Hello, my name is Mama Frankenstein and I have Gestational Diabetes- again!
This is my second pregnancy and my second go round with Gestational Diabetes. I guess I really shouldn't be surprised that I have to deal with blood sugar related health issues since I grew up with a mother and grandmother who both have had to watch their sugar. My Grandmother became a full diabetic after her third child was born and my mother has been pre-diabetic or insulin resistant since I was a teenager.
It still came a a shock to learn that I was gestational diabetic and the fear and frustration that accompanied these diagnoses are unwelcome and stressful in pregnancy. They also mean that diabetes could be a long term or future problem for me.
In my first pregnancy I didn't really know anyone who had gestational diabetes. At least not anyone that I could lean on as a support or turn to for questions. This time around I know a couple people who have had it or are currently dealing with it. It really does help to know that you are not alone. So if you are reading this and you are currently dealing with gestational diabetes or you know someone battling it, here are some of my thoughts and personal reflections on the illness and how I am coping with things.
Feelings of Denial, Anger, Betrayal, & Shame
I personally have never had a problem with my weight. I have been petite and skinny all of my life. Even in my pregnancies, despite gestational diabetes, my doctors have told me to gain more weight. So when I got my first diagnosis of gestational diabetes I didn't believe the results. My train of thinking went something like this: It wasn't possible for me to have diabetes, I clearly didn't eat enough to begin with and now the doctors are going to restrict my diet. I can't tell anyone I have this, they will think I eat nothing but junk food. Wait- they are going to make me diet!?! Now they are going to torture me with vegetables. I can't even have cake at my baby shower!!!
I now know that denial is very common, so is anger, and so is shame. No one should feel guilty for having these emotions but you do need to be aware of what you do with these emotions. At some point you have to move beyond denial because you cannot continue to live and eat the way you were before. You have to make a change in you life style and habits. You have to make this change so your little baby is healthy at birth. If you stay in denial you are hurting yourself and your baby.
I have and do challenge my sugar and my diagnosis. In my first pregnancy, at the beginning I didn't really change my eating habits. I did order diet soda and I bought Splenda but I didn't change my portions or the type of food I was eating. My blood sugar readings after meals were fine for a while but quickly started to prove the test correct. There was a problem with my blood sugar, it was running too high, and I couldn't deny the results any longer.
With my second pregnancy I started watching my diet and monitoring my blood sugar right away. I was good and I was vigilant. When my glucose challenge results came back and they were once again suggestive of gestational diabetes I was really and truly upset. I thought I had done everything right this time around.
After i was done crying in the doctors office I walked right up to angers door and knocked loudly! I was beyond angry that my body was betraying me. To be honest, I still get a little angry when a blood sugar reading is too high. I have spent most of my life being good to my body. Here was my line of thinking: I have always watched what I put into it, I have never abused it with drugs or hard labor, and I have treated it the way I was supposed to. I have kept it in good condition with exercise and I have taken it to the doctor when it needed help. I even changed my eating habits after the first pregnancy! What was my body's problem? Why was it doing this to me now? Wasn't pregnancy and the symptoms of pregnancy enough to deal with? Why wouldn't my body cooperate with me?!
In the end it does feel like a betrayal of your body. Even when you eat the diet, plan the meal, do the research, go for the walk, and poke your finger to check your sugar regularly; you will still have bad sugar days and then you feel betrayed by your body and angry over something you can't completely control. On these days I often also feel shame. I feel ashamed that I can't control it and if I broke my diet and cheated on myself I feel guilt on top of all that. These are the days I feel ashamed to even admit that I have gestational diabetes.
In our country for some reason we seem to attach shame to medical diagnosis'. If you have a medical illness, if you have a disease of any kind, you better go hide it in a closet because you are not perfect. I don't really understand where this came from because many diseases and illnesses have nothing to do with controllable factors. They are genetic. If you are a woman I think the world is a lot harder on you for not being perfect and doubly so if you are not perfect during pregnancy. Of all the emotions I felt after this diagnosis shame is the hardest for me to rationalize but it still rears its ugly head every now and then.
In my first pregnancy I only told my closest friends and family that I was gestational diabetic. I told one person at church but that is only because she was a nutritionist and I needed her help. When I had my baby shower I intentionally provided the majority of the food and ate all protein and veggies at the party so that I would have room for cake. Then found reasons to run around the house after I finished eating the cake to "work off the sugar". I was starving most of the day but I was determined not to admit that I couldn't eat cake and likewise determined to have the cake!
In my first pregnancy my gestational diabetes was a shameful secret. The second time around I am far more willing to tell people. I know what I have to do this time to control my sugar and I know what choices I have to make. It was far more stressful to hide and conceal it than it was to just be honest and up front about it. Now that I am more open about it I find I have a lot more support. There are some people who give me pity but the vast majority of people are kind and understanding about it. I also find that I am able to be far more compassionate to people who are struggling with illness because I have walked a mile in my own diabetic shoes.
Diabetes, gestational or otherwise, is not an illness that you can be complacent about. You have to become proactive and you have to educate yourself. You also have to make changes and follow through with those changes.
My personal ability to cope with gestational diabetes has been to learn as much about food and how food interacts with the body as I possibly can. In my first pregnancy I was overwhelmed with the changes and I don't think I understood all of my options very well. I hired a dietitian, paid her an arm and a leg, and ended up with a meal plan I hated and that included food I told her I didn't like to eat. My first go round was a struggle but my second time around has been much easier. I have started to experiment more with food and alternative baking options. Even though I don't like everything I produce in my kitchen (I have really gotten in touch with my Frankenstein persona in the kitchen) I know that I am trying. When I know I am trying I can tell shame to take a hike. I have found and created some recipes that taste good and leave me feeling satisfied rather than deprived (see Gestation Diabetes Recipes). *Please note that not every one's body reacts the same way to the same things.What works for me may not work for you.
I know that the best way to have a successful day with my blood sugar is to plan ahead. I have to think about breakfast the day before. I have to plan out what my lunches and dinners are going to be and shop at the store accordingly. Since I do the majority of the shopping this gives me the control. It means I have to think things through and spend time planning but this isn't really any different than what I did before. It just means I have to think a little bit more about all of the components of the meal rather than just buy the staples I normally get. I also don't take any complaints or excuses when eating out. Some foods are just bad for my sugar and I am going to admit that and say "No".
I have become vocal at restaurants as well. I recently asked to speak to the manager at a restaurant I frequent. I told the manager that I loved eating at his restaurant because they offered healthier alternatives like a grilled veggie plate instead of fries, however, I noticed that they didn't have many low carb. (aka sugar free options) and caffeine free options. I also noticed that they charged $2.50 for a regular lemonade and thought it was a shame I had to order water, which is free, over ordering a diet lemonade which I would pay $2.50. I told him I was sorry his business was losing this opportunity for income and to provide a better option for his patrons.
He told me he had never thought about it before and didn't realize his drink options were limited. He also said he hadn't considered the lack of decaffeinated options his establishment offered and that as a franchise owner he hadn't considered the loss of income potential either...this led into how the topic of the number of patrons he had who were on diets and came for the diet friendly food. This restaurant is also across the way from a very large and busy yoga studio. It took me a little extra time and a touch of bravery but the restaurant now offers diet lemonade and diet Sprite. It was a win for gestational diabetes as well as a win for healthier living!
I also write comment cards at grocery stores when they do not have the sugar free option of a product. Sugar free chocolate chips shouldn't be so hard to find...and Ocean Spray Diet Cranberry Juice is a great alternative to water. In a nation of rising obesity diabetics are not the only ones who are looking for low carb/sugar free options!!!
Vigilance is the Key to Success and Self Discipline is the Key to Vigilance.
If we are lucky as gestational diabetics we will only have to deal with diabetes for this short time in our lives. We are worth the effort and so are the little babies we are growing.
Do I cheat and eat a cookie? Yes, but I pay attention to the size and quantity of the cookie.
Do I have blood sugar spikes? Yes, but make a note about what I ate so that I avoid that food/ food combination or I make sure to increase my exercise afterward.
Do I get frustrated? Yes, all the time. We live in a fast food nation that doesn't really offer many healthy options. I find that even when shopping at the grocery store I have to search for the healthy option. Forget being frustrated with myself I am frustrated with society for not even making good options available.
We can only do our best with what we have been given. At the end of the day we are human and that means we make mistakes and we cave in. Don't be too hard on yourself when you cheat or have a bad sugar day. Keep in mind that there are many factors involved in controlling your sugar like: stress level, heat, hormones, and emotional state. Stay vigilant but don't beat yourself up. If you end up having to take insulin or Glucophage it isn't the end of the world. Western medicine gets a bad rap for all of it's interventions and interference but in the end it has done amazing things to improve the quality of our lives and in many cases it saves our lives. Having to take medication to help you control your blood sugar so that both you and your baby are healthy is not a curse. There is a tremendous blessing in the resource and gift of medication.
Be kind to yourself, love yourself, be patient with yourself, and find a support system.
Having Gestational Diabetes isn't the end of the world. Making the changes to your life style aren't just good for you and the baby they are good for your family too. Doing the right thing is not always easy but once your do the right thing long enough it become a habit. Once they are habits we don't have to think about them as much or as often and everyone wants to have good habits!