Gestational Diabetes: the canary in the coal mine
August 29, 2018
As I participated in the two-day Bridging the Chasm between Pregnancy and Women’s Health Over the Life Course conference at Boston University in July, I recalled my experiences with pregnancy and childbirth 20 years earlier. My two pregnancies were relatively uneventful and resulted in the birth of healthy children—despite a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.
Throughout my pregnancies I received quality care that included regular testing of my blood glucose levels and working with a dietician to modify my diet. Admittedly, I grew tired of boiled chicken and green salad for lunch. But everything worked out in the end.
As the other women in the room shared their pregnancy experiences, I couldn’t help but feel shocked. They shared experiences filled with trauma and complications, some of them life-threatening. This, as they went through one of the most fundamental events in life—childbirth.
These women are well-educated and informed. Presumably, they had access to good healthcare. And still they experienced gaps in care that put the health of them and their children in danger.
During my pregnancies, I remember gestational diabetes being discussed as a danger to the baby. But I don’t remember discussing the risks that would persist for me, the mother.
I remember gestational diabetes being a focus during my pregnancies. But there was only passing mention about needing to test for type 2 diabetes beyond postpartum follow ups.
Thankfully, after childbirth I had consistency in my healthcare and insurance. My medical records from my pregnancies followed me back to my primary care physician. My primary care physician knew my family history of diabetes and understood the need for regular testing.
The healthcare system I belonged to automatically scheduled follow-ups visits and labs, including annual screenings for type 2 diabetes. This meant that I received the recommended follow-up care without having to ask for it or think about it. All I had to do was respond to the postcard reminders I received in the mail.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I learned that for many, healthcare after gestational diabetes is spotty at best.
Looking back I see gestational diabetes as a canary in the coalmine that is a woman’s health, and not just for reproductive health.
The annual medical checkups that should happen throughout life are critically important for more than detecting the development of type 2 diabetes. Standard annual checkups should look for signs of other chronic illnesses and ailments including heart disease, cancer, and mental health disorders.
Consistent health care for women beyond childbirth supports healthful habits and practices. It reinforces the importance of taking care of ourselves as we take care of those around us. Being well-informed healthcare consumers puts women in a better position to demand and receive the care that will lead to better health outcomes.
The effects of gestational diabetes don’t end at childbirth. Every mother who experiences gestational diabetes needs to know this. Every mother deserves to get follow-up care so that they can enjoy long, healthy lives with their families.
Corinna Cornejo is a Latina, diabetes patient advocate, and health content writer. Diagnosed in 2009, Corinna blogs about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while living with type 2 diabetes at Type2Musings.com. You can also find her thoughts and musings on Twitter @Type2Musings.