I got married in July of the year I turned 24. At Thanksgiving of that very same year members of my family were already asking about when my new husband and I were going to start having kids. My answers, at first, were “I don’t know” and “when we’re ready.” But the same question kept occurring at every family occasion and I began to get annoyed. And then one day I was so fed up that I’d had enough and angrily answered, “Never! I hate kids!” That did the trick and I didn’t get that question again for a LONG time.
The truth is… I love kids. I think they’re great. They are unabashedly honest and amazingly sweet (except when they’re not) and just plain funny. But, when you have Type 1 diabetes, having kids is an entirely different ballgame. I know that some healthy women have a hard time with their pregnancies, but diabetes never makes for a level playing field. Before you’re even out of the gate, the doctors want you to have perfect control of your blood sugar levels. Do you know how HARD that is? Have you ever known anyone who has had perfect control? (Yeah, me neither.) But if you don’t maintain somewhere between good and perfect control of your blood sugars before and during pregnancy, you could introduce a host of problems for yourself or your unborn child. Despite the challenges, many women with diabetes have healthy pregnancies and babies each year with absolutely no problems.
Now I’ve been married for more than ten years and we still haven’t had any children. It’s not that we haven’t talked about it. My Type 1 diabetes still holds me back from taking that plunge. Initially, I thought about all the things that could go wrong with the pregnancy itself or the possible birth defects. And that seemed like such a lame excuse because I’ve always had pretty decent control of my blood sugars. While I do have some difficulties sometimes, I don’t seem to have nearly the same trials as other folks with Type 1 that I’ve met. You see… the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t the thought of a difficult pregnancy or the possibility of birth defects that worried me. Nope. It was diabetes itself.
By that I mean… the question of diabetes. What if I passed on diabetes to my child? The thing is that diabetes occurs in both my maternal and my paternal family medical histories. What’s more is that my husband also has diabetes in his family medical history. As someone who has a couple of degrees in science, those odds don’t seem so good for any child that we might conceive. And that is the thing that scares me the most about the possibility of having children.
I have been a child with diabetes. I don’t see any reason to sugar-coat it. It kinda sucks. No. That’s not exactly true. It really, REALLY sucks. And I don’t want that life for any child. Most especially, not my own child. I once expressed this sentiment to a good friend and she immediately said, “doesn’t that make you the perfect parent for a child with diabetes? You know… because you would understand what they would go through.” It’s a good argument. I’ll give her that. But, she’s not had the experiences I’ve had as a someone growing up with diabetes. Here’s a few:
Attending my own birthday party as a child and watching other kids eat a birthday cake for me that I couldn’t eat while not quite fully understanding why. (Splenda didn’t exist then. And birthday parties are kind of a big deal when you’re ten years old.)
Having people stare at me with looks of obvious disgust as I try to check my blood sugar or take a shot of insulin in public… I once had a coworker at one of my very first jobs express that disgust out loud by declaring, “if I saw someone doing that at a restaurant, I’d complain to the manager and get them kicked out! You should go to the restroom!” (As if a public restroom is a great place to stick needles into your body. Sigh.)
Waking up in the middle of the night dazed and confused because my blood sugar is low and having to be picked up off of the kitchen floor because I didn’t get things treated fast enough.
Being constantly told that if I don’t take care of myself, I will a) go blind, b) lose a limb, c) never have children, or d) die early at a young age. Or being constantly told that my diabetes makes me have a higher risk for practically every other health issue ever.
Completely bombing an exam or a job interview because my blood sugar was too low and that impairs my cognitive functions.
These are only a sampling of things that have colored my view of living with diabetes. It’s much better than it used to be because of scientific advancements with insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring. But the fact remains that living with diabetes is so incredibly difficult. There’s a real possibility every day that if I screw up my treatment, I could accidentally cause my own death. There’s a real possibility that getting really sick (like getting food poisoning or the flu) could cause me to get DKA and die. It’s really no wonder that the emotional baggage that comes diabetes has caused a new mental illness called “diabetes distress.” And how could I possibly lay that burden on my child?
I still haven’t been able to get past this fear. And maybe I never will. But this realization has definitely helped me have a different view of the struggles many women face when considering becoming a mother. And maybe… just maybe… by speaking out, I can spare someone else the pain of being repeatedly asked when they will have kids. You never know what obstacles they are facing. And it really isn’t any of your business anyway. So just stop asking, m’kay.
(For those interested in learning more about pregnancy with diabetes, a good friend, also living with Type 1, recommended Balancing Pregnancy with Pre-existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby by Cheryl Alkon and I wholeheartedly second that recommendation. )