Pregnancy with Type 1 Diabetes During a Pandemic
Editor’s Note: While often deeply misunderstood, people living with type 1 diabetes can absolutely have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies! While it does take careful attention to healthy blood sugar levels and close support from aligned healthcare professionals, a healthy pregnancy is completely possible. You can learn more and read stories from other people who have been pregnant while living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) here. Please also note that the age at which you can have a healthy pregnancy is very dependent on your individual health—work with a healthcare provider you trust to determine what is best for you.
The weight of my diabetes and mortality started to set in when I was around twenty-five and had gone in to see a new gynecologist. While collecting my medical history he asked if I planned to have children. I responded “Yes, Eventually. When I’m a bit more settled.”
He replied, “Well you need to make sure you have your child by thirty years old at the latest, otherwise it will be almost impossible to have a healthy pregnancy. It’s already going to be complicated as it is…”
I had just started a new job and was still living at home. My life was just starting and barely together, yet I had to start planning for a child in the very near future or risk losing the opportunity to ever do it.
Pregnancy and motherhood became something that seemed less like a blessing and more like a curse. It didn’t help that the only representation of type 1 diabetes pregnancy I could refer to was Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias. Spoiler Alert… she dies.
For the next six years the fear of pregnancy and my ticking deadline haunted me. That fear and anxiety reached its peak in the Fall of 2017 when I realized I needed to make overall life changes.
While I wasn’t ready for a baby at that time, I knew I wanted to be healthy and physically in shape for pregnancy for when the time came. In order to overcome my battles with diabetes and overall health, I sought out therapy to help me handle my diabulimia, depression and anxiety. Nothing happened overnight, but over the course of the next two years my successes slowly outnumbered my setbacks.
When you plan, God laughs
By January of 2020, I had had my third appointment with my new endocrinologist; after 18 months of not knowing my HbA1c, I found out that it was 7! It was the lowest it had been in over a decade, and I still wasn’t putting in all my effort.
I felt re-inspired by my latest bloodwork and realized the incredible potential to get my blood sugars under control and keep my body healthy for all future life plans. At the rate I was going, by the time I would have had my wedding in summer 2021, my body would be ready for a baby not long after.
To my surprise, a few weeks after that appointment I found out that I was pregnant! It was unplanned and unexpected. I was obviously thrilled, but it was a double edged sword: Would the baby survive a diabetic pregnancy? Would I survive a pregnancy? Despite getting back good blood work, my diet was bad and I checked my blood sugar levels inconsistently at best.
It’s traumatizing being a person with type 1 diabetes and discovering you’re unexpectedly pregnant, because you’re left to work through years of internalized doubt and anger towards your diabetes.
If our bodies can barely handle sugar, can it really handle creating and delivering a baby? Because again… it didn’t work out so well for Julia in Steel Magnolias.
Additionally, doctors can be discouraging and patronizing if your diabetes isn’t well-controlled. After becoming pregnant, I met many women with type 1 diabetes whose doctors belittled, or instilled fear into them by claiming that their baby would die if the mother made even the slightest error in her control.
A moment that is usually exciting for most women, is one of immense fear for women with diabetes.
I only told close family and friends about the pregnancy because my biggest fear was allowing myself to feel happy about a pregnancy, and announce it to the world (OK, announce it to social media) only to lose the pregnancy due to my diabetes.
Even if it wasn’t due to diabetes, I feared people would assume that my diabetes caused it regardless. The first three months of pregnancy you worry that you’ll miscarry, and then the remainder of the pregnancy you place diamond-making pressure on yourself for fear that any diabetic mishap will harm the baby.
Despite the fears and anxiety however, I remained positive, practiced what I learned in therapy, ate healthily and exercised almost daily. I joined an online community of fellow women with type 1 diabetes experiencing pregnancy. This community was my most helpful resource.
Community and a support system is vital during any pregnancy, let alone a T1D pregnancy, let alone a T1D pregnancy amidst a pandemic! I was able to see I wasn’t alone in this experience and interact with other women who had similar fears and anxieties and to relate to. In these communities, you can also seek advice from other women who already experienced pregnancy. You’d be surprised at how many diabetic behaviors you thought to be odd or unique to you, are actually pretty common!
In early fall of 2020 I gave birth to my beautiful sugar baby, Noa (No-ah) at the ripe old age of 31. My induction, labor and birth lasted a total of 28 hours and she was born in virtual perfect health. She had a few blood sugar issues the first day, but she stabilized on day two, and we were both able to go home on day three.
Nine months of T1D pregnancy taught me plenty about living with this disease. The most important of them being:
- Our bodies are so amazing! Yes we have diabetes, but we and our bodies are resilient, smart and strong.
- No matter where you are in your type 1 diabetic journey, if you put in the work and have determination, a healthy pregnancy is possible. The online community I am a part of is filled with women with so many stories of adversity be it regarding their diabetes, physical health, or mental health. The common theme is that we bounce back despite the obstacles.
My advice to all T1D women who are pregnant or trying to conceive is this: do not doubt yourself and do not doubt your body. Feed it with love and admiration because it is capable of performing beyond our expectations.