That extra degree of difficulty

Eleven years ago on Mother’s Day, my friend Kerry started something on her socials. Kerry’s mum sadly died when Kerry was just six years old. She doesn’t have a single clear photo of the two of them together. And so, Kerry has urged her mum friends to make sure they take a photo with their kids – a really simple and special way to make sure that memories are recorded. (You can search for #KTPhotoForMum to see some lovely shared posts.)

We’re not short of photos in our household – who is in the age of smart phones? – but I especially love the album that I have of Mother’s Day photos of me and our girl. Seeing her on this day for the last eleven years brings a special feeling of joy.

But there’s another feeling in there that I want to recognise, and that’s how proud I am. Of course I’m proud of her – she’s a marvel (excuse my bias). But I’m talking about hoe I feel about myself as a mother living with diabetes. Because pregnancy and parenting with diabetes is not an easy gig.

I struggle with this sometimes. I don’t want to be defined by being someone’s mum. I achieved a lot before I became a mother and have done plenty in the last (almost) 20 years that I am so very proud of. There’s travel and a career, and media work, lots of published writing and a whole lot of standing on stages talking diabetes advocacy. These are usually the things that I point to when thinking about my achievements. For some reason, I’ve felt it’s diminishing to point to motherhood as an achievement.

But the truth is, that motherhood with diabetes is an achievement and it is defining in some ways. Conceiving, growing a baby, bringing her into this world, and getting her to adulthood is something that carries a huge sense of pride. Because, damn, diabetes made that hard. Every stage of it.

I get it: pregnancy is natural and it’s been happening forever and there are bazillions of people who have done it for a bazillion years, but there is absolutely nothing natural about taking on the role of a human organ. Seriously! It’s hard at the best of times. Being pregnant adds a degree of difficulty that is incomprehensible until you’re in the midst of it. Even today with tools that are far more sophisticated than the basic pump that saw me through my pregnancy, it’s still not easy. (And I utterly recognise how lucky I was at the time having a pump. The women sitting next to me at the Women’s Hospital diabetes & pregnancy clinic on Wednesday mornings who weren’t using a pump were real magicians.)

At that time I was just so in the weeds of dealing with all that came with a diabetes-complicated pregnancy that I never thought what an incredible job I was doing just getting through it. After all when was I meant to cheer myself for the remarkable effort? Was it before or after the 20+ finger prick checks I was doing each day? (CGM wasn’t around then.) Or alongside the complex calculations that I needed to complete before pre-bolusing the right amount of insulin at the exact right time? It certainly wouldn’t have been during the thirty percent of the day I was below target because in those moments, I was too busy worrying about starving my brain (and baby) of oxygen.

And then there was no time after she came along, because babies are all encompassing and take up every moment of the day. And diabetes can also be all encompassing and is incredibly demanding.

I had no time to be a cheerleader for myself because every single part of me was focused on making sure my baby’s elbows were growing properly, and stressing about how any out of range glucose level was harming her growing organs. Any spare brain bandwidth was taken up feeling guilty because I never felt I was doing enough. I felt that I was probably already failing my child. Even though her elbows are beautiful (and her organs seem fine), I still carry that guilt. Almost twenty years later.

These days, as more people with diabetes share their pregnancy and parenting stories, I DO cheer. Every time I hear about chaotic first trimester hypos, and managing glucose levels around second trimester cravings, and third trimester insulin-resistance frustrations, I know they deserve a loud ‘Hurrah!’ and so I cheer. Because look at these amazing people! Look at what they are doing – the work, the emotional rollercoaster, the determined effort they are putting in to keep themselves and their baby safe! Diabetes never plays nice, and for so many, pregnancy is the most difficult time in someone’s diabetes life.

Yesterday morning, I looked at our daughter as we had our Mother’s Day breakfast in the sunshine. Having her is the hardest thing I have ever done – the hardest, the most emotionally challenging, the scariest – but also the absolute best and I am so very proud that I did.

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Kati who I am cheering for every day!

She doesn’t look like this anymore!


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