I thought I had seen it all as a person with diabetes. Going to college, marriage, moves, career changes, you name it. I had soldiered on through them all, my control shifting from tight to loose to somewhere in the middle as the situation changed. I had adapted pretty well, I told myself.
But then, I had a baby.
Readers out there who are parents are probably nodding their heads right now. The rest of you may be perplexed. For those of you without kids, here’s the short version: A new parent’s life changes completely. From top to bottom, from the morning to the evening to the overnight, children make things different.
Your priorities, once focused on yourself and your partner or job, are now focused on a tiny bundle of new life. These few pounds of potential have been given to you alone. For those of us with diabetes, then, the challenge can be to remember ourselves and our medical needs in the whirlwind of caring for someone new and special.
In the months before our child arrived, I found myself tense and anxious. I turned to my diabetic control as a way to pass the time. My blood sugars have never been as scrupulously checked and recorded as they were in those three months.
My diet was spare, and I avoided carbs like the plague. My pump settings were checked and revised, then checked again, then revised again. I thought about my diabetes all the time. Every minute, every hour, of the day was devoted to the disease.
Not surprisingly, my A1C and weight responded. Both dropped. I approached my college weight for the first time in several years. Yet I didn’t feel particularly in control of my life. The baby was still coming. My life would still be disrupted in unimaginable ways in the middle of April. No superhuman diabetic control could change that.
(For those interested on tips to get to the super-tight control I enjoyed in those months, check out the article “Eight Tips for Super Blood Sugar Control,” published in this magazine’s August/September issue.)
For the first couple of weeks after our son arrived, diabetes hardly entered my mind. Oh, I remembered that I had it, and I knew that I needed to take insulin, but any notion of tight control flew out the window. My main concerns were two-fold.
First, I needed to remember to eat. While in a hospital with a very new newborn, every bit of energy and attention you have is devoted to the baby in front of you. Several times during our stay, I had to pry myself away from time with our son to rush down to the cafeteria.
What would I eat? It didn’t matter. Eggs and bacon? Sure. Muffins and toast? Okay. Fruits and vegetables? Bring ‘em on! Food served as fuel, and the more my body had, the better off I’d be.
Second, I had to prevent lows. This was a big deal. While high blood sugars are the worst for you in the long term, lows present the most risk in the short term. I didn’t want to be learning how to feed the baby and suddenly experience a severe drop.
So I carried a big package of fruit-flavored candy inside our diaper bag. I wanted a lot of quick and easy carbs close at hand. Usually, I would advise folks to use glucose tablets in a situation like this. But given glucose tablets’ expense, and the fact that I had other things on my mind, the candy worked just fine.
Once we got back home and survived the first month or two, life calmed down. We have our son to thank for that, actually. He’s been a remarkably calm and accommodating baby (especially useful when one of us needs to sleep in a bit).
That being said, settled down is relative. Raising an infant is an experience for both the child, who is being exposed to an astonishing, wide-open world for the first time, and the parent, who has probably never had to focus on another person with such intensity for such a long period of time.
Diabetes can easily make us self-centered. After all, we ultimately must take care of ourselves, which means we have to pay attention to our bodies and how we treat them. Does that mean we can get a bit solipsistic? Absolutely. We define success by how well we’ve managed our own disease and life. That’s how our caregivers and doctors define it, too. But that’s not how I definite success anymore.
Diabetes is in some ways a wonderful preparation for an infant. You have to keep a schedule. You have to regularly measure out important fluids (formula and insulin). And while making sure everything works day-to-day, you have to keep a sense of perspective, too.
A few months after our son’s birth, I turned back to my diabetes. It was time to face the music, pay the toll, and get down to business. It was time to think of myself for a few moments. What I saw wasn’t pretty, but my control wasn’t a disaster, either.
My A1C had gone up. It was still in line with doctors’ recommendations, but I knew the number wasn’t the best I could do. I had also gained several pounds since the beginning of the year, and this irked me the most of all.
For some time, I didn’t do much about these things. I was more aware, perhaps, but the baby came first. The baby always comes first.
I started and stopped. I bought some healthy food. Then I didn’t eat it. Then I ate some of it. Rinse and repeat this cycle for a month, and you’ll have my life. All the while, my blood sugar averages hovered resolutely in “mediocre” territory.
Finally, last month, the changes began to stick. No more drive-through meals (a real temptation when cooking at home can be so easily interrupted). No more snacks from vending machines. No more grocery store purchases to make me feel guilty the next day.
Then I realized that I wasn’t starting something new. No, I was just picking up where I left off before the birth of our son. Only now, I had some company on the voyage.