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Parenthood presents a unique set of challenges when you live with a chronic condition like Type 1 Diabetes. But those situations offer equally unique opportunities to teach your children about patience, compassion, and understanding.
The thing is, until you are fully immersed in the role of parenting your small human, there is no book, guidelines, or advice to prepare you for the experience.
And it is only your experience that can propel you forward.
Parenting just isn’t the same for everyone. And in that way, it is kind of like Type 1 Diabetes. You can do the exact same thing with great success for three days in a row and on day four have it garner a massive breakdown. Some days the wind blows, inflating your sails, and invigorating you. Some days that same wind knocks you down and sends you rolling uncontrollably down a hill.
Pregnancy and parenthood with Type 1 Diabetes are not easy roads to travel, but the challenges presented do not make them any less rewarding.
No matter the situation, there are lessons to learn.
Parenting with T1D is a lot of things. Sometimes it means saying no because you are high (or low), and sometimes it means everyone gets a juice box after brushing their teeth. And sometimes it is helping them look for their treats that you ate while you were low…
Regardless of the challenges it can present, parenthood with T1D is an incomparable experience that will bond you and your child(ren).
Baby, What a Big Surprise
My own personal journey to parenthood arrived unexpectedly. In truth, it was a tremendous shock and one I was not prepared for, least of all diabetes-wise. I knew nothing of pregnancy and Type 1 Diabetes (T1D).
I never sought out any resources because I never knew such things existed. Pregnancy did not agree with me, I never acquired that pregnancy glow, and it was riddled with weekly appointments at the high-risk clinic peppered with extra tests, procedures, and specialist visits.
However, there were some positives.
At long last, after living with T1D for a decade, I learned how to properly inject myself. And I finally got to try an injection on an orange (an odd rite of passage in the diabetes realm). My HbA1c was the best it had ever been, and I learned about correction doses for the first time.
That little life inside of me was my motivation for better management.
During that pregnancy I hurled myself over walls of fear, tackling my needle phobia and injecting extra insulin to correct highs, and setting countless alarms (including through the night) so I could finger poke every 2-hours and record it.
My pregnancy was mostly problem free, and in February of 2010, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
Learning the Ropes
There is a scene in the movie Steel Magnolias that sums up my fears of parenting with Type 1 Diabetes. You know the one: the main character unconscious in the kitchen, pots boiling over, baby screaming alone on the floor.
That scene plagued my entire pregnancy and the first few years of parenthood.
I was terrified of going low and during my son’s first few years deliberately allowed my blood sugars to coast out of range. Quickly, my HbA1c crept out of range.
A lot of the time I felt guilty, ill-equipped, and like a failure.
As soon as it could be contextualized, my husband and I taught our son about Type 1 Diabetes. By the time he was 18 months old, he could assist me in testing my blood sugars with a glucometer and grab me a treatment for a low (which often meant a treat for him too!)
As he got older, he became more involved. He was always ready with a hug after a needle phobia induced anxiety attack (something that happened with nearly every injection), he knew what to do if he ever found me unconscious, including calling 911, and eventually learned how to administer glucagon.
Now, my son can, and does, actively assist in my management.
He knows how to navigate my Omnipod DASH® PDM and can help me if I need him to. Additionally, he has memorized all my CGM alerts.
Outfitting him with the information and knowledge about my diabetes, and the tools I use to manage daily life, gives him a greater understanding of what I am doing, and why, at any given time.
It has also prepared him should something happen when we are alone.
We’re Not Going Places, Kid
Maneuvering through the highs and lows of diabetes can prove difficult when it comes to parenthood.
Some days are just physically hard. You try and try, but those blood sugars just will not co-operate. You’re tired. You want to, need to rest. But there’s a small human relying on you, maybe begging you to play with them or go to the park. While sometimes you can push your way through, sometimes you have to say, “not today,” and parent from the couch.
But their disappointment becomes your guilt.
Nothing can prepare you for how much love you will have for your child. Or how hard you will work to do right by them, keep them healthy, and make them happy. It can be hard to remember that your health is important and that being well is what allows you to do all those wonderful things for them.
It is hard to explain when they are young, however, age and experience will find them more sympathetic.
Diabetes isn’t just something that I live with, it affects the entire family. Full disclosure is not for everyone, but it worked for us.
I often wondered if my son was at risk of developing Type 1 Diabetes.
Our family doctor advised us to randomly test his blood glucose annually in the absence of symptoms.
I have been asked numerous times over the years if we plan to have him tested to see if he will develop T1D. My husband and I had never mentioned it to him. We felt it should be his decision and concluded that we would wait until he could fully understand and make it. We also looked at the odds, and in our situation, he was no more at risk then a child born to parents without diabetes.
We attended a conference when he discovered on his own that he could be tested. The door for discussion was open. And he thanked us for not testing him. He said he couldn’t have that looming over him, and that if it happens, it happens: “besides, I would have you Mommy. You and I would be able to support each other.”
I would like to think that allowing him to be involved in my diabetes management, letting him see all the good and even the bad, shows him Type 1 Diabetes is manageable.
And not something that stops you from living the life that you want.
There are no rules when it comes to parenting.
And that can make it a cumbersome climb at times. Throw in Type 1 Diabetes and that climb becomes even more difficult. But it is doable.
Ultimately, your journey through parenthood and T1D will be as unique as your relationship is with your child(ren). You will have to decide, sometimes through a process of trial and error, what works best for your situation.
Communication is key. And while it may take some time for them to fully comprehend what Type 1 Diabetes means, they can be a part of your support team.
Children are far more capable and resilient than we give them credit for, and while the guilt we may feel when we have to say no because of diabetes can be overwhelming, explaining why makes it easier for them to understand.
And it does not mean the adventure or plans will not happen, they may just be delayed…while you get those blood sugars back into range; it’s the perfect time to snag an extra hug or two!