Rich Like Me: Motherhood and Diabetes

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Left to right: Lydia, age 15, Grace, age 11, and Eli, age 18

When I was the mother of very young children, I thought constantly about their health, safety, and survival. The responsibility of keeping alive a baby or toddler is almost overwhelming — just barely doable — as any parent (mother or father) knows. If you are a woman with Type 1 diabetes, as I am, that worry begins when the child is only an idea, an embryo, then a fetus.

When each of my three children were about a year old, I looked at him or her with covert pride and acknowledged silently what seemed to be a huge accomplishment: “I got this little one into the world, healthy. I nourished this baby with my own body.” My physical connection to each child’s existence seemed immense and as though there were a direct correspondence between my actions and a baby’s growth. My husband and I even imagined it as a kind of ratio, and when I would sit in a rocking chair and hold a breastfeeding baby with one arm and use my other arm to feed myself graham crackers, peanut butter, and orange juice (my favorite glucose-boosting snack), Jimmy would inevitably say, “Input, output.” Food in, food out, with more than a little help from insulin.

It’s funny how my almost proprietary relationship to my children’s bodies has slackened as they have grown and matured. The more they seem to be individual people — as students, as personalities, as community members, and as beings — the less I have reflected on my (and Jimmy’s) contribution to their well being. While they are not entirely self-maintaining (we do house and feed them), I see them often in situations of taking care of their own responsibilities, desires, and even mishaps.

And, because parenting is such an in-the-moment frenzy, I forget sometimes the days of my three high-risk pregnancies, when I monitored and recorded every morsel of food that went into my mouth, every unit of insulin, every blood glucose reading, all the while remembering my doctor’s mantra that a well-treated diabetic woman could have as healthy a baby as a non-diabetic woman. I forget sometimes, too, the challenges of actively caring for my own health while caring for an infant.

I wasn’t thinking these thoughts on Mother’s Day at all, even though the photograph of my three kids, Eli, now 18, Lydia, 15, and Grace, 11, was taken on that day. I was watching them enjoy each other’s company and feeling lucky that they were all such interesting people and that they seem to like each other.

Only later, when I was transferring image files from my camera to my laptop did I really stop to stare at them all, frozen in a moment of random happiness, and reflect on my immense luck and also the enormous achievements in medical research, pharmacological development, and diabetes therapeutics.

Really, would I be on this planet, healthy and alive and a mother to three almost-grown children, without insulin, without home glucose testing, without the Joslin diabetes and pregnancy program at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, without findings from the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, without health insurance?

I’ve had diabetes for long enough now that, on the days when I pause to reflect on it, I often feel tired of it, bored, and even burned out. Furthermore, the imperfections of the many technologies I rely on can be exasperating. (What?! A glucose monitor may be as much as +/- 20% off?! Preposterous!) If there is a hierarchy of needs for people with diabetes, I may have reached the apex: My life with diabetes is good enough that I have the luxury of worrying about its constant betterment.

My life, in fact, is full of riches. I look at the photograph of my children, think of their good health and my longevity with diabetes, and I ask myself: Isn’t this everything?

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Jessica Apple

Jane, what a beautiful and eloquent post!  I relate to it in many ways.  My sons are younger than your children and I’m still feeling the overwhelming just do-able chores.  But like you, I’m grateful for the medicine and technology that enabled me to bring healthy boys into the world.  And also for the carb-rich banana that saved me when I was eight months pregnant and about to pass out on the sidewalk. Mike and I always say to each other… look at how much we have.  So we have diabetes, too, it’s okay.  We can deal with it and… Read more »

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