When Jeff Hitchcock approached me last year and asked if I would feel comfortable leading the Pregnancy and Diabetes session at Friends for Life, I was honored. But also a little confused. What on earth was I going to tell the session attendees? I couldn’t spout off medical information. I am not a licensed medical professional.
“I’m just a person with diabetes who had a baby. And my pregnancy was a bit of a tangled one, too!” I remember emailing to Jeff, wondering if they’d be better off with a doctor at the helm of that discussion.
He replied within minutes, telling me that was exactly why they wanted me to lead the session. And I grinned, but felt nervous.
Before the little bird joined our family, I did a lot of research about pregnancy with diabetes. Hard facts, statistics, and professional recommendations were available by the fistful. The problem was finding anecdotal information about managing pregnancy and diabetes at the same time. Before Chris and I left for Spain that year, knowing we were ready to try for a baby, I felt prepared. But when we came home and found out I was pregnant, I wanted nothing more than to find a room full of other pregnant women who had diabetes, so I could immerse myself in their support and say, “I have NO CLUE what I’m doing!! HELP!!”
Thing is, most pregnancy discussions don’t take that kind of personal turn. I’ve attended a few other pregnancy sessions in the past (as a participant, not a discussion leader), and I remember leaving with panic in my stomach and a lack of eyelids because I was so bugged out about the information that was presented. Pregnancy isn’t easy, even if you take diabetes out of the equation, so being pelted with gobs of information on “what to expect” can be completely overwhelming. For me, it made me scared to try, and unsure if I could actually do it successfully. One session I attended in the past had the speakers throwing out fact after fact about how arduous and chaotic pregnancy is, and then turned to the side, rolled their eyes, and said, “But it’s so worth it.”
Really? Is it? SHOW ME! Make this accessible! Help me feel less afraid!
An example of looking forward, feeling happy, and rockin’ yet another hair bow.
During the pregnancy session at the Friends for Life conference earlier this month, we only had a few people participating in the discussion. I think there were about twelve of us, all women, and we sat in a circle and introduced ourselves. There were many of my peers in attendance (women with diabetes of child-bearing age), and there were also some moms of little girls with diabetes who wanted to talk about their daughter’s future. I was determined to make the discussion something that made people feel inspired and hopeful.
We talked about pre-pregnancy planning, and the importance of getting your A1C down to a stable level predetermined by you and your medical team. “Planning ahead is like the most important thing I could ever recommend. Not that you can plan ahead, every time, but if you’re able to, it’s crucial.” We talked about “big babies” (not all babies of women with diabetes are “big”, and not all “big babies” are the result of uncontrolled diabetes) and the impact of breastfeeding on diabetes management. (And I found out that I wasn’t the only person who liked the idea of hiding fruit roll ups in the couch cushions.)
Of course, THAT movie came up: Ye Olde Steele Magnolia(e)s. Or, as I called it, “Metal Flowers,” because it seems like everyone who mentions that movie feels depressed. I personally love that movie; I just don’t care for the taste it leaves in my mouth about diabetes and pregnancy. “Love it or hate it, it’s one of the few mainstream media representations of what a diabetic pregnancy looks like. Which is why I’m glad we’re all here, sharing our stories, because we have the power to change that perception.”
I hope the discussion went well, included moments where people felt safe to ask what they were really thinking about, and that the answers made them feel empowered. It wasn’t a medical session. It wasn’t about a doctor telling patients how to best manage their pregnancies. It was just a few women, sharing the common bond of type 1, sharing their real stories and drawing strength from one another.
That, to me, is the power of this community.
*This blog post was originally published at Six Until Me.*