Hi there! I’m resurrecting this sorely neglected blog to share some recent personal health and wellness experiences. As you might have guessed from the word “gestation” in the title of this post, I’m pregnant! Jeff and I are thrilled to be welcoming our first baby this spring. I’m currently 31 weeks along with a wriggling and active little boy or girl, and for the most part, pregnancy has been a great experience for me. Up until the week before last, my pregnancy has gone smoothly: I had very little nausea, kept up my previous lifestyle for the most part, and generally felt great, not to mention extremely grateful for the ability to conceive and nurture this much-wanted child.
If you’re not familiar with gestational diabetes, it’s a condition that affects 10-20 percent of pregnant women. The hormones produced by the placenta block the mother’s ability to produce enough insulin, leading to high blood glucose values. If it goes unmanaged, the fetus will receive too much sugar and may be too large at the time of birth. Very large babies are difficult to deliver and may be injured during the birth process.
Since receiving my GD diagnosis, I have been scouring the Internet looking for resources and support in managing the condition. I really wanted to read detailed accounts of how other women have handled the disease, but I found very little information to this end. So in the hopes of helping someone else going through this for the first time, I wanted to share my experience.
At my 28-week appointment, I took the one-hour glucose test. For breakfast that morning, I ate a Think Thin protein bar and a string cheese. Based on what I’d read, I knew a lower-carb breakfast would help ensure I didn’t get an inaccurate result on the test. I ate on the way to the doctor’s office, had an ultrasound and then a check-up, and gulped down the super sugary cup of pure glucose about two hours after my last bite of breakfast. They drew my blood an hour later, and I headed into work for the day. I was nervous. I do tend to have blood sugar issues, which is why I eat lower carb than average and insist on a good balance of protein, fat and fiber at every meal. My blood sugar numbers in the past have always been normal, but based on how I feel when I eat certain foods and other possible symptoms such as trouble controlling my weight, fat centered around my abdomen, and slightly elevated blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, I’ve often wondered if I might be insulin resistant. In addition to just feeling better when I take care of myself, I make an effort to eat well and work out consistently because I know my genetics are working against me in terms of my long-term health. Still, I’d read that gestational diabetes only affects somewhere between 7-20 percent of pregnant women, so I figured at least the odds were in my favor.
The doctor’s office called me that afternoon to tell me I’d failed the one-hour test and would need to come back in for the dreaded three-hour test. They wanted my glucose level below 140 after the one-hour test, and mine came back at 170. I knew then I had a good chance of being diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Thirty points higher than the threshold isn’t the same as just barely missing the cut-off, especially when I’d chosen my breakfast carefully.
The next week, I fasted after dinner on Sunday night and went in to the doctor’s office at 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning to begin the three-hour test. This time, I drank twice the amount of glucose: 100 grams of pure sugar on a totally empty stomach first thing in the morning, followed by three hours of enduring a sugar rush followed by a total crash, while also having large vials of blood drawn four times. As you might expect, it was not a pleasant experience. For the first 30 minutes, I thought I might vomit. I took deep breaths and drank water, trying my hardest to keep it down so I wouldn’t have to take the test again. Eventually, the sickness passed, and I did a little work and read some magazines to pass the rest of the time. I left the appointment feeling shaky and weak with hunger. After a breakfast sandwich from Starbucks and a proper lunch two hours after that, I felt somewhat better, but I still couldn’t shake the lightheaded, not-in-my-right-mind feeling for the rest of the day.
My doctor’s office called at 4:15 p.m., and I knew immediately it wasn’t good news. The nurse informed me I had failed the one and two-hour tests, and while my three-hour result was in the normal range, two high results constitutes a gestational diabetes diagnosis. The nurse told me the next step would be a nutrition counseling session with a diabetes educator to learn how to manage my blood sugar levels. I would need to test my blood sugar four times a day for the rest of my pregnancy, and as long as diet and exercise worked to control my numbers, I wouldn’t have to go on medication (i.e., shots of insulin).
Honestly, my first reaction to the diagnosis was a feeling of complete and utter failure. Even though research clearly shows gestational diabetes affects all kinds of women randomly and is caused by the hormones of pregnancy, I felt personally responsible. I’d let my baby down. Sure, I had still been trying to eat well and had been getting in at least three workouts a week, but clearly it hadn’t been enough. It brought back old feelings of resentment and frustration toward my body. My entire adult life, I’ve struggled with my weight despite maintaining all kinds of healthy habits. I cook healthy meals, drink tons of water, generally avoid sweets, exercise regularly, walk my dog daily–and all of these things are not enough to keep me at a healthy weight. Even though I try not to compare myself to others, it’s difficult to avoid feeling like something within me in broken.
The scariest part about the diagnosis isn’t even what I will go through for the next nine weeks; it’s what this diagnosis means for the future. I now face an up to 60 percent chance of developing type two diabetes in my lifetime. Worst of all, my baby is also at higher risk of being overweight and developing diabetes. The fact that my body (read: I) had failed to protect this innocent, brand-new little person from an avoidable health risk seared itself deep within, filling me with overwhelming guilt. I wouldn’t wish my weight and health struggles on my worst enemy, let alone my son or daughter. With one phone call, I’d set up my child for a lifetime of pain.
I prepared to spend the rest of the evening laying on the couch in tears. Just keeping it real–I needed some time to feel sad about this news. But thankfully two of my good friends called me shortly after I texted them with the news of the diagnosis, and venting about my frustration and disappointment successfully pre-empted the coming meltdown. I did shed a few tears when Jeff got home later that evening, but I’d mostly processed the news and felt optimistic about managing it the best I could.
That’s where I will pause the story for now, but I have several other posts on this topic in the works, including:
- The evolutionary explanation for gestational diabetes
- Managing my blood sugar through trial and error
- My thoughts on the recommended diet for women with gestational diabetes
- The stigma of diabetes
- The scariest incident of my pregnancy to date (a.k.a., the time I almost passed out while operating an automobile)