Labor of Love: My Journey With Type 1 Diabetes in Pregnancy

Everything started to go black around me and I became drenched in sweat as I handed over my credit card. Squatting on the floor in front of the cashier, I apologized as I weakly grabbed a Cherry Coke out of the mini fridge and urgently took long swigs of it. The young guy behind the counter was concerned. You could tell he had never been in this situation before…and neither had I. I was 4 months pregnant and seemingly on the brink of unconsciousness. In front of a line full of holiday shoppers, I was experiencing a severe episode of hypoglycemia. 

Just prior, I was sweeping through the aisles picking up last minute supplies for my gender reveal while warding off an impending headache and the feeling of unsteadiness. I was desperately trying to grab my items, check out, and get to the stash of glucose tablets in my car so I could treat my low blood sugar in privacy. 

I’ve always felt self conscious of my condition because there are so many misconceptions about Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). It isn’t caused by poor diet or lack of exercise. In fact, there’s no known cause or cure for it. It’s an autoimmune disease in which the body becomes unable to produce insulin. Without insulin, the food remains in the bloodstream as sugar and cannot be used by organs to function. To manage T1D, I have to constantly check my blood sugar to ensure it’s not too high or too low and give myself approximately 5-8 shots of synthetic insulin a day. 

As a Type 1 Diabetic, my pregnancy was considered high risk. Throughout each trimester, my blood sugars dramatically wavered due to fluctuating hormone levels. Although I had been administering daily insulin shots for the past 13 years, my body’s response to them had become unpredictable.

It’s not uncommon in your first few months of pregnancy to experience frequent low blood sugars. I was instructed to aim for blood sugar levels within a very narrow target range. Given the small margin for error, I constantly found myself afraid to eat because I couldn’t figure out how much insulin to give myself with every meal. Even without eating, my blood sugar would spike or drop depending on my level of physical activity, stress and hormones.

During this memorable hypoglycemic episode, I asked the clerk to hold my bags and gestured to my belly to indicate I was pregnant and needed to sit down. I was too out of it (and quite frankly, embarrassed) to even explain that I was a Type 1 Diabetic. I sat in between the set of automatic sliding doors on my winter coat and wiped the sweat off my forehead as I shakingly finished the bottle of Coke. Looking back, it was odd that nobody checked to make sure I was ok. But in the moment, I was relieved to be spared the uncomfortable interaction as I eventually made it back onto my feet.

While I worked to react against my volatile blood sugars, the stress of pregnancy mounted. I was about to enter my third trimester, when suddenly the world stopped. 

Pregnancy and the Pandemic

Rumors had swirled around the need to stock up on groceries and essentials because we were going into a lockdown. I never imagined living through history like this, and especially not while being pregnant. All of the excitement that normally comes with pregnancy turned into anxiety. The baby shower my mom and sisters beautifully planned was postponed twice before it was ultimately cancelled and my husband was warned he might not be allowed in the delivery room with me. 

Vanessa Messenger
Vanessa Messenger
Vanessa Messenger is a Mom, a Product Lead at Google, and considering she’s been a Type 1 Diabetic since 2010…she’s also a full-time pancreas!  With her background in Psychology and Broadcast Communications, she’s always been impassioned by creating a connection with people through Storytelling. After receiving so much support and encouragement from the deep rooted community of “diabuddies”, she was determined to help create that same sense of belonging and connection for T1D kids through Teddy Talks. Connect with Teddy and Vanessa on TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook, or visit their website.

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