Diabetes and Adoption

There is an old schoolyard chant that starts out with an image of two people “sitting in a tree” and “K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” This is followed by, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” The natural progression of life is to find one’s “soul mate,” tie the knot, and then have children.  

My husband and I always planned on having children.  When dating, we often babysat for our older friends’ kids so they could have an occasional child-free evening. Together we volunteered to work in our church’s nursery. While getting my undergraduate degree, I paid the tuition bills by working at a day care.  Changing diapers or wiping off dirty faces was nothing new to us.

The year I married my husband and also began graduate school was quite stressful. I was teaching a freshman writing class while balancing my own coursework. When I fell ill that Thanksgiving with a stomach virus, I forced myself to keep working, knowing that a stack of ungraded essays and several hundred pages of reading assignments were waiting for me. 

As my education and teaching career progressed, my physical wellness declined. I frequented the doctor every two weeks with chronic sinus infections. I was squirting drops into my eyes constantly. I visited the restroom every twenty minutes, and I couldn’t quench my thirst. My weight dropped weekly, though I was consuming well over five thousand calories a day. Despite seeing five different doctors, I was left without answers.

A year and a half after that Thanksgiving, my husband took me to the ER because I couldn’t breathe. The verdict was diabetic ketoacidosis as a result of undiagnosed type 1 diabetes. My A1c at the time was 16.9, and my blood sugar was 700.

I spent five lonely, depressing days in the hospital. Brochures with titles like “Sick Days” and “Taking Insulin” were placed at my bedside. I could only stare at the glossy covers, shocked by the fact that I would forever be imprisoned by a disease I did not ask for and did not deserve.

My first diabetes nurse educator was a patient, gentle, and knowledgeable woman named Sonie who visited me on my third day in the hospital. She settled into a green vinyl chair, opened a folder, and began. I barely listened to her words, sitting cross-legged on the bed with tears streaming down my face. I must have looked terrible-yellow skin, unwashed, brittle hair, my frame shriveled to less than a size zero.

Despite my determination to hate every single person who had anything to do with my new disease, I’ll never forget when Sonie softly said to me, “You can still have babies.” 

A year after my diagnosis, my husband and I started talking about the possibility of starting our family. I shared with him my desire to consider adoption. I had spent time researching the potential pregnancy complications that a woman with diabetes faces, a distressing list that includes high blood pressure, kidney problems, yeast and bladder infections, premature labor, miscarriages, and stillbirth. Our child could be born with birth defects of the heart, spine, or brain, respiratory distress, neonatal hypoglycemia, jaundice, and more. I learned that I had a three to five percent chance of passing the disease on to our child.  

Some professionals argue that women with diabetes can have healthy babies, but there is, of course, a catch and it’s a big one. The mother needs to keep her blood sugars under tight control, meaning between 70 and 140, at all times. 

It wasn’t just the list of complications that made me seriously consider adoption. I knew that pregnancy and childbirth meant that I might have to quit my job and make managing my diabetes my life’s sole purpose. I knew that my pregnancy would be high risk from the very beginning and that the calendar for the next nine months would consist of numerous medical appointments. I also knew, deep down, that I did not want to risk my health and the health of my child, all for the sake of having “my own” offspring.  When I thought about my daily struggles and how difficult they are, I could not imagine worrying all the time that the baby would be okay and perhaps subjecting my child to the ups and downs of my disease. 

The choice for me to open my heart to adoption came fairly naturally, and I accepted adoption as a way to build our family early on.  But, being only one half of a couple, I had to see how my husband felt.  A year after my diagnosis, my husband agreed to learn more about adoption, and we headed to an informational meeting held by a local adoption agency. A month later we started our home study process, a journey consisting of paperwork, fingerprinting, home inspections, interviews, and writing checks. Our home study was completed in August of 2007, and we have been waiting for our child since then. 

Choosing to adopt a child is not as easy or as glamorous as Hollywood portrays. One must be ready to face the constant questions, ranging from “Don’t you want your own?” to “Why would someone give up her baby?” to “How much does adoption cost?” I worry that no expectant mother will choose us to parent her baby because of my disease. I daily ponder how I will add “mother” (and all that entails) to my list of roles: wife, teacher, and manager of a chronic disease. 

Unlike a pregnancy, the adoption journey has no due date. Just as with diabetes, there are no guarantees that this adoption journey will turn out the way we wish. Regardless of the emotional risks, we are happy to be on the path to our baby. While we wait for our child, I keep taking my diabetes day-by-day, trying to be healthy and strong, knowing that some day we will go from being a family of two to a family of three, happily pushing around our longed-for baby “in a baby carriage,” just like in the schoolyard chant.

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