Two years ago, I began what I thought would be the toughest challenge of my life: pregnancy with type 1 diabetes. I was so focused on staying healthy and keeping my sugars in line while growing a tiny human inside of me, that I hardly gave any thought to what would happen when she finally came out.
Turns out that raising a baby while living with diabetes presents its own set of challenges. Challenges that can be just as tough, just as draining and just as important as those during pregnancy.
You’re telling me I’m supposed to keep myself AND someone else alive now?!
The Early Days
Diabetes complicated things from the moment my baby came home. Breastfeeding can be difficult for any mom, but diabetics face an even steeper challenge. Having diabetes can mean you produce milk more slowly. Even if you don’t struggle with making milk, you still have to worry about crashing lows as your body works overtime to meet the nutritional demands of your baby.
I was fortunate to be able to start breastfeeding a couple of days after my daughter was born. (It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but those challenges weren’t caused by my T1D.) Even still, I felt anxious every time my blood sugars peaked. I’d try to avoid nursing her until things came back into range, but that was an impossible task. Turns out newborns can be very demanding. Who knew!?
When I wasn’t senselessly stressing myself out about hyper-sugary milk, I was suffering from the very real effects of sleep deprivation. There are so many things to remember as a new mother – feeding schedules, bottle sanitizing schedules, sleep schedules, pumping schedules… It’s a lot for a hormonal, overwhelmed and exhausted person to keep straight. There’s also a lot to remember as a diabetic. The problem with being both a new mom and a diabetic is suddenly you have two lives counting on your hazy mind to function correctly.
In those early days, I frequently wore expired sensors way past their last transmission. I’d forget to bolus for meals. Or bolus and forget to eat. It was chaos, both in the outside world and inside my body.
Despite being awake way more often than normal (like ALL night), I wasn’t nearly as physically active as I was used to. This, along with a pumped-up metabolism from breastfeeding, and changing hormones, made predicting blood sugars almost impossible. I was just as likely to be reaching for glucose tabs as I was to be rage-blousing down a high.
Some Things Get Easier, Others Get Harder
Now that my daughter has grown out of the newborn stage and into the mobile, chatty baby stage, most things have gotten easier. I’m sleeping more, so my memory has gotten (slightly) better. She can ride in a baby jogger, so it’s easier to keep to an exercise routine. And her schedule has become more predictable, which means mine has too.
But, with each new developmental stage, I find new challenges.
Suddenly, she can demand my attention. Not with adorable faces and the helpless demeanor of a newborn, but with the literal, screaming demands of a toddler. I’ll be halfway to the fridge to get juice to treat a low just to be sidetracked by a screeching baby. Or I’ll be just about to finish a set change only to be summoned to her side because she’s gotten bored with a toy.
Her growing mobility also adds complications. Now, I have to watch her like a hawk. I’ve looked down to check a pump notification only to look up to find she’s bolted across the room, figured out the baby gate latch and disappeared into the hall.
Somehow, even her switching to solid foods has added its own complications. You’d think it would be easy to just share my healthy diet with her. But there is only enough time in the day for one of us to eat well. She gets baked golden beets with tahini yogurt drizzle while I rummage through the cupboards for a granola bar.
All of this means I have to work twice as hard to maintain healthy numbers as I did before parenthood. And while already working twice as hard trying to keep a second person alive.
Parenthood is All About Learning Lessons
Everything about motherhood and diabetes seems to be at odds with one another.
I need to keep tight control on my blood sugars so that I can be at my best for my daughter. I can’t afford to take ten minutes to wait for a low to come back up. I don’t have the time to nurse a headache from a high.
Even more important is the long game. I need to stay healthy now so I can be there for her later. I’ve worked hard since my diagnosis because I want to avoid complications as I age. Now I’m working hard for more than just myself.
And yet, just about every aspect of motherhood makes staying healthy so much harder. Any mother can relate. There’s just not enough time most days to take care of your needs and those of another person’s. (Hats off to all the mothers of multiples out there.) And diabetes adds another level of difficulty to that.
Staying healthy for my daughter is important. But so are so many other things. Like watching her take her first step; or making her laugh just one more time before bed.
When the baby stage is over, I’m not going to remember the day my meter read 298 or the CGM screen that looked like a sketch of the Himalayas.
Just like everything else with parenting, it’s about finding a balance.
For now, I’m just trying to do my best with both parenting and diabetes. Even if that means I can’t be perfect at either. If I’m doing well enough to keep up with her, then I’m doing well enough.