The job of being a mother, to me, looks so immense that I can’t imagine taking on that role while trying to manage my diabetes. I am in awe of the women who do it. At this time in my life, I honestly know if I ever want to have children. I know so many women have done it, and done it well, but I don’t know if I want to. Truthfully, I wonder on a regular basis if I could handle both responsibilities: diabetes & raising children. The idea scares me. My fear and curiosity has led me to interview the incredible, Sysy Morales.
Sysy Morales has had type 1 diabetes for over 16 years. She is married and has two year old twins who drive her bananas as they climb everything from the bookcase to the top of the fireplace to the dining room table-and then attempt to fly. Sysy blogs at http://thegirlsguidetodiabetes.com. She is a diabetes advocate, and is attending the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to learn more about how to stay healthy and encourage others to do the same.
GINGER: Did you always know you would have children, or did you ever think it wouldn’t be possible because of your diabetes? What was the process of deciding you were ready to take on the challenge of balancing diabetes with pregnancy and the immense job of being a mother?
SYSY: Growing up the oldest of five children, I often wondered if I even wanted children at all. I witnessed how much my parents sacrificed and worked to keep the five of us healthy and happy. I was very afraid of motherhood taking away my health. Especially after I had worked so hard to regain it. The year before my twins were born, I made many life changes. I switched jobs, I fine-tuned my diet and exercise and stuck with it more. I got married and moved in with my husband. My A1c at the time of the wedding was under 6% and all other lab tests came out fine.
A month after the wedding I went to see a doctor for abdominal pain and without going into details was told I may never conceive. Surprised by how hard I took the news, I decided to just work on being healthy and not plan out my life so much as I’d always done. My husband and I thought we’d eventually adopt. Two months later I found out I was pregnant with twins! To me, this was a revelation because surely if I got pregnant with two, it meant I could actually do this. More than anything, knowing that I was healthy and had the right partner for support lead me to feel prepared for the possibility of parenthood.
GINGER: So, as a Type 1 diabetic woman, people ask me things all the time like, “Ohh, can you have children?” and “Oh, you probably won’t have children because of your diabetes, right?” And on the side, when I said that I’m not really sure I will ever have children, people say, “Because of your diabetes? That’s probably dangerous for you…”
What is your experience with outsider’s comments as a Type 1 woman with children?
SYSY: I have heard those same comments. I tell people that yeah, it is dangerous for me in the sense that If I don’t take care of my diabetes before and during and after pregnancy, negative consequences can arise. However, I always add that many, many women with type 1 are having and raising healthy children these days because they are achieving very good diabetes management.
GINGER: When you are raising your kids, and they’re younger and need so much one-on-one care, how do you make sure to leave enough time for checking your blood sugar, avoiding or treating lows, making time to eat often enough?
SYSY: This is tough. I’ve had to decide between risking a low and skipping a meal because sometimes my kids will need me and I won’t be able to eat on time. People always say, “Let the kids wait and just do what you gotta do,” and that’s true in many cases…but when there are two leaky diapers, I really don’t see myself letting that go and dealing with the huge mess afterwards, (and I mean huge).
So there really are times when I have to eat in a less than ideal way in order to keep things from getting too crazy at home. I tend to lower carbs when things get hectic because then if I don’t get a chance to test, my numbers won’t go so far out of range. When my husband is home to help me I enjoy my carbs! When I go out with the kids, I skip snacks and just focus on my blood sugars and staying hydrated. Eating while out and about and chasing after two toddlers adds too many variables for control.
I have my basal insulin set very well so when I eat less carbs than usual or skip a meal, my blood sugar holds pretty steady. I usually have glucose tablets in my pockets so that I don’t have to go retrieve them if needed. What makes all this doable for me is knowing that it’s a temporary situation. Eventually, my kids won’t be in the “terrific twos” stage and I can go back to a more enjoyable and consistent eating routine. I’m really looking forward to just eating while sitting down.
And I know this sounds very inconvenient. Here’s how I see it, pro-athletes with type 1 often have to change their routine in order to accomplish their goals. I’m no different. Sometimes I have to have a bite of breakfast and then eat a big lunch and it’s only because that’s how things went with the kids. The few occasions they’ve been sick (and always at the same time), I’ve had to rely on a can of tuna and an apple to make it through the day. I don’t blame anyone who wouldn’t want to do this. It’s not fun. I just think of it as staying well so I can be there for my kids. It breaks my heart when I can’t carry them because my blood sugar is high so I work hard to avoid that situation.
GINGER: So, which is more challenging? Motherhood or the job of diabetes?
SYSY: This question would get a different answer on different days. Some days the kids are these sweet little angels and my diabetes is the bane of my existence.
Other days, my blood sugar is doing fine and I feel healthy and my children are having a temper tantrum at the same time, perhaps on and off all day, and my husband is at work 12 hours a day. On days like this I feel that motherhood is most difficult.
Sometimes I think the toughest part of motherhood and diabetes are the emotional aspects. I have managed to work through my emotions regarding diabetes over these past 16 years. However, the emotions involving motherhood are surprisingly intense and I have less experience with them. I hope it doesn’t take 16 years to know how to handle these!
GINGER: Are there any aspects of living with diabetes that you think have helped you be a better mother?
SYSY: If we allow it, having diabetes can teach us patience and persistence and discipline. I’ve found that I can get my kids to eat vegetables and brown rice and pick uptheir toys by using those same virtues. I have a lot to learn when it comes to motherhood but diabetes has also taught me that over time I will learn to be patient more, accept more, and adapt better to the world of being a parent.
GINGER: Are there any aspects of being a mother that you think have helped you take better care of your diabetes?
SYSY: My pregnancy and first year with my twins was SO difficult that I stepped back one day and thought, Wow, I didn’t know other things in life could feel as difficult as my diabetes. I was in a lot of physical pain from several different issues (carpel tunnel, tendonitis, dislocated vertebrae, mastitis, anemia, post-partum depression, severe lack of sleep).
The medical bills and my leaving work to stay home and breast feed emptied our bank account, and raising twins during their first year was a very exhausting and isolating experience. It made me realize how much others have struggled with or without diabetes. I felt closer to all the women in the world who have had children and struggled in similar ways. I decided that even if no one else in the world had type 1 diabetes, I still wasn’t going to feel alone. I know it sounds crazy but my diabetes became much easier with this newfound perspective. I had no idea having children was going to heal much of my resentment about having diabetes but that’s what happened.
GINGER: What is a nugget of advice you would suggest to a Type 1 diabetic woman trying to decide if she is ready to have children?
SYSY: If deep down you feel that you can do this, than you can. On the surface I was worried to death that I couldn’t do it but deep down I felt strength and willpower to do it. I had the energy and motivation to test many times a day and to eat a very healthy diet. Aside from being honest with your own feelings, I would suggest being very honest about where your health is at. Had I had some diabetes complication, I would have felt differently about being open to having children because pregnancy is a stressful event.
However, talking with a doctor and weighing the pros and cons could help a person dealing with some health issues to decide. I’m an idealist but a realist, too.
I choose not to have anymore children beyond this point because to be honest, I am afraid that my eyes or other parts of me will be affected and I feel I should just be grateful for the two I’ve got. That said, I wouldn’t judge any woman who didn’t do what I’ve done.
I think we all need to decide for ourselves instead of go by what others do and think. And you know what’s funny? When I really think about it, had I been in this situation without diabetes, I think I would still feel very content with having only two children, which is kind of interesting. It tells me that perhaps diabetes doesn’t stop us from our goals and wants as much as we may think! I think having diabetes has often been my scapegoat.
I would also suggest for people to buy your book “Your Diabetes Science Experiment” because it teaches how to adjust one’s diabetes management-something I found extremely valuable during my pregnancy because it caused me to have to make changes almost daily. I kept a 5.3% A1c during my pregnancy because I did what your book recommends. Just because your book isn’t specific to pregnancy or motherhood with diabetes doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be monumentally helpful. It covers the fundamentals of the relationship between the body and food, hormones, and exercise. I’m not kidding when I say the info in your book is golden.
(THANK YOU FOR THE BOOK REVIEW, SYSY!)
GINGER: What is YOUR personal mantra on days when you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself?
SYSY: I forgive myself. I let myself off the hook, you know? Moms can be so hard on themselves, I haven’t met one that isn’t. I try to see myself from outside of myself and then I think, Geez, I’m on my knees cleaning the kitchen floor, I’m working hard on my blood sugars, I’m caring for my children, I’m working hard to maintain a great friendship with my husband, and I am pretty pleasant to everyone around me so I think I will just cut myself a break! Then I sort of shake it off and move on.
I allow myself to feel all the feelings I have but then I relax and try to let them go. They’re toxic if I hold on to them for too long. I’m still working on this but I’ve found that self-love allows me to take care of myself and to be honest, once this is done, the rest sort of falls into place.
THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR STORY, SYSY!