I was diagnosed as type I in 1980. My clearest memory of my two week hospital stay was when the doctor looked me squarely in the eye and told me, “You have a disease. You will still live, but you won’t be able to have children, ever.” I was only 7, so that piece of information did not faze me. But, as my late twenties rolled in and I heard my doctors plea to consider having a child at a “younger age” I imagined my biological clock pounding in my head vs. the pleasant tic-toking that I imagined my non-diabetic peers experiencing.
So, I threw myself into my pregnancy as only a desperate diabetic could. I tested like mad and focused on the outcome. I had a 5.0 A1C and tried to ignore the unpleasantries of swollen legs, unexpected severe lows, constant nausea, daily set changes/frequent blood vessels hit, and numerous doctor appointments. After those turbulent nine months I was rewarded with a healthy and beautiful daughter. When I looked into her eyes I knew that every finger prick and invasive test was well worth it. But, I also knew that psychologically and physically I would not be able to go through that turmoil again.
Because I am so adamant about not letting myself be a victim to my diabetes, I blunted the reality that I had rushed into a marriage and parenthood for fear that it would be “too late”. If I was honest with myself, I would have admitted that I knew that I wasn’t in a relationship with any lasting power. I would have understood that the unspoken rule in my marriage was “don’t have any needs” and, because I was terrified of being a burden to others due to poor experiences as a diabetic child with my parents, I also did not make many requests. The marriage would have continued if I continued to be self-sufficient but I realized that I deserved to be with somebody who would not yell at me if I requested help with a low blood sugar. But mostly, my daughter deserved to know a healthier model of marriage. So, I made the difficult decision to divorce when my daughter was 2.
Initially, I did not worry about the diabetes obstructing single parenting as I felt alone to begin with. But, that changed when I was playing with my daughter one afternoon and a severe low blood sugar came out of the blue. I panicked! I performed my deep breathing and had to ask her, at the age of 4, to go into my purse and grab my sugar tabs. She did without hesitation. But, this experience made me realize that I had to prepare my daughter for an emergency. I then, educated her to diabetes and the symptoms of a high or low. I put up a 911 sign and taught her how to dial out if needed.
I would be lying if I did not say that I carry around a twinge of anxiety with me on a regular basis. I worry that if something happens to me, who will take care of her? I will say that I have spoken with other single parents who experience similar fears and worries. Sometimes, I think these are common thoughts of aging parents, in general. But, I will again, say the volume of my thoughts and worries is higher than for others.
Finally, I would say that when somebody becomes a parent that he/she instinctively places their needs second to their children’s’ and what ensues is a long-standing conflict of whose needs get met first. Sometimes, I have to quiet my instinct and take care of my diabetic tasks first. I have gotten better at this as my daughter ages and she understands diabetes. But, in the beginning it was tough. I was going long periods of time without testing or eating a healthy meal, etc. Today, I have to constantly remind myself that a happy and healthy parent makes a happy and healthy child. I will not be any good to my daughter if I am ill or suffering the consequences of diabetes. This has prompted me to step up my self-care and remain a healthy diabetic for both of us!
I asked my daughter what she thought about my diabetes and here is her answer:
“When I was little I wanted an insulin pump too, but then I realized that I did not want to have diabetes like mommy. I also used to take her sugar tabs because I did not know they were for when she is sick. I like that my mommy helps other people with their diabetes. She probably tells their kids not to steal their sugar tabs because that’s important.” – Francesca, age 7
By Catherine Blake