Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pregnancy is hard. Children are worth it. Diabetes and medical intervention don't have to get in the way.

As I noted in my post on natural family planning, I wanted to write more about the following statement: "Being diabetic and pregnant is not easy."

Advocates of natural family planning usually want you to have more children than perhaps you originally thought you wanted. Count me among them. Advocates of natural childbirth, in their enthusiasm for the amazing thing that is a woman's body, tend to minimize what's hard about pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery. Count me among them. So what you're left with is someone who wants to have lots of babies, thinks other people should too, thinks that it should be easy because of how wonderfully a woman's body is made, and may be tempted to cover up or down-play the tough stuff. Yup, that sounds about like myself two babies ago. So in this post, I'm coming clean.

I came to the conclusion that being pregnant was hard the first time I did it. I've been told there are women for whom being pregnant is easy, but I don't think I am one of them. Or maybe I am and I'm just a big whiner. In any case, after posting several whiny Facebook statuses during the last six weeks or so of my first pregnancy, a friend chided me, saying: "Hurry up and have that baby already!" Feeling ashamed, I subsequently followed up each whiny sentence with an apologetic one.

During one of these subsequent conversations, my diabetic cousin, who has two children and also loves natural childbirth, told me that it was OK for me to whine, and that I didn't need to apologize. Why? Because being diabetic and pregnant is hard! Yes, being diabetic and pregnant IS hard. Even, I dare say, harder than for other women. That phrase and the idea has accompanied me closely for the last couple years as I finished my first pregnancy and, a mere 17 months later, finished a second.

As I dwelled on that phrase and that idea, and in an effort to justify all the complaining I did, I wanted to come up with the reasons that being diabetic and pregnant was hard for me. I came up with three:

1. Blood sugars. I had to watch my blood sugar like a hawk. Because I just couldn't seem to keep myself from eating a ton, I was frequently chasing lows (because I was giving large amounts of insulin to cover the huge amounts of food I was eating). I bit my fingernails every time my blood sugar was found to be over 200. My dawn phenomenon was worse, and I was hungry all the time. And all my bolus ratios and other insulin levels changed every few weeks.

2. Extra doctors visits. Between growth ultrasounds, special fetal echocardiograms, non-stress testing, regular OB check-ups, visits to my endocrinologist, and lab work, I had to pick my appointment times and routes to the hospital carefully to avoid traffic and asked for a lot of time off work. I corresponded with one woman with Type I diabetes who found herself at some doctor or another every week starting at the beginning of the second trimester!

3. I had to prove myself. I had to prove myself - to my doctors, to my family, and to myself. I had to prove that I could control my blood sugars, and I had to prove that I could grow a healthy baby. Finally, I had to prove that I could push a baby out, because everyone worried that my babies were going to be too big.

I think there are probably other conditions which make pregnancy more challenging for women with Type I diabetes. Retinopathy? Kidney damage? Hypertension? Blood vessel damage? There may be other things. I don't know whether pregnancy would make these conditions worse, or whether these conditions would make pregnancy even more difficult. I would love to hear about your experience.

But lest I be fully justified for my incessant whining, let me develop one further point. You know what I found hardest about being pregnant and diabetic? It hardly ever had to do with diabetes. Even managing my blood sugar became second nature. And with the good insurance we had for both pregnancies, our expenses for those many doctors' visits were not excessive. No, having diabetes was not what made being pregnant hard for me. It was the same stuff that makes being pregnant hard for every woman. It was the first trimester nausea, the sleepless nights, the aching back, the hourly visits to the bathroom, the fat feet, the fear of labor, the knowledge that your life is about to change dramatically, the uncertainty of it, the contractions that make you think you really just can't do another one (and then somehow you do it once, twice, three times more), and that final push. Much to my surprise, in the end, I found that diabetes management during pregnancy was an afterthought compared to the looming realities of being a woman with another small human being living inside me.

This brings me 'round to my original conviction about natural family planning and natural childbirth. As a true advocate of natural family planning and natural childbirth, let me never say that having another baby is just too hard because "being diabetic and pregnant is hard." If my husband and I choose to delay pregnancy, let it be because I really am struggling to control my blood sugars, or because we really don't have good insurance (or Medicaid or money) to pay for the doctor's visits. Let me never hide behind the fact that I have diabetes (and believe me, I'm tempted!). If issues come up that threaten my life or the lives of my babies, let me view my situation without the lens of fear which usually clouds my rational abilities.

I hereby propose a new idea on which to dwell to keep my spirits up over the next several years of childbearing: "Pregnancy is hard. Children are worth it. Diabetes and medical intervention don't have to get in the way."


  1. That brings me to tears. Thank you for a beautiful post!

  2. You're welcome, Faith! Thanks for reading.

  3. Thank you. This has helped me feel much better about my diagnosis.
    "Pregnancy is hard. Children are worth it. Diabetes and medical intervention don't have to get in the way" will be my new mantra.

    1. It's my mantra, too. Glad I could help!