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Gestational Diabetes: It’s not that bad!

A hindsight account by Robin Wettstein

Getting diagnosed with gestational diabetes was extremely upsetting and overwhelming for me. I felt like I failed or did something wrong. BUT I’m writing this to tell you that I promise, in the end, it’s not that bad!

This was my first pregnancy, and up until the glucose test, things were sailing along pretty smoothly, and I was feeling better than I thought I would. Despite this, I was nervous to take the 1-hour glucose test. I didn’t have any reason to think I may have gestational diabetes, but I’m a nervous test taker, and admittedly, am a bit of a gold-star seeker. I like to do well on things, and this includes passing any kind of test that comes my way.

But, when the time came, I drank the drink, completed the 1-hour test, and tried to carry on until my results were available. At my next appointment, I optimistically asked about my result and was informed that I had FAILED. What?! I burst into tears, I was so upset! How could this happen to me? I was moving lots, eating well and I hadn’t gained an excessive amount of weight. I’d been following all the rules I knew about, and then some – had I been doing something wrong without knowing it? Is this affecting the baby? Now what? I felt scared and overwhelmed, and like the timing couldn’t have been worse – right before Thanksgiving and Christmas! Would I still be able to do all my Christmas baking and enjoy a few treats? Silly, I know, but at the time that was important to me.

The midwife calmed me down, told me not to panic, and explained the 3-hour test to me. I don’t like needles so it didn’t sound good, but I agreed that I wouldn’t let the looming test ruin my Thanksgiving. I told the midwife that even though I didn’t want to, I would come back in as soon as I could and take the 3-hour test.

The 3-hour test is a bit of a blur because I was so anxious and nervous. I had tried not to read too much about gestational diabetes online, but to prepare myself for the worst, I did read a bit. This resulted in me being really worried I was going to be risked out of birth center care because I was going to have a 12-pound baby and would need to be induced. Ugh.

So obviously, since I am writing this, I failed the 3-hour test. Cue more waterworks, I was even more upset than I was when I failed the first test. What does this mean? Can I still give birth at the birth center? That was my biggest worry, because I am not comfortable in hospitals in general.

Again, the midwife talked me off the ledge and started explaining things to me. Most importantly: it did NOT automatically risk me out of birth center care. But even with that relief, it was still overwhelming: eat a meal every two to three hours, make sure it has the right balance of grains, have snacks in between, walk after each meal, test your sugar BY FINGER PRICK two hours after each meal, don’t fast longer than ten hours… It made my head spin. How was I going to do this at work? My office loves meetings; what if the timing of the 2-hour blood test was during a meeting, would it be awkward for me to step out? I had a lot to figure out both nutrition-wise and logistically, not to mention all the other things I was doing to prepare for childbirth.

Up next: a stop at the pharmacy to pick up a diabetic kit. Yes, just like the ones your grandparents might use. Cue more overwhelm; I did NOT like the idea of pricking my finger four times a day. It made me feel nauseous. On the bright side, the diabetic kit was pretty small, so that made me feel a little less worried about having it at work.

One of the most confusing things for me was that I had been so conscious of my diet and exercise already. I was active before pregnancy and counted myself lucky that pregnancy left me feeling well enough to maintain my active lifestyle. And I felt like I was a healthy eater – I eat more kale than anyone I know! I also felt embarrassed and didn’t want to tell anyone that I had to start testing my sugars. I worried that people would think I was eating poorly or ‘had let myself go’ because I was pregnant. It took some convincing, but once I believed that this is just how my body responds to sugar while I am pregnant and that I didn’t do anything wrong or couldn’t have prevented gestational diabetes somehow, I started to feel a little better.

The first thing I did when I got home was start figuring out what I needed to tweak nutritionally, and it turned out, not much! The resources that Willow provided were super helpful. For me, it was more about the type and timing of carbohydrates, which surprised me because I thought diabetes was all about sugar. The major change I made was adding grains to my breakfast and lunch. Instead of Greek yogurt with berries for breakfast (at the office), I got up a bit earlier to make two eggs on whole wheat toast before I left the house. I also had to make time to go for a walk after each meal. This was easy in the evenings when I was at home, but it took more effort to do it when I got to work in the morning and over my lunch hour. As for the snacks, initially, having a snack between meals made me feel like I was eating SO much! But after a week or so I found the snacks that followed the rules and made me feel good instead of too full.

Testing my sugar was another story. I found it really stressful at first. Needles make me anxious, so I had to count down from three until I pressed the button for the needle to prick me. And then sometimes it wouldn’t go deep enough to get enough blood, so I had to do it again (eyeroll). It took me about a week to get good at it. When I was at work, I would go to the restroom and sit on a toilet and do the test in my lap, which sometimes resulted in me dropping things; one time the reader skidded across the floor into the next stall! It was a lot easier and a lot less stressful to test my sugar at home, but I did eventually become efficient at it while I was at work.

One thing I struggled with initially was the amount of effort all of this was. And on top of a long commute and work day, I wasn’t sure I had the energy to deal with all of it that late in my pregnancy. What kept me going was that I did not want to be risked out of the birth center. I wanted the midwives to see that I could manage my sugar through diet and exercise.

It took a few weeks, but I did start to get used to this new routine. What I realized in the end was that gestational diabetes makes you more responsible for your and your baby’s health, which is a good thing! I really enjoyed all the walking I did; it kept my weight gain down and was good for both my physical and mental health leading up to my birth. I also liked learning about my blood sugar and figuring out what caused my sugar to spike (usually pizza) and when the best time for a treat was. And for me personally, as a gold-star seeker, it made me feel pretty good to pass four tests a day!

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