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Type 1 Diabetes and Motherhood - Guest Blogger, Caitlin Sykes.

diabetes, type 1, motherhood, chronic illness
Caitlin and her two littles.

Some of us experience one of those ‘life changing moments’ that is etched in our memories so deeply that you can remember every detail, smell, and emotion from that instance. My moment happened at the age of 10, on December 29th, 1993. My mom took me to the family doctor over the Christmas break – and to be honest, I had no idea why. As far as I knew, it was a random check-up. Apparently I had been drinking gallons of water and peeing every few minutes over the holidays and people were noticing, however hoping it was something benign like a UTI. Nope. I remember doing a quick urine test at the clinic and the doctor swiftly returning to the room. In a monotone voice, the doctor definitively said, “it’s not good, Caitlin has Type 1 diabetes”.

That was the moment that my life changed.

I was hospitalized that night where I quickly learned to inject multiple needles a day (remember I was only 10), test my blood sugar levels with finger pricks, and measure every morsel of food that went into my body. At the time in 1993, glucometers were just becoming mainstream, synthetic insulin had only been on the market for a decade, and no one had an insulin pump or continuous glucose monitoring system. Most of people’s understanding of diabetes came from what they knew about their grandpa who was nearly blind at the age of 80 from Type 2 diabetes, or the movie, “Steel Magnolias” with Julia Roberts that concludes with a not so happy ending – if you have seen the movie, you know what I’m referring to and I wont’ go into the details.

I spent the next 10 years adjusting and learning to live with this autoimmune disease that had no cure. I remember a friend once asking my mom how long I had to give myself needles and the sadness in her voice as she responded that there was no cure. I went through periods of really feeling sorry for myself, where I was sure that the next appointment with my endocrinologist was the one where they were going to break the news that my kidney function was declining or I had neuropathy (nerve damage in your hands/feet) – I am proud to say that this day has never happened after almost 25 years! Type 1 diabetes went from being a family disease to one that I dealt with (mostly) on my own as I became a young adult and this was hard. I’m sharing these not so positive details for a reason.

Sometimes what is the hardest struggle or saddest moment in our life is what separates us from others, gives us insight, empathy, and perspective

that others might not have and we should embrace these experiences. Living with a chronic illness, whether hidden of physical, can do just that.

Moving forward, I always knew I wanted to have a family but as a Type 1 diabetic, the thought was terrifying based on all the information I had read or been told since the early 90s. I worried that my body would not be able to handle the stress or that the baby would be born with some sort of congenital defect as a result.

When the time came when my husband and I felt “ready” to start our family, it wasn’t so straightforward. We had to wait for the green light from my endocrinologist. My blood sugar control had to be near perfect, my eyes had be checked by my ophthalmologist, my kidney function had to be confirmed, I underwent a stress test to ensure I had no heart complications from over 20 years of diabetes and my thyroid function was lastly assessed – where we found out I had autoimmune thyroid disease (a pill a day – which in my opinion is pretty straightforward). So after all this lab work – we were given the green light. We were fortunate that this process was much more straightforward for us!

Once we were pregnant, the bloodwork and appointments showed no signs of slowing down. There was no shortage of things to worry about when growing a baby as a mom with Type 1, but I did what I had to. I went to weekly appointments, woke up nightly to test my blood sugar, and adjusted my insulin doses (what seemed like daily at times). I cried when I couldn’t get my blood sugar under control in fear that the baby would be affected and this would be my fault. In the end, I managed two pregnancies successfully with Type 1 diabetes. Both children were born at 38 weeks after spontaneous membrane rupture. When I reflect on what I went through to bring these babies safely into the world, I feel such pride for what I’ve accomplished. I have no regrets. I did the best I could, and used all resources available, while leaning on my husband and family during the scarier moments. I’ve learned over the years that things aren’t usually as bad as our minds make them out to be. Our fears rarely come true.

As a mom of two young children with Type 1 diabetes, my days are often different than many. I don’t really subscribe to the ‘put the kids first’ approach – I really can’t. In our house,

I often have to come first and this is OK.

I have to make sure that my blood sugar is at a safe level and that I have a snack on hand if my levels drop quickly. My version of the perfect storm is when both kids are crying and I have a low blood sugar.

I habitually demonstrate self-care by eating well, maintaining a healthy weight, and staying active which are all integral to managing my diabetes. Both kids see me put 100% into supporting my health – I have to work for it daily. My diabetes is actually better controlled today than it has ever been! I know that what they see is a mom who loves and respects herself to live a long and healthy life. Diabetes has returned to being a family disease! There are so many invaluable skills that I’ve learned over the last 25 years of diabetes that make me better at doing not only my day job but more importantly at being a mom. Diabetes teaches you to cope with chaos and accept that you’re not always going to be in control. Everyday is different and when you think you’ve figured it out, the next day changes and this is pretty much what it’s like to have young kids, right?

I know now that there is no perfect, or normal. We just do the best with where we are and what we have been given. Having experienced what I have and knowing what I know today, if I could go back to the age of 10 and take a pill to undo this chronic illness – though tempting, I don’t think that I would. I am a better and stronger person because of having diabetes in my life.

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