Parenting with Diabetes

Rachel and her husband adopted a beautiful baby girl in November of 2008. Their daughter is now seven months old. You can read Rachel’s article about diabetes and adoption here.

Parenthood has been said to be the hardest, yet best, experience one can have.  When I became a mother seven months ago, my biggest fears didn’t involve keeping the nursery at the perfect temperature or choosing the most nutritious formula.  I wasn’t spending hours researching SIDS or interviewing pediatricians. My greatest anxiety about parenthood stemmed from the fear of losing control of my diabetes.

I have had type I diabetes for three years. After some ups, some downs, and a lot of humble moments, I have a decent grip on what this disease means and what I have to do to stay in control. But what would happen when my easy, comfortable little world suddenly didn’t revolve around me and my routine? Would my A1c skyrocket?  Would I stop working out? Would my drive to whip up homemade, healthy meals be replaced with Chinese take-out?

As I prepared for the arrival of my child, these questions loomed over me.  After all, diabetes doesn’t have a “Pause” button. As it turned out, however, I found that diabetes control and being a good parent are simultaneously possible. Here’s what I learned:

Sleep is a priority
When my beautiful daughter was first placed in my arms, I was blissfully happy and spent the next several days thriving on adrenaline.  That is, until she was with us alone, overnight, forever.  Every two hours she would wake, hysterical and ready to eat.  Each feeding took thirty minutes, and it only took a few nights for major fatigue to set in. Studies show that when people don’t get enough sleep, they often reach for food. In my case, of course, this can lead to poor blood sugar control as well as weight gain. To resolve the issue, my husband and I agreed to trade off feedings so that each of us could  sleep for a longer stretch.  The first few months were challenging, but not debilitating.

Diabetes management shouldn’t take a back burner just because your bundle of joy arrives
I can testify that “mommy brain” is real. I became so consumed with making sure that my child was changed, fed, warm, and comfortable that I found myself pushing buttons on my insulin pump without much care or concentration.  Additionally, I was testing less often than usual and counting carbohydrates haphazardly.  This led to some scary lows and dangerous highs, sometimes both within the same day. Danielle Londrigan is a twenty-nine-year-old mother of four who has had type 1 diabetes for twenty-five years.  She suggests that parents with diabetes should “try to eat right to prevent problems” and “get on a schedule as soon as possible,” which will not only help the parent’s diabetes management, but also benefit the child.

Your safety must come first in order to protect your child
In the stress and rush of having a new baby, tackling multiple doctor appointments, hosting visitors, working, and managing your home, it’s easy to forget that you must take care of yourself before you can truly care well for your child. One day as I was getting ready to leave the gym with my baby in the backseat, my continuous glucose monitor alarmed.  I checked my blood sugar to find that it was 55 and immediately felt annoyed that my errands would be delayed.  Nevertheless, I popped several glucotabs in my mouth, waited fifteen minutes, and tested again before driving.  The pre-mommy me might have been less careful and less patient, but the safety of myself and my daughter overrides my need to accomplish my tasks quickly.

Decide now that it’s OK to have down days.
Some days my blood sugars just won’t cooperate. I leave my daughter in her pajamas, I watch a movie while she naps, and we simply take it easy.  I recognize what my body needs and yield to that in order to have a better tomorrow. Londrigan says that on her down days, she skips housework or certain projects she had planned, making her health and her kids’ needs the top priority.

Know when to say no thanks
After my husband and I brought our daughter home, many of our friends and family wanted to immediately visit.  However, I was physically and mentally exhausted. We decided that our time together with our child and my health were the number one priorities. After we had time to settle, we opened up our home to one or two visitors a day. If I was having a rough day or the baby was fussy, we simply said, “No, thanks.”

Share the responsibility
Remember, it’s equally important to know when to say yes. Those of us with diabetes are used to being self-reliant by checking our blood sugars, counting carbohydrates, and measuring medications. But as you adjust to a return to work or to life as a stay-at-home parent, you will encounter needs that you don’t have the time, money, or energy to meet on your own.  It’s true that “it takes a village” to rear a child. If someone offers to bring you dinner, say yes.  If someone offers a free afternoon of babysitting so that you can run errands or take a nap, go for it. My husband and I came up with a flexible daily schedule to make sure that we both get a break by sharing the responsibility of caring for our daughter.  Furthermore, we each get time to bond with our daughter while taking turns feeding, bathing, and rocking her.

A little preparation goes a long way
If you have the opportunity, freeze meals in advance.  After arriving home from our one-week stay in the state where we adopted our daughter, we were disgusted by the thought of more restaurant food.  Thankfully, I had some turkey soup in the freezer.  Within a few minutes of arriving home, our daughter was sound asleep in her crib and we were enjoying a hot, healthy meal together. Sitting together at the table instead of in front of the television with a carton of take-out helped us relax and spend quality time reflecting on the blessing of our daughter.  Soups, pasta dishes, and casseroles all freeze well. Be sure to label each container with the name of the recipe, the number of servings, and the carb count.

Keep working out: If you haven’t started, now is a good time
Exercise relieves stress and anxiety, two emotions that come with parenthood and diabetes.  Anticipating the long, winter months ahead, I purchased an elliptical to put in our basement.  While my daughter is napping, I take the baby monitor downstairs with me and get in thirty minutes.  As spring approaches, I take my daughter for walks outside. Another possibility is to take advantage of your gym’s free or low-cost childcare. 

Kirk Swenson, 29, has had type I diabetes for thirteen years and is a new father to nine-month-old Clare.  Swenson shares that he always carries a sports drink and granola bar with him when he takes his daughter for walks, just in case he experiences hypoglycemia.  Being prepared for possible highs or lows can give you peace of mind about venturing out with your little one

Final thoughts
I believe that my daughter has inspired me to better manage my disease.  After all, I want have the strength, energy, and ability to experience life with my child.  I desire to be a good example by showing her that healthy nutrition and exercise are important for everyone, not just for people with diabetes. Swenson said, “My family and my health are the two most important things in my life. I know that if I neglect my diabetes, I will not be around to enjoy my family.” 

With any big event or change in your life, diabetes will be a factor, a very important factor.  With planning and determination, however, you can bask in the joy of your new child while maintaining control of your disease.

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