I'm finally opening up about my struggle with Gestational Diabetes, also known as Pregnancy Diabetes. I'll be discussing what it is, how to cope with it, and about my full experience from diagnosis to birth.
My struggle with Gestational Diabetes aka Pregnancy Diabetes – what it is & how to cope with it
It was my very first pregnancy which means I was terrified about everything. Every test, scan, and ultrasound had my brain in a frenzy. I had told my whole family about my pregnancy in the first trimester. If I could do it all over again I’d wait a little longer (which is when I went public with this pregnancy) because the added weight of everything being “okay” put a lot of pressure on me, especially after losing two family members last year. My family couldn’t handle another loss, I couldn’t handle another loss. So, my worries lingered constantly. I tried not to let them get the best of me because I could feel my child moving inside of me constantly and every ultrasound was normal. As long as my baby was okay then I could overcome anything.
Taking the Pregnancy Glucose Test
At 26 weeks, I happily sucked down that sugary drink for my glucose test (which tasted like flat orange soda) and patiently waited the hour for my blood to be drawn. If I tested positive for gestational diabetes then I’d either have to diet, take oral medication, or take insulin. I knew the complications and risks because my doctor gave me the whole spiel previously. My husband was certain that I would be fine, even after the results told me that my sugar was too high. My sugar needed to be below 130 to be “normal” and above 200 to automatically be diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Well, I scored a whopping 190! Which was high enough to be of concern but just low enough for me to take the dreaded 3-hour glucose test.
Honestly, I had a feeling. Something just wasn’t feeling right after I’d eat certain foods. My new found sweet tooth was making me feel lethargic. Breads and pastas – forget about it! So, I went into the clinic for my second blood sugar test, a lovely 3-hour one. Basically, you drink the same kind of sugary drink, but this one is much worse because the sugar in it is much higher. This one tasted like water loaded with a fruit punch syrup. It definitely wasn’t as easy to suck down as the first one. Did I mention that you only have 3 minutes to finish the entire drink and you’re being watch the entire time? Awkward. Also, if you puke (which apparently happens to a lot of women) then you have to reschedule for another day. I must say, it’s difficult because you also have to fast for 8 hours before so you’re basically not eating for 11+ hours. Being a 5+ months pregnant woman, not eating feels like torture. You’ll have your blood tested right before you drink the sugar water and every hour, for 3 hours after. When all is said and done, I was sick! I went straight to lunch but almost passed out in the restaurant. It was not fun whatsoever.
Getting the glucose screening results
A week later, I called the clinic for my results. Just as I’d suspected, I had Gestational Diabetes. After meeting with my doctor and hearing all of the lifestyle changes that I needed to make, along with all the risks to my son, I was completely overwhelmed. I tried to remain calm, but my concerns (and pregnancy hormones) got the best of me. I remember sitting in the car with my husband and completely breaking down. I felt guilty, like I did something wrong. All I could think about was my sweet pregnancy cravings and how I’d indulged so much recently. Was it my fault? Was I not taking good enough care of my body to protect my baby? No.
What is Gestational Diabetes aka Pregnancy Diabetes?
Basically, it’s diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Thank you, Captain Obvious. The technical description is:
Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy (gestation). Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use sugar (glucose). Gestational diabetes causes high blood sugar that can affect your pregnancy and your baby's health.
As your baby grows, the placenta produces more and more insulin-counteracting hormones. In gestational diabetes, the placental hormones provoke a rise in blood sugar to a level that can affect the growth and welfare of your baby. Gestational diabetes usually develops during the last half of pregnancy — sometimes as early as the 20th week, but generally not until later.
The risks include an overweight or underweight baby, preterm labor, low blood sugar for baby after birth, and a risk for Type2 diabetes later on in life for mommies.
Along with a diagnosis, comes High Risk Doctor visits, dieting, medication, and lots of pricking your fingers with needles – 4 times a day to be exact. When you're pregnant and your body is going through a number of weird changes, the last thing you want to do is to add more discomfort to the list but that's what comes with this diagnosis.
My struggle with Gestational Diabetes
The day I was diagnosed, my doctor told me that labor would have to be induced at 38 weeks to make sure the baby is safe and healthy. If I was on the higher end of the diabetic scale, then I'd be induced even sooner (scary, right?). The news made me sad. I wanted my son to come naturally, when my body was ready for him. But, if induction meant a lower risk of birth complications then I'd do anything I could. After the induction process was explained to us, right then & there, we picked a date for my son to come – Weds, February 28th, 2018. Talk about overwhelming! I'm not sure if knowing when he was coming was more or less exciting, but I'll discuss that in a later post. We scheduled the date and then I began my diabetic journey.
Due to my glucose levels, I was prescribed a pill, called Metformin, to regulate my levels. I had to take it once a day and begin a diet. I was also prescribed a blood sugar meter, needles, and test strips which I had to learn to use all on my own. After many failed attempts and very sore fingertips, I finally figured it out and started testing my sugar first thing every morning and an hour after the start of each meal.
The next step was a visit with a High Risk Doctor who did an in-depth ultrasound, measuring and monitoring every area on my unborn baby's body. They checked for frequent movements, working organs, and measured my baby's size & weight. This was to see if the fetus was abnormally small or large. As scared as I was walking into this appointment, I was very thankful afterward because I found out that my little angel was a normal weight/size and we got some pretty cool ultrasound photos! It was at this appointment that the doctor cleared me for my normal visits. Basically, I didn't need to visit a High Risk Doctor anymore because up to this point my glucose levels weren't off the charts and Baby Santos was looking good.
Immediately after that appointment, I met with a Diabetes Specialist to plan a diet that was best for me. Honestly, this was the scariest part of this entire process. The specialist had me terrified after telling me that I'm even more high risk of a patient due to my age (29) and family history of diabetes. As if I wasn't stressed enough, she told me that if I have another child, I'll almost certainly have Gestational Diabetes again, but that time I'll have to take insulin and I'll be even more high risk. I cried to my husband after the meeting I cried to my husband about how I'll never have a “normal” or “easy” pregnancy. 10 months of worrying about your child's health is the most painful part of pregnancy.
After the specialist scared me half to death, we worked out my pregnancy diabetic diet. She gave me a new eating schedule, with specific times for my meals and snacks. This helps keep your sugar and diet under control. So, 3 snacks a day and 3 meals a day. To keep it short, I could eat unlimited protein and veggies. Juice and cereal were strictly prohibited because they are packed with sugars and fruit was prohibited before lunch time (your body processes sugar slower in the mornings). My carbs had to be limited and each meal/snack needed to include a protein to help regulate the sugar. I had to keep my sugar below 135 after meals. *Sigh* I left with a stack of charts, paperwork, and booklets to read. I had to keep track of my sugar on a chart and send it to the Diabetic Specialist weekly. Having someone monitor everything you eat (basically) is really tough. Especially while you're pregnant!
I have to admit that I'd normally have no problem with a diet like this because I've never been much of a sweets gal. I've skipped the dessert most of my life. I was even a meats & potatoes kid. However, those pregnant cravings are intense! The best way I can describe them is having an itch that you need to scratch. It's nearly impossible to resist something you're craving while pregnant and I'll be honest, I didn't always resist it.
I wanted to be the “perfect pregnant woman” who did all the right things, who always looked glowing, who got enough exercise, and didn't slow down once – but I wasn't. Not even close. I definitely tried. I stopped eating all the things my doctor told me not to eat while pregnant: cold cuts, raw food, soft cheese. I completely quit drinking coffee for the first half of my pregnancy. I did it all without a second thought. It was easy… but those sweets cravings were not easy to resist. At all. There were times when I'd indulge in bread and chocolate and cake and my favorite: chocolate chip cookies. Listen, I'm not perfect. I'm human. And if you're going through this just remember that you are too. I still remained mindful of my choices. I didn't binge eat these things. I ate just enough to cure my craving. It didn't spike my sugar to any ridiculous numbers but I was very careful. If I ate chocolate for a snack, I made sure that my next meal was very healthy (most of the time, but not always). My biggest slip up was at my baby shower. Who could possibly resist the cake, candy, and cupcakes? Let's be real!
If you've been diagnosed with diabetes while pregnant just remember that everyone's journey is different. My son was born very healthy and my labor was normal but not everyone is that lucky. As far as your diet goes, keep in mind that we are all very different. There were specific things that didn't affect my glucose levels too bad, like chocolate candy and cookies. However, things like pasta and sweet tea shot my sugar through the roof. Our bodies all react differently to sugar so you'll have to learn what works best for you.
My advice to anyone diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes
My biggest piece of advice is to keep your stress level low because your sugar can spike from stress and it's never good for the baby! You're going to be afraid but all you can do is keep a positive attitude and keep a good support team around you. Be careful who you talk to about your diagnosis because there's a lot of misinformation and confusion out there, specially with older generations who've never even heard of Gestational Diabetes. I made the mistake of telling certain people who overreacted and worried me even more! Listen to your doctors and take good care of yourself. Also, don't forget to enjoy your pregnancy! You're in a very vulnerable state so it's easy to beat yourself up but remember that you'll never get these moments back! Soak it all in because this is your journey and the harder it is, the more stories you'll have to tell your bundle of joy when he/she enters the world.
Pregnancy Diabetes – After Birth
After my son was born, I was offered cookies, crackers, and juice. I immediately told the nurse that I couldn't have any of that because I have GD. The nurse giggled and told me that I was all normal again and could have whatever I wanted! I had completely forgot about that! I was so used to this strict diet that even when I was starving and ridiculously thirsty, I turned it down. Let's just say that I ordered the biggest and baddest meal that the hospital offered that day. While my risk for Type2 Diabetes is high for the next 5 years, I'm in the clear for now.
My son's health was still a concern so they checked his blood sugar 3 times at the hospital. This part was heartbreaking for me because they had to stick a needle in my little guy's foot to draw blood for each reading. It's hard to see those little feet bleeding and your child screaming because of the pain. I knew it was necessary but it hurt my heart to see. He needed 2/3 consecutive normal readings to be cleared as healthy. His first number was low but his other 2 were just right! That was a huge weight lifted. I hated feeling like he might be unhealthy because of me.
After my son and I were cleared of the dreaded diabetic diagnosis, my concerns dissipated. Finally, my diabetic journey was over. Now began he most incredible journey of a lifetime- motherhood.
Oh, and in case you're wondering – my sweet tooth is gone again. Fingers crossed for a clean bill of health for my next pregnancy!