Type 1 — My Fourth Child


Three little bosses manage my life. Truman was born in September 2009. He’s 6 now and is obsessed with werewolves and Halloween, whether it’s October or April. He has a stellar imagination that compels him to tell his classmates that his house is full of Home Alone-type kid traps. Caroline was born in April 2012 and she is bright. I don’t mean bright in the “smart” sense of the word. Maybe she is, but she’s three so we’ll find out later. I mean bright in that she shines. She wakes up vibrant in the morning, owns incredible dance moves, smiles big and laughs loud. She’s bright. Colette, our baby, was born in May 2015. She is the kind of baby who has helped us understand why people love babies. Truman and Caroline were challenging infants. Colette sleeps, giggles, cuddles, is patient, and smiles at anyone and everyone. She’s a dreamboat.

“But wait,” my husband, Mike, reminds me, “you have a fourth child.” Ah yes, my fourth. My fourth was unplanned and born in July 2012, a mere three months after Caroline. This child is my sweetest. She is so sweet my blood might call her saccharine. We probably should have a different name for her by now, but we just call her Type 1.

I am blessed that I have Type 1 and my three children do not. I pray daily that this never changes. I am amazed by the superhero parents who have Type 1 children and I admire their stamina, courage, determination and love for their “littles.” I wish for these parents and their children that Type 1 had stayed away. Far away.

shannon sharkey_3

While I do not have a diabetic child, we refer to my diabetes as our “kid” because it strikes us how the demands of Type 1 resemble those of an annoying, impatient, unreasonable and “hangry” child. Let me explain. Many days after Kindergarten pick-up, Truman sits down to complete some school work, asking me how to spell “ride.” Colette eagerly lets me know she needs a bottle. Caroline, perfecting her classic, middle-child, attention-grabbing ways, wants milk. And some bacon. And her pajamas. Oh, and her legs don’t work and she can’t walk. As she falls to the floor reeling from the weight of that realization, child number four, working in cahoots with my insulin pump, starts beeping at me. “METER BG NOW.”

Time to triage. I clear the pump alarm and decide to ignore it, I have a screaming baby in my arms and you try taking your blood sugar with one hand. I can, however, make a bottle with one hand and soon Colette is gulping away. Luckily Truman is not really interested in how you spell the word “ride,” so he’s moved on to playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Caroline’s legs still don’t work so she demands I go upstairs to get her pajamas. It’s noon. She doesn’t care. Fine. Up the stairs I go and, “beep, beep, beep…METER BG NOW.”

“YOU meter BG now!” I say to no one. I take the bottle out of Colette’s mouth, freeing a hand to clear the pump alarm, and she’s screaming again. Okay. I grab the pajamas, go down the stairs and throw them at Caroline. Yes, I threw them. At her. I walk into the kitchen to grab my meter. Truman follows and requests a snack and hot chocolate. I find the courage to sit Colette down long enough to take my blood sugar. Screaming baby, beeping microwave, naked Caroline, finger pricked, blood drawn, and  5, 4, 3, 2, 1…167. “Beep, beep, beep,” judges the fourth child, “how dare you venture out of range.” I do a correction bolus, mix the hot chocolate, sweep Colette up, put the bottle back in her mouth, and finally sit down. Then nightie-clad Caroline comes skipping happily into the kitchen, her legs miraculously restored of their strength, and says, “Mommy, you almost forgot my milk.” For. The. Love. Of. God.

Shannon Sharkey_4

Diabetes and children both make me want to drink. Especially on Fridays. After a week’s competition between how many times my kids can say the word “mommy,” and how many times my sensor chimes in with its two cents, by Friday, bring on the bolus and the vino. Kids and Type 1 also dislike what I make for dinner. Colette gags on Thanksgiving pureed into a plastic container (really, who can blame her), Truman and Caroline complain that theirs is too “spicy,” while diabetes regrets hers is too “carb-y.”

Diabetes wakes you up in the middle of the night. Ironically, Colette started sleeping through the night at 6 months, simultaneous with my getting an insulin pump and sensor. So while Colette is dozing away, the pump is beeping at all hours of the night warning of low blood sugar. Sometimes I am low and sometimes I’m not. But, I am awake. The baby is asleep and I’m awake. Well played, universe.

I put diabetes in timeout and quite frankly it often deserves a spanking. Why, oh why, am I hanging out in the 200s if I ate eggs for breakfast? Type 1 is confusing. Just like trying every trick in the book to unsuccessfully stop a baby’s crying, I can carefully follow every diabetic protocol and still stare at my meter dumbfounded. Children and diabetes also require an endless amount of supplies. Besides diapers, wipes, pacifiers, and a change of clothes for Colette, my fourth child has me stuffing my meter, insulin pens, extra needles, and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory into my diaper bag. The Factory is useful to treat pesky lows and to bribe pesky kids.

On occasion children’s needs cause missed running workouts. It could be a homework assignment, a sick child, or just a runaway day. Or maybe my blood sugar is too high or too low, and the wait for it to regulate means my window to run has expired. Kids expose vanity, too. Bikini season is not far off and I’m not so comfortable with the extra skin (literally) hanging out around my midsection. But the truth is that pool goers probably won’t notice the extra skin as much as they’ll notice the two medical devices attached to my body. Maybe I’ll tell them I’m from the future. Or better yet … the 80s. I remember thinking my dad’s pager was cool.



One glaring way that diabetes is not like my kids is that I wanted Truman, Caroline and Colette. I did not want Type 1 diabetes, but I am thankful for the new perspective it’s provided. I’m blessed I was diagnosed in 2012 and not 1912. I am thankful for the numerous medical advancements already achieved and the incredible projects in the works. I am lucky my pancreas held on until I was 31 and that my children don’t have it. I am thankful for bodies that work. Having Type 1 highlights the tight system our bodies run, especially the pancreas-liver dream team that achieves the type of consistent blood sugars I can only envy.

I’m especially grateful for the empathy diabetes has taught my family. Both my husband and son have recognized low blood sugar in others and have known what to do. Mike meant it when he said “in sickness and in health,” helping me treat lows, calming me through highs, and telling me if a dessert is worth a bolus or not. Truman and Caroline double-check that I have a sugar source before I run and they play quietly when I need to change a pump site. Colette is getting an early dose of patience from the times she’s waited on her mommy to manage this disease. Most recently, Truman told me his theories on how to cure Type 1. I told him if he wanted to be a doctor someday, he could help find that cure. He politely passed, reminding me that when he grows up, he’s going to join a police SWAT.

Lastly, we refer to Type 1 as our fourth child because she was “born” alongside the others. Over the course of 5 ½ years, we had three kids and one diagnosis, all arriving with similar requirements. This diagnosis, fourth kid, pain-in-the-neck, or whatever you call it, is ours. She is a part of our family. Therefore, we will nurture her, watch her closely, we will not spoil this child with treats; we will grow with her, learn from her, and I will strive to have a healthy relationship with her the rest of my life. My children can learn something, too. I hope they see that a little adversity never hurt anyone, that a little empathy goes a long way, and a little malfunctioning organ called a pancreas was no match for their mommy. I came out on top. After all, what can a pancreas do for me that’s better than a baby who made me love babies, a little boy who calls me “mom-wolf,” and a daughter who wakes with the sun, shining like it, and requesting bacon?

Read more stories from the Type 1 community.

WRITTEN BY Shannon Sharkey, POSTED 02/27/16, UPDATED 12/09/17

Shannon Sharkey lives in Broomfield, Colorado, with her husband, Mike, and their three children. She was diagnosed with Type 1 in July, 2012. When her little people give her a respite from mothering, she enjoys history, reading and running. This May, she will run the Colfax Half Marathon for Team JDRF.