Guest Post: Diabetic Parenting.
About a month before my daughter was born, my friend Elizabeth became a mom. Her baby girl joined her family through the miracle of adoption, instead of the c-section that brought BSparl roaring into our family, and both Elizabeth and I share the experience of first-time motherhood and type 1 diabetes.
Her post, which I have the privilege of posting here on SUM today, echoes many of my own fears and thoughts. I've had a few lows while watching BSparl, and the combination of panic, guilt, pride, and love is intensity defined. Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your story here.
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It was a bad one.
And of course I’ve had the bad ones before, plenty of times. Where you’re working so hard or playing so hard (or worst of all, sleeping so hard) that you don’t realize what’s happening with your body until figuring out the series of muscles you’d need to walk feels as complex as solving differential equations, while drunk. Course I’ve had the bad ones before and it’s annoying, sure, and somewhat scary but no big deal. Except that this time it happened while my daughter was screaming.
I need to ingrain this in my brain, like that canned airline speech about what to do when your oxygen mask drops. My oxygen mask had conked me square in the nose, but my instinct, of course, was to save my child first.
The back story is that Anna has a hard time pooping, something called dyschezia where she gets all confused and tenses up. (I know, right? Who knew some babies actually have to learn how? This is not one of those things the baby books tell you, perhaps to keep you from gouging out your eyes in despair over what’s to come. Imagine this, a prolonged high-pitched screaming and me cheering, You can do it, push, push, push! It’s like Anna is giving birth to a poop.)
The only thing that helps somewhat is to pull her knees up to her chest (as one would if she were giving birth to an actual baby), to help her relax. Drop her knees and the screaming escalates. So there I was last week, standing over the changing table with my hands on Anna’s knees, Anna sobbing, me sobbing and not wanting to let go. Until I didn’t have a choice. It was chomp down glucose tabs or pass out, so…and thank God I had the presence of mind not to try and lift Anna from the table … I dropped her legs, and tried not to hear the screaming as I raced to the kitchen.
It was awful.
And when I became lucid enough to think through what had happened, it became even more awful. Anna’s only five weeks old now, so she’s not in danger of rolling herself off the changing table, but what happens in three months when I can’t leave her alone? Or what if I’m carrying her or walking her down a busy street in her stroller, and I go hypo without realizing how low I am? And then there’s a whole other set of worries, not as immediate but just as profound…Namely, what will my diabetes do to Anna in the long run?
I’m sure all d-parents think this through before deciding to raise a child, and I wonder how they manage to come to terms with and accept it. Because my daughter will inevitably go through things no child should have to experience. There will be times when she isn’t the center of attention, and whacky-bg times I won’t have the energy to chase her in circles. She’ll be one of those children who, at the age of 3, knows how and when to dial 911, and as she gets older, experience will make her worry about me, doing that thing my husband does where he tries to gauge my sugar through the pace of my conversation. She’ll get used to the sight of blood. She’ll have to learn restraint, that some of the candy in the house is just for me. She’ll very likely see me with extremely low bg, nonresponsive or confused, acting in a way that scares her. She’ll likely see me go through various complications throughout our lives. She’ll likely lose her mom at a younger age than she would have otherwise.
Before my husband and I first signed up to adopt, I thought a lot about the weight the child of a diabetic parent might carry. I’m sure the d-parents who actually conceive a child have the same thoughts, along with others that’re even more terrifying (see: everything Kerri went through over the past 10 months.) But I probably looked at the issue even more closely, because this child’s existence didn’t depend on us creating her. I knew we’d be amazing parents, but I also knew that for every child available for adoption, there are tens of other amazing parents who want them, most of whom don’t have a chronic illness. (And okay, those of you who know me are now thinking you need to comment, saying she’s lucky to have us⎯You’re sweet, but that’s not going to help. I know we’re lucky to have each other, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’ll necessarily need to make sacrifices. And now that I actually know our daughter, and love her with all my heart, thinking about those sacrifices hurts like hell.)
Oh lordie, this post has gotten too melodramatic and woe-is-us-ish, sorry. Listen, I’ve also thought about the good things that’ll come from having a diabetic mom…And there are good things, or at least good sides to the bad things. Anna will hopefully learn to care how others are feeling, sooner than she would have without me. She’ll have empathy and patience. She’ll learn not to take health for granted. And, you know, learning how to dial 911 is a useful skill for anyone. But the idea of my diabetes ever, ever being a burden for my child is pretty heartrending. Add to this the very real fact that I have much less time to test and log and weigh food and remember how long I need to extend a bolus when eating oatmeal, and I’m just scared the whole family will topple down the huge mountain diabetic parenting can be.
And yet many hundreds of thousands of people do it every day, and do it really well. They probably have to learn as they go, which I guess is what I’m doing now. (My first lesson was to have a constant stash of Dex 4s in my pockets so I can eat without leaving her side. Should’ve thought of this sooner, I’m a slow learner, but I do tend to get there eventually.)
What else have I learned from these five weeks of experience? I have a checklist now on my refrigerator, with items to pack with me before I leave the house. Now that I have to remember what to stock in Anna’s diaper bag, it’s easy to forget my diabetes supplies. I’ve learned that lack of sleep and an inconsistent eating schedule will completely skew my insulin needs, and I’ve learned how to test and bolus while supporting a bottle with my chin. I’ve learned that dancing a baby around the living room requires a decrease in basal rate, and that a buzzing CGMS in one’s pocket, while dancing said baby, makes her squeal in surprise.
And over all of this I’m learning something that I’m sure Kerri is learning now too, that the many challenges of diabetic parenting are completely and totally overshadowed by the pure joy of it.