What It’s Like to Be Pregnant as a Type 1 Diabetic

I was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic in the mid-’80s when I was five years old. As a person with Type 1 Diabetes, my pancreas doesn’t work at all so I have to take insulin to regulate my blood sugars, as well as test my blood sugar regularly to make sure it’s on track. I’d like to say that I’ve always handled having diabetes with grace and courage, but that wouldn’t be true. When you’re young, it’s not all that fun to never be able to have birthday cake at your friends’ parties. When you’re older, it’s scary to think about what repercussions a long-term disease can have on your overall health. And then there’s the terrifying idea of becoming pregnant as a Type 1 Diabetic.

Because of the level of attention required during a high-risk pregnancy, I was really, really nervous about becoming pregnant. I was especially nervous about the idea of having a high-risk pregnancy and what that could mean for my baby’s health, as well as my own.

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When I became pregnant in May 2015, I honestly panicked. My blood sugars weren’t as controlled as they should have been and it felt impossible to get them down to the numbers the doctors wanted. I knew how important it was to have extremely controlled blood sugars throughout my pregnancy, but between the stress and hormones, it felt like my body was working against me.

But a funny thing happened. In addition to the obvious changes pregnancy made to my body, it also made me more courageous. I generally don’t talk all that much about being diabetic.  Pregnancy made me realize, though, that I needed to open up and not be afraid to ask for help.

I reached out to a friend of a friend who shared the name of an exceptional diabetes specialist who had helped monitor her blood sugars during pregnancy and made adjustments to her insulin levels each week. I called Medtronic to get the latest insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (a device which tests your blood sugar every five minutes). I researched the best high-risk doctors in my area who specialized in diabetic pregnancies. I talked about it with family and friends. I leaned on my incredibly supportive husband throughout the process. In short, I found that “village” everyone is always talking about. 

At first it was scary and a bit overwhelming. For as long as I can remember, I have always tested my blood sugar and taken insulin, but this was such an extreme version of my pre-pregnancy monitoring. In addition to the typical list of foods recommended not to eat while pregnant, there were also lots of other dietary restrictions recommended by my doctors. I dreamed of those pregnancy movie montages where women are eating tubs of ice cream but, alas, that was not to be. 

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It wasn’t until I was nearing the third trimester that I realized I could really do it. I could keep my blood sugars under control, I could exercise regularly, I could eat all the green things! I wanted a medal or some kind of parade; my doctor just sent me to the lab for another blood test (which had a great result, so yay!).

I feel incredibly fortunate that I have insurance that gave me access to great doctors and diabetic supplies and a very supportive group of family and friends.

Type 1 Diabetic Pregnant
Author Sara and daughter V

I have spent most of my life at odds with my body. It has often needed more from me than what I was willing to give. Pregnancy was perhaps the first time I gave it everything I had, and in return, it gave me everything back in the form of my daughter. On a very cold night in January 2016 in NYC, V was born as healthy and red-cheeked as could be.

When she is a bit older, I will thank V for making me so brave and teaching me to love my body more than I ever thought possible.

Sara Gramling lives in Brooklyn with her husband and three-year-old daughter, V.

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