My older daughter – the one without diabetes – is expecting her first child, a girl, due this summer. My granddaughter will be adored and nurtured and spoiled just the right amount and obviously – completely brilliant and adorable. I can already tell by her sonogram pictures that she’s advanced. For real.
And I’m quite lucky. My daughter and son-in-law live just a few miles from me. Teachers, the two of them, they are members of the same summer beach club my daughter grew up at. We see them almost every day. Last summer, my daughter and I even won a club ladies doubles tennis championship. We are, and always have been, close. Like my younger daughter – the one with diabetes – I’ve always felt we shared a real, balanced and excellent relationship as mother and child.
But sharing her pregnancy with her – talking about it, learning thing, going to appointments and recently hitting our first baby fair the other night (whoa…. strollers are expensive now), something occurred to me:
I may not have been as fair and balanced a mother all the years of her childhood as I thought I was. I share this because often, in my diabetes speaking writing and outreach work, I am asked by other parents if I was able to make things absolutely balanced and fair between my child with diabetes and my child without. I usually think a bit and say yes. After all, I vividly remember taking my older daughter, then 10, for a long walk in the halls of the hospital when her sister was diagnosed. I said to her – and meant it – “For a bit everything is going to seem like it’s all ‘diabetes, diabetes, diabetes.’ But I am going to work hard to keep things fair between you two. I won’t let this steal my time that is yours from you.”
And for years, I’ve believed I was pretty successful at that. But driving in the car on the way to and from that baby fair the other night, I noticed that there is just something about sharing the ins, outs, ups, downs, fears and successes of a health-related situation that draws two people closer. It’s not just the concern, wonder, challenges and successes of the situation you share. It’s the intimacy of it all.
I’ve had that with my younger daughter for 20 years now. I could not possibly count the times we’ve spent hours stuck in traffic to and from her many Boston doctors’ appointments. But I can remember that those times were sacred. For whatever reason, capsuled in the car with no one else around, we’d both open up. Sometimes she’d be scared, other times I’d be upset. Sometimes we’d be joyful. But always, in the intimacy of working toward her health together, we crossed over the normal parent/child line to a place where we were raw, open, honest and awesome. I’ve always seen it as a gift her diabetes diagnosis brought us.
I worked hard to duplicate that with my other daughter. But now, as I share this pregnancy journey with her, I realize I never quite got there.
My daughter calls me almost daily with questions, thoughts, information, and news. She shares her fears with me, asks me how I felt at certain times of my pregnancies. When she needs me, I go with her to appointments. As I always did with my daughter with diabetes, I sit in that room as her advocate, armed with questions, ready to ask things she might forget or be too nervous to ask in the moment. And when we’re in the car, as we sit stuck in traffic, we share. Details I will not share here, as that capsule in traffic, as it was with my daughter with diabetes, is a sacred spot.
This first grandchild of mine is giving me a gift I did not even realize I needed. And everything seems to be falling into place. My daughter with diabetes, now an independent adult, has a low A1c and actually said to me the other day “Yes, it’s hard to maintain and I’m sure I’ll have bumps. But that hard work makes the rest of my life easier. And honestly, it’s almost like habit now.”
Translation: I don’t need to worry about her right now.
And so all my thoughts and studying, all my worries and celebrations, are shifted over to her sister and this amazing bonding experience we are sharing. Things are balancing off in a way I never realized they needed to.
Had I realized earlier in life that things perhaps were not as balanced as I envisioned, could I have done something different to keep things fair? I’m not sure. Parenting a child with diabetes is demanding and refuses to keep a steady schedule. But I do think I could have had the awareness to be more present for my child without diabetes. You can’t artificially create intimate moments, but you can be ready to give yourself to them fully when an opportunity arises.
For me, this baby is perhaps the greatest moment in the life my husband and I have built. She will be loved. She will be an expert skier and tennis player. And she’s already given me the most beautiful gift of all, a chance to make things right for daughter without diabetes.