Five kids. It’s still hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I have them. Five amazing people got their start in the sanctuary of my womb. Being their mama is a blessing and joy that cannot be matched, I’m convinced. Each birth experience was unique, but every pregnancy was more-or-less the same. Until number five when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes out of the blue. And when I say out of the blue, I mean out of the wild blue. Did not see that coming.
I debated for a long while whether or not to share about this personal journey in a more public space. At the end of the day, I think there is a lot to be gained by sharing my journey, however personal it is. Sharing transparently about how we struggle (and hopefully overcome) can bring a lot of encouragement to others, even if it feels vulnerable. So if you’re up for reading a while, you’re welcome to have a look into what life looked like for me leading up to the birth of my fifth.
The Decision to Add One More
I consider myself fortunate to have married young and had my babies in my twenties. I always thought I would retire from childbearing around age 30, and after the arrival number four, that plan was coming together nicely. Our number four was born hours before my 29th birthday, and is the sweetest birthday gift I have ever received.
My husband and I had more-or-less decided to be ‘done’ having kids after that, but waited to make any permanent decisions until some time had passed to be sure of ourselves. I’m of the mind that choices that cannot be undone should be made with care, and it didn’t feel right to be a post-partum/recovering mama deciding something that rings of finality with regard to our family planning.
So we waited, enjoying our little family and cherishing every moment with our ‘last’ baby. Until the winds began to change. I have always seen children as a blessing, and after giving birth to four of them, I felt like my cup was full. I was fulfilled. I couldn’t have asked for more. And I didn’t want to ask for more, for a stretch of time. It wasn’t until my heart was stirred with the idea that maybe having children isn’t about me being fulfilled. I felt like God spoke to me in the gentlest of ways, asking me if I was willing to have another. Not a requirement. Totally up to me. Would I be open to blessing that is not about me, but about what His plans were for me?
Um. Yeah. I try not to resist God’s leading, whenever I can help it…even if I can tell it won’t be the easiest road. After nearly a year of feeling closed to the possibility of another child, the doors of my heart swung wide open. About then, I turned 30. A bit of irony, eh?
Fast forward a few months, and I had a positive pregnancy test. I was on board. Excited even. And somehow also a little more terrified than I ever was before because I knew a little too much about what was ahead for me (re: the pain and intensity of childbirth). I remember having a minor panic attack when I was 14 weeks thinking about how hard it was going to be to get through labor…you know, six months later. I made it over that speed bump and tried to reassure myself that I had done this before. Four times. Without any trouble.
A few months later and I had my first big curveball in all of the pregnancies I have experienced. I received a call from my midwife that I had failed both the screening and the extended glucose tolerance tests I had recently taken. That meant I had developed gestational diabetes, a condition where the elevated hormones during pregnancy suppressed my body’s ability to produce an adequate amount of insulin to process the sugars I consumed.
I was shocked. Embarrassed. I felt immediately like the biggest failure ever, like I had made a series of wrong choices that led me to this place, and now the life of my child was at risk. Awesome. I was clearly no longer invincible like I had been in my twenties. My midwife assured me that it was probable that I could control my condition with diet changes and exercise. For sure, I thought. That is happening.
Until it didn’t. I got started with charting my blood sugar values at specified intervals, made what I thought were appropriate changes to my diet, and promised myself to get out for some walking a couple of times a week. I dropped all obvious sugars….sweets, fruit juice, and white flour. I knew my daytime values were in the zone and I was feeling good. And then at my next appointment, we realized that my fasting values were consistently over the threshold. Not good news.
I don’t think I realized how serious this whole thing was going to get. My midwife and I had a conversation about what needed to be done. I had to get those fasting values under control, or I would have to get on insulin/medication to control the condition, which in my case would also mean changing care providers and entirely upsetting my birth plans. She explained to me that in the medical community, it would never be appropriate for a woman to need insulin/medication intervention for gestational diabetes and then also birth at home. Patients who need this intervention must birth at a hospital for the safety of mother and baby. The only way to stay with the care of my current midwife would be to get my condition under control on my own, without medical help.
photo by Latisha Hale
The Birth Plan and Why It Mattered
To back up a bit, I birthed my first four children in hospitals. The midwife I had for number four (in a hospital) was far and away my first choice for care when I got pregnant with number five. The problem was, she no longer attended hospital births, so if I wanted to see her for care, I would need to commit myself to a planned at-home, unmedicated birth. I was hesitant at first, since hospital birth was my comfort zone, and home birth was not. But having such confidence in her care and leadership after the birth of my number four, and knowing that I desired an unmedicated birth regardless, I decided to do just that, birth at home. Over the months found myself genuinely looking forward to this new and different experience to come.
I have a history of really fast and intense labors, so it was good news to me that when labor began, help would be coming to me. In the past, it has been a crazy, mad dash to the hospital with hopes that I didn’t give birth in the car on the way. Talk about stressful. The more I warmed up to the idea of home birth, the more tightly I held onto hope that I might not need to stress so much during the labor if we were already set up with what we needed right here in our home.
A New Definition of Self-Discipline..For Me
When I was faced with the news that I would either have to get hard-core about gestational diabetes or give up what I had my heart set on for my birth plan, I put my big girl panties on and opted for the hard-core route. There were no guarantees that it would work, but I had to try.
In addition to dropping the obvious sugars, I dropped all grains. All of ‘em. That is ridiculous, my friends. At least for me. Having to prepare ‘normal’ meals for a big family and then figure out what to feed my pregnant self that wouldn’t get me in trouble with my fasting blood sugar values the next morning was a giant challenge. I joined the local YMCA so I could drop my kids off in the kids center and walk on a treadmill for 45 minutes. Every day. At 34 weeks pregnant. For six long weeks. It felt impossible, but I couldn’t give up. Not when giving up meant turning my pregnancy world upside down.
Every time a value turned up near or at the cutoff, I would panic and imagine having to throw all my birth plans out the window and race to the hospital in record time for birth with a provider who knew nothing about me. (Read about my actual birth story here if you like.) I totally got over-dramatic about it at times. I mean, really, I would have been fine either way. There are competent and caring birth professionals in other places too. And there is nothing wrong with treating gestational diabetes with managed insulin or medication. But I did really just want to beat the crap out of gestational diabetes and give birth on my own terms. With the midwife I love. In my home.
And so I got to it. I managed to get myself to the Y every single day for 6 weeks, with maybe only 2 days off due to holiday closures at the facility. I took my kindle and read while walking on the treadmill, flying through about 10 books in the first 30 days. I listened to music while reading and walking and after the first few days realized how awesome it was to drop off my kids and have almost an hour of time entirely to myself. To think my own thoughts. Glory, hallelujah.
I was surprised how good I felt after even just a week of this routine. I was sleeping rather well, aside from frequent bathroom trips (remember, hugely pregnant). I had energy enough to take all four kids grocery shopping each week. And combined with my seriously strict diet, I was able to tell gestational diabetes who is boss around here. I didn’t realize that I was capable of making such changes, nor than I would feel so great being that active in pregnancy.
There were days that were extremely hard. Several weeks in to my new routine, there were times I wandered around the kitchen hoping a perfectly balance grain-free meal would appear before me because I was so big, so tired, and so ready to be done with this GD journey (and the pregnancy too).
I really didn’t think it was possible to overcome these particular obstacles, but I did it. I got those fasting blood sugar values under control. And I gave birth, at home, with the midwife I love (and yes, I LOVE her…she’s just amazing) to a perfect, healthy, darling baby that is a treasure and miracle. I succeeded at something that I set out to do, even though it wasn’t easy at all.
Reflections on the Journey
Looking back on the whole experience, I am really grateful for every part of it. That might sound weird, because it was really not fun or easy, but it really did bring about some important insights that I needed to grasp.
First of all, I understand in a deeper way that my choices matter. Some choices are not about making the ‘right‘ or ‘wrong‘ choice, but about choosing ‘this‘ way or ‘that‘ way, each leading to a different end. And a lot of choices are about small things that I need to choose over and over, everyday. The choice to stay the course even when every part of me wants to quit.
I realize that I need to take charge of my own health and take care of myself…and that doing so doesn’t make me selfish. I’ve made excuses for years about not being more proactive about fitness, especially, and now that I can see my own risk factors for possibly developing diabetes in the future, I have no excuse for not taking these warning signs seriously. So I am taking them seriously. And I have proven to myself that I can be self-disciplined for an extended period of time. Somehow, something I didn’t think I could do before (get to the gym regularly) was something I found the resolve to do when it came to the health of my baby. I realize now, that taking care of myself beyond pregnancy really is about giving the best of myself to my family. It is about valuing myself enough to make choices that are healthy, whether or not they are convenient.
I learned that I am capable of more than I sometimes believe. I can do hard things. I think sometimes I sell myself short of my potential because I don’t think I can accomplish something. In the past, at times I have bumped into obstacles and gave up because I didn’t see that some obstacles help me discover what is good for me and propel me in a better direction. I get it now.
There are great rewards from simple faithfulness…daily doing what needs to be done, whether or not I feel like it. I’m seeing this idea pop up in my life again and again. And I’m listening.
I’m no expert, but I’m so glad to answer questions about my journey or connect with anyone who wants to chat about this topic or anything I’ve shared here. Feel free to send me an email anytime! lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com
Thanks for reading!
2 months, sweet as pie