It’s amazing the difference a week makes.
Last week’s post was full of brand-new emotion, not very much information and, yes, a total pity party for myself. Sorry, guys, for the whining.
This week, I’m feeling much better about my gestational diabetes diagnosis because knowledge is power, people! And, I’m one of those people who like to know every last detail about a topic so I feel more comfortable with it, and who then like to chart that information, make a bar graph from it, make a list of its pros and cons, and then check all of that off of my to-do list. Well, I’d better watch what I wish for: I now monitor my carbohydrate intake, blood sugar levels, insulin levels, and the ketones in my pee. But more on all that in a bit.
Last Thursday was my first meeting with the diabetes center at the hospital where I will deliver. I met with two different nurses; one who asked a bunch of questions about my pregnancy to-date and my lifestyle in general, and another who administered and demonstrated the glucometer for checking my blood sugar. I was signed up for a class to learn more about the disease itself and where I would receive a personalized meal plan specific to my needs. That night was the first night when I began to prick my finger to check my blood glucose levels. After a few instances of monitoring—every morning before breakfast and two hours after every meal—I realized that my sugar levels were higher than the given range in the mornings during that first reading of the day. After informing my doctors, it was decided I would need insulin to manage these numbers.
I hope that it might help others who are either facing the same diagnosis or who simply want to better understand the disease to hear my story, and maybe to learn a bit more about gestational diabetes itself. There’s a lot of information out there on the internet, and I found not much of it to be particularly helpful or encouraging, especially for someone whose hormones and emotions are raging to begin with. I am by no means a doctor, but I’ll share with you a little bit of what I learned in my class.
First of all, please try not to feel guilty if handed this diagnosis. I certainly did, which I think is totally normal and, really, who doesn’t need a good cry every now and then anyways, right? But, truly, having gestational diabetes is not a result of anything that you’ve done, eaten, or not eaten during your pregnancy so far. I did beat myself up over this for a good few days, and needlessly so. Often, gestational diabetes can be a result of age, race and/or family history of diabetes, and who has control over those factors? Or, it could just come from out of nowhere because, like I mentioned before, it has nothing to do with your diet thus far and everything to do with your hormone production which spikes during your third trimester (please see good cry, above), when gestational diabetes usually rears its ugly head. If you’re like me, whose sugar levels were just fine for the first two-thirds of her pregnancy (they do a test for this, too), gestational diabetes is simply a function of all these extra hormones in my body blocking my body’s ability to process what I am eating in a normal way.
Gestational diabetes is intolerance to carbohydrates during pregnancy. Carbohydrates are found in many of the foods we eat: the usual culprits like potatoes, pasta, rice and sugary foods, but also milk, other dairy, fruits, and vegetables. These carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugar—glucose—and absorbed into the bloodstream with the help of insulin, a naturally occurring hormone in our bodies produced by the pancreas. Yes, I said insulin is a hormone. Who knew? Pregnant bodies need two to three times the insulin of a non-pregnant body, and not every pancreas can produce that much. Therefore, when there are extra hormones present in our bodies, such as in the third trimesters of pregnancy, the small amount of insulin produced is not enough to help the glucose enter the bloodstream and convert it to energy. As a result, the glucose remains unprocessed by our bodies, and is passed along to our babies. Babies whose mothers are untreated for high glucose levels are often larger than usual, among other complications, since their little pancreases also can’t keep up with insulin production for all of the extra glucose being passed on.
So that, in a nutshell, is gestational diabetes. As for me, I’m treating mine with a diet plan, monitoring my glucose levels four times a day, taking insulin injections once a day (for me, diet alone is not enough to help manage and process the carbohydrates during certain times of the day, so I need extra insulin to do the trick), and monitoring the ketones in my pee first thing in the morning (ketone levels will actually tell you if you’re not eating enough, which of course is not good either).
I hope, rather than boring you to tears, that I’ve helped someone stumbling across this post after their own diagnosis better understand gestational diabetes, even if mostly from my own, non-medical perspective. I’d much rather get emotional over a good rom-com than something I couldn’t have prevented anyways, wouldn’t you? So, please, try to save yourself the tears and needless feelings of guilt. Even though gestational diabetes is not preventable, it’s manageable, with hopefully a happy, healthy baby as a result!
The facts about gestational diabetes are courtesy of Hartford Hospital’s Diabetes Life Care center, and were part of an educational packet distributed during an information session. For more information, you can go to the Diabetes Life Care website here.