I remember sitting down to watch this movie, not knowing how it ended.
“How scary can it be? Julia Roberts has such a big laugh. Mom likes Sally Field. Diabetes in it, too? That’s cool. Let’s make some popcorn.”
Narrator’s voice: Yeah, that was me, around the age of 10. I didn’t know anything about the movie Steel Magnolias that would have given me pause. I knew one of the main characters had type 1 diabetes, and by looking at the cover of the VHS tape, they all looked reasonably smiley and happy, so let’s give it a watch.
I didn’t know that Steel Magnolias was a true story. I had no idea that a pregnancy with diabetes could take the journey that Shelby’s did. I didn’t know that it wouldn’t be easier
I didn’t know diabetes could be that … scary.
Yes, I lived in a bubble. Only a few years into my diabetes diagnosis and barely into the double digits of life, I knew diabetes required attention and discipline and could have some really dark moments but everything would be okay, right? Wouldn’t it be okay if I just kept trying?
I don’t remember being told that pregnancy would be “too hard.” I do remember the many people who, upon seeing my pregnant belly in 2010 and in 2016, would look furtively to the side, and then back at me, asking in a low voice “Have you seen Steel Magnolias?”
Yes I have seen Steel Magnolias. I have seen the wedding colors of blush and bashful and have always wondered where “bashful” would fall on the pantone palette. I saw them grab Shelby’s cheeks with two hands in the hair salon, forcing the glass of juice to her mouth, Clairee leaning in to offer, “She’s a diabetic.” I watched M’Lynn lose the chance to take a whack at Ouiser.
I cried at this movie. A lot. For a dozen different reasons, thinking about my own mother, my own children, my own fears, and my own disease. My own frailties. My own strength. (I also cried because I’m a movie crier. Also a coffee commercial cryer. I am dehydrated.)
Steel Magnolias came out in 1989, three years after my diagnosis. At the time, it colored my views of diabetes with a blush and bashful brush, painting the possibilities of parenthood with hesitation and concern. Even when I had more hope and had seen evidence of healthy pregnancies with diabetes, I would push the thoughts of M’Lynn out of my mind and jokingly tell friends, “Not Shelby,” when they asked what names we had picked out for my daughter. Shelby’s story was a true story, but it was a story from 30 years ago, and didn’t define every diabetic’s experience with pregnancy, or a wedding, or even the hairdresser. I think about that in the context of all the diabetes stories on social media, acknowledging how each story is unique and diverse within this shared disease experience.
Steel Magnolias was often held up to me as something to fear, but I found it weirdly inspirational. It was her real life. And I loved Shelby’s story because it wasn’t about diabetes, necessarily. It was about those women, and their friendships, and about family. It was about living beyond diabetes.
I wanted that. I want that.
And I look at my kids, one about to turn 8 and the other fast approaching 2, and know that every worry, every moment of concern has been worth it. They have provided more than 30 minutes of wonderful. They’ve given me a lifetime of something special.