baby into the world, and this definitely did not help. Then they told me I had to go into the hospital for a week so I could get my bloodsugar under control and learn how to give myself insulin shots. I tried to pretend I was cool about the whole thing, but I’m sure I wasn’t very convincing.
Moving forward a little bit, I had two healthy babies from diabetic pregnancies. The diabetes was not gestational, and although I was taken off insulin between the pregnancies and for five years after the second one, I was put back on insulin and had to accept I would not be going off of it. It was again upsetting and something I had to come to terms with. I finally did when I read a book called Diabetes Without Fear, and the author wrote about a friend of his who had stomach cancer and said something like, “I’d give anything to be able to give myself shots to stay alive.” That was a big moment. I realized I didn’t have it so bad, and I needed to suck it up and stop feeling sorry for myself.
Ok, fast forward to today, some 30+ years later. I know so much more, technology has come so far, and I've left my state of denial for good. I now have the latest insulin pump, which is referred to as an “artificial pancreas” because it acts the way my pancreas should act but doesn’t. I call her Harriet. I decided if I was going to be so intimately attached to something, it should have a name, and for reasons I do not know, she seemed like a Harriet.
Some days, Harriet pisses me off with all her vibrating alerts, and some days I’m pretty sure I piss her off as well. But most days, we get along pretty well. She lets me know if my bloodsugar is going too high or too low, she tells me if I need to test it, and I’ve learned if I listen to her, my numbers are much better, which means my diabetes is in better control.
Some days, but only on occasion, I tell her to kiss off. Last week, for example, I got to go to Lawry’s The Prime Rib in downtown Chicago, a place I had wanted to go for a very long time, and yeah, that was definitely one of those days. She wasn’t happy about it, and she got a little bitchy, but I told her she needed to simmer down. I enjoyed one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and except for her bitching the rest of the evening, I had no regrets. I knew, though, that the next morning, I needed to clean up my act, because the bottom line is the more I control my diabetes, the less I have to worry about complications.
I have a fabulous doctor now who cheers me on every step of the way. I’ve worked with other great medical professionals over the years as well, who far outweigh the few really awful ones like the nurse mentioned above. Overall I've been very fortunate. One wonderful educator told me to avoid thinking of myself as a diabetic and instead think of myself as a person living with diabetes. That was another big moment. Instead of thinking of myself as a sicko who had to be deprived of so many things, I began to think more that I was someone who could handle this diagnosis and not let it get in my way. When it became more about my decisions and my control, I did a whole lot better. I have never responded well to being told what to do. Some might think I have an attitude, and to that, I say, “No shit.” I do much better when I have been given good information and know the consequences of an action and then choose to behave accordingly.
The amazing thing I have learned is I can keep living my life and take care of my diabetes at the same time. It really doesn’t get in my way most days. I now also have a sensor that monitors my blood sugar and talks to Harriet so she can keep me in line.
I’m so grateful for researchers and new technologies that are getting better all the time. Recently, I talked to a woman who was upset that her young granddaughter had been diagnosed and was using the same pump I have. The girl’s mother can monitor the pump on her smartphone and contact the school when adjustments are needed. I can hardly believe we have come so far! I told the grandma that I wouldn’t wish diabetes on anyone, especially a child, but her granddaughter was diagnosed at the right time. The researchers are making so many advances that I believe diabetes will be cured, if not in my lifetime, certainly in her granddaughter’s.
So, all in all, it doesn’t suck too much. I’d definitely rather not have it, but I’m grateful that it’s something I can live with. I will hopefully get better at not pissing Harriet off, even though sometimes she really is uptight.
This is what I’ve learned about life plans. They don’t usually go as planned. I planned my whole life to be a teacher, and I changed careers after four years. I planned to never be divorced. Oops. I also planned to have four children and willingly stopped after two. But with all of these unplanned things, it really just meant I was going in a different direction. So add this to the list. It wasn’t what I planned, but I’m doing just fine in this different direction.