I was preparing dinner one evening when I saw my phone light up with the number of my doctor’s office. I thought the nurse was calling to put my mind at ease since I had to do the three-hour glucose tolerance test a few days earlier. I didn’t expect to meet a hushed voice on the other side of the line telling me that I have gestational diabetes.
After all, I’ve always been pretty health-conscious- thin and fit my whole life. I ate mostly healthy, and took pride in my lifestyle. I didn’t understand how I could end up with this diagnosis. Typically, it’s women who are overweight, of advanced maternal age, and of nonwhite races who are at greater risk. I was bouncing around at zumba every few days, 27 years old, and as white as an Irish lass comes.
I went, like most women, during the end of my second trimester to have the glucose tolerance test. I slurped down the sweet syrupy orange concoction, and had my blood drawn an hour after ingestion. The level of sugar in my blood was higher than normal, and I was called back in for further testing. In the follow up test, four blood samples were taken in a three-hour period to see how my body was truly metabolizing the sugar. Gestational diabetes is then diagnosed if two or more of the blood samples are high in glucose.
Gestational diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce and use insulin properly.
Experts think the hormones from the growing placenta cause this interruption. Insulin helps convert glucose to energy, but without its proper utilization, glucose stays in the blood, and results in high blood sugar. Many women with gestational diabetes are able to manage their blood sugar with diet, exercise, and insulin therapy (if necessary). However, uncontrolled diabetes can result in damaged nerves, blood vessels, and organs. Also, extra glucose could cause the baby to grow too big, and cause birth complications.
18% of pregnant women get gestational diabetes
After I shed a few tears over my diagnosis, and did some reading on the subject, I accepted that sometimes it just happens without a clear indication of why. About 18% of pregnant women get gestational diabetes, so it’s not all that uncommon. I went to my doctor for nutritional counseling, learned how to check my blood sugar, and made a fitness plan. I strapped my running shoes on, and started to realize that gestational diabetes wasn’t the end of the world, but actually a blessing in disguise.
The dietitian at my obstetrician’s office advised me to eat small and frequent meals to keep my blood sugar stable.
She taught me to read food labels by looking for the serving size and counting grams of carbohydrates. Healthy carbohydrates are an important part of balanced meals, but best from nutritious sources such as starchy vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Even though many carbohydrates are wholesome, their portions must be controlled because they convert to sugar, and too much at once can cause a spike in blood glucose. I avoided added sweeteners, limited desserts, and stuck with water to drink. Gestational diabetes made mindless eating impossible because I consciously considered about every food decision I made.
Gestational diabetes changed the way I thought of dieting.
Food choices don’t only impact how my body looks, but more importantly, how it functions. Even though I was a size three, my body wasn’t metabolizing sugar properly. The assumption that a thin person doesn’t need to watch what she eats is wrong. I appreciate my gestational diabetes diagnosis because it taught me that eating well is for the sake of actual health, not appearances. This mental shift caused a profound change in my desire to eat right, because I was motivated by more than bikini season.
Another important way to control gestational diabetes is exercise.
It drives the glucose out of the bloodstream and into the muscles. With my diagnosis, working out wasn’t optional anymore. I always enjoyed being active, but with a needy toddler to constantly tend to, it was something I only did with left over time. It was sort of like a luxury to me, and something I sacrificed. With gestational diabetes, I learned I had to prioritize my health, even if it meant my husband had to watch our son when he got home from work so I could go on a jog, or that my little guy fussed in the pack n’ play while I finished a workout DVD. I learned to value my needs, and ask for support. In this way, I actually felt more cared for than ever.
Gestational diabetes also showed me that we’re never alone in our struggles.
One morning at story time, I told a fellow mom about my surprise, having no idea she also had gestational diabetes when she was pregnant. She was so warm and comforting to me. She told me what to expect, assured me everything would be okay, and gave good hugs. I joined a Facebook group for women with the condition, and there people shared recipes, meal plans, encouragement, and experiences. I’ve since had a couple friends who developed it during their pregnancies, and I was able to be there for them as others were for me.
It has been almost two years since I was pregnant and pricking my fingers all through the day, but the lessons I learned have not left me.
Although I’m no longer diabetic, I am more aware of the way the foods we eat affect the functioning of our bodies, and I know the value of jumping jacks after a slice of cake. I take more time for myself, knowing that focusing on my well-being isn’t selfish, but necessary. I also realize there’s always a way to get help and hugs, if only I look for it. Gestational diabetes was scary at first, but I’ve actually benefited from it.