Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Date archives April 2014


Gestational Diabetes: My Journey

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.

The Curveball

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

Linking up today in a few places:

Angie Ryg

The Purposeful Mom

Family / Motherhood

Easter Weekend Highlights

While we were away, Grandpa & Grandma read approximately 100 books to this child. Ok, so there weren’t 100 books, but there were quite a few, and most of them were read a dozen times each. The kid is a book worm already, and she just turned 2!

Someone got plum tuckered out from reading books.

And here you have some Easter egg-hunting hooligans. One with an archery setup, one with bunny ears, several with cowboy hats as baskets, and one with an awesome walmart plastic bag for collecting her eggs and her long hair in her face.

Someone felt a little bashful after Grandma was gushing over her ‘pony’, an effort to keep hair out of her face.

Someone loved on the littlest sister. And a brother terrorized loved the baby just a little.

Someone wore her new prized possession: a badly mangled, pink cowgirl garage-sale find.

Someone took a nap outside, amidst the commotion.

Someone wore the blue bunny ears all. weekend. long. (see previous group photo)

Someone’s dimple melted me for the 10000000000th time.

And why wouldn’t you put the Easter bucket on your head?

Family / Motherhood


There is a lot I’ve wanted to write in the past few weeks, but the time to do it hasn’t magically appeared. Short and sweet will have to do for now. Far-away family wants to see the newest little miss (pictured in this post at 7 weeks old). I took these photos Easter morning while visiting family (more on the trip and Easter festivities later this week…I hope) and this first photo grabs me. Does it not look like she is dancing? Sigh. What a sweet love. You will notice we’re chubbing up nicely. I love baby chubs.

This week’s family photo was taken at high noon in Grandma & Grandpa’s backyard with this exquisite dogwood tree. I’ve decided that I find great joy in flowering trees. Mesmerizing. I also find great joy at Grandma & Grandpa Mac’s home in general. Such amazing people. More on our Easter adventures soon. Love to all.

One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 16/52

Family / Life & Faith

A Colorful Bunch

This week we were awesomely uncoordinated (color-wise) for our weekly photo. Check out that neon orange! The kid likes to make a statement. This is what happens when I stick to the ‘come as you are’ policy on this project. The control-freak part of me cringes a little, but there is something silly and sentimental about it everyone in their self-chosen outfits.

The weekend weather was nothing short of glorious, and we went right out in it at the worst hour of the day (for lovely photography light, I mean) to soak in the sun. I seriously needed those rays. Life is so good, but the honest truth is it is often really challenging as well.  For me, having the sun out is like a big warm hug–it makes all the hard stuff seem insignificant, if even for just an afternoon. And of course it helped to be surrounded by boundless joy and energy….outside and away from our house in the wide open world. Love my colorful crew, but too many hours inside and they wear on me. So, I send out a little prayer for spring: More sun please!

One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 15/52

“For You have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on You; You brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise You.” Psalm 71:5-6


Beauty / Family / Motherhood

An Ice Cream Tale

The oldest choses rocky road for the first cone of the season. Ever the chocolate-lover, you can tell by her face (the chocolate all over it) that she is happy as anyone ever was. She is and always has been the messiest eater of the bunch. Eating (and everything else in life) is an adventure, a morsel to be savored ever so long and wild. No time for a wipe of the mouth with a napkin. ‘Immerse thyself into whatever is before you,’ might be her life’s motto. No different with the first ice cream cone in a while.

Number two licks on with the goofiest grin on his face, pleased as punch with his vanilla cone. He is the black sheep, as they say, but I like to think of him more like an eagle than a sheep. Vision sharp and soaring in his own orderly, methodical world; somewhere very different than his siblings. A more reserved personality on the outside, but a lion-heart beneath. To him, problems are nothing more than a challenge he is determined to conquer. And most often, he does so with ease. Tenacity and ingenuity are always at hand. Resembles his dad in pretty much every way, the tangible and intangibles. I love that about him. He bites a meticulous pattern around the edge of the cone, never letting one drop of ice cream go anywhere but in his mouth. Always in charge of whatever is before him. A born leader if you ask me.

The next in line child wiggles in his chair, because excitement cannot be contained. He’s a young man of many tears. A passionate heart that loves fierce and feels deep and can’t seem to keep it from spilling out his eyes, whether for excitement or disappointment. He is simple in the best way. Grateful for everything, always. A pokey-joe, mosey-along sort. An observer of life. He enjoys his ice cream in full. A satisfying end to a sunny spring day.

The little miss, just two years old, is tickled pink to be holding her own cone.

“I be careful, mama,” she says with a huge grin, holding the cone tight with two hands while it drips off the side. She rarely gets such autonomy with a messy treat.

Almost more excited to be holding than consuming, it takes a while to get the hang of ice cream into the mouth. We all cheer her to focus on the task, lest the ice cream melt too quick, so she closes her eyes of her own accord and licks it up like its the best stuff ever. Which of course it is. She, herself, is made up of the best stuff ever too. Sweet. Spunky. Astoundingly smart at just barely two…chatting about everything under the sun, correctly telling me her colors, ABCs, and numbers to twenty already. None of her siblings were even talking at this age, at least not beyond some simple words. For her, ice cream is a game. A delight and a rite of passage, I suppose, since she’s getting to hold the cone on her own for the first time. She takes approximately 20 minutes longer to finish hers after the others are done, which is when I pick up the camera and why there are no photos of the others.

I think to myself how great a gift it is to experience these simple moments together. My heart is full.

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:17

Linking up this week with A Mama’s Story and The Purposeful Mom.

The Purposeful Mom

Family / Life & Faith


I lie awake in my bed in the early morning darkness. Devastated for a friend who lost her husband yesterday in a motorcycle accident, and for the little girls who no longer have their daddy. I gulp hard because I can’t imagine the loss, and yet I feel it with them. Can’t believe it. Don’t want to believe it. Did that really happen?

My oldest son snuggles close by my pillow, trying to understand what death means in questions and quiet while the others are still asleep. I don’t have any answers, but I hold him closer and kiss his head and thank God and cry too. For the woman who has just lost her best friend. For the journey she has going forward…with a loving community all around, but still painfully alone. I pray love and comfort and ramblings of hope in sadness. But there is still a giant hole where one life gone will be forever missed.

One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 14/52

Life is but a breath, and one not guaranteed. Today is the day we have to give thanks, to give love, and we should. Generously. Recognize that the day before us is a gift, no matter how hard it is, and the ones we love cannot be replaced.  The opportunity to cherish can be gone in a blink, and all that is left is memories. Things. No beating heart to hold close. Take time to pause. Hug tight. Breathe in deep the gift of the present. Don’t confuse what is important with what is urgent.

To R and family: We hurt with you. Pray for you. And are here if you need anything that we can give. We send our love.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Matt. 11:28



Family / Motherhood

Frozen Yogurt

What is the new everyday norm? I’m not really sure yet. Right now it is me feeling both blissfully happy and simultaneously up to my neck in the needs of a large family, doing my best to not miss or mess up the most important stuff. There are a lot of things left undone at the end of the day. You have no idea. Or maybe you do because you have a lot of things left undone at the end of the day, too. Here I am, right in the paradoxical place where my cup is full and running over, and my eyes are bloodshot with sleeplessness. I have not been well this past week, physically speaking, and feel like I’m swinging on a pendulum from weak/discouraged/lost to bursting with thankfulness. Makes for a fun ride!

One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 13/52

This is the first week of the year that I absolutely did NOT want to take a family photo. I wasn’t feeling well, so I was trying to reason my way out of it. Usually, I really look forward to taking the photo every week (as do the kids…they ask me all throughout the week if its time to take the photo yet), but something about the whole mom-of-a-newborn-and-four-other-children recipe caught up to me last week, leaving me without any creativity or gusto whatsoever. Or maybe its just that I spent all my daily creativity trying to figure out how to survive each day a little bit more gracefully than the day before? That’s got to be it. Fortunately, daddy once again came to the rescue and suggested a family outing to get frozen yogurt, which is an idea we could all get on board with. Look how happy all those little faces were to load up their cups with frozen yogurt deliciousness!

So that’s us for this week. Keepin’ it simple and trying to sort out our new normal…perpetually.