Pregnancy is pretty amazing. You grow something microscopic into something adorable with eyes and fingers and maybe even hair. You can feel your child moving around inside of you. You are filled with love and dreams for this tiny being. It also sucks. It sucks, so, so hard. You get queasy and uncomfortable; You’re tired all the time; Your boobs ache; Your sciatic nerve hurts; Your ankles swell; You inexplicably start to smell like Doritos dunked in chicken broth (just me)? But, if you’re really super "lucky," you will also experience the struggles of having gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes (GD) is weird. It’s this mysterious illness that creeps up on you while you’re pregnant (for reasons we don’t entirely understand) and, as soon as you are no longer pregnant, vanishes as if wasn't even a thing. Most women are routinely tested for “GD” around the 24th week of pregnancy. An estimated 90% of pregnant women, blessedly, will not have to deal with this GD crap.
And crap it is, folks. I know because I experienced gestational diabetes during my second pregnancy. I’ll give some words of reassurance to start off, because I know I needed them: GD is, ultimately, not a big deal. It’s manageable and you actually get used to it pretty quickly. That being said, OMG it is so goddamn annoying. Know that if you've recently been told that you have GD, you'll get through it (I can assure you), you'll just go through the following struggles, too.
The Three Hour Test
Most people will only take the standard, one hour test for gestational diabetes. However, we happy few, we band of sisters, whose test results are considered "questionable," will have to partake of the longer, more annoying, but more accurate three-hour test.
Here’s how it goes: you don’t eat from midnight the night before your appointment (mercifully, most appointments are scheduled first thing in the morning). You go in and get blood drawn to determine your “fasting” blood sugar. Then you drink this hideously disgusting glucose drink (think flat orange soda, but sweeter) and you draw blood three times after that: at one hour, two hours, and three hours. To summarize: you don’t get to eat, you have to drink something disgusting, they take all your blood, and you need to sit in a waiting room for hours. Basically, it’s the worst. The good news is, most women who take the 3-hour test will not have gestational diabetes. For those of us who get diagnosed “GD,” this is really just a preview of the bullsh*t to come.
Knowing A Huge Aspect Of Whether Or Not You Have GD Is Your Stupid DNA (Or Some Other Inexplicable Factor)
Personally speaking, my diagnosis came as no surprise. My mother had gestational diabetes during all four of her pregnancies, and her first (me) was when she was in good health, average weight, and 18 years old. While overweight and obese women are at higher risk for GD, genetics seems to play the biggest factor in whether or not you have gestational diabetes. Knowing that, and in many cases, there’s literally nothing you can do to keep GD at bay. Yes, that's incredibly frustrating.
There's So Much To Learn
If you zoned out during your freshman year health class when nutrition was discussed, don’t worry, because even if you took diligent notes and retained all the information, basically none of the usual "rules" hold up in the face of diabetes. You’ve got to learn all about simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, pairing carbs with proteins, sugars, when to eat, when not to eat. I mean, it’s maddening. Thought brown rice was healthy? Think again, my friend. Even brown rice will make your sugar go up (it made mine skyrocket).
Everything Has Carbs
“Ugh. Fine,” you think. “I can’t have carbs. I’ll just eat this.” Except oops, not only does whatever you’ve chosen as a consolation prize have carbs, it has more carbs than you are allotted for a meal. So, basically, I hope you like salad, because you’re about to eat a lot of it… with no croutons.
All Carbs Are Delicious
From muffins to pizza to ice cream to pancakes, to bagels, to fruit (Fruit, you guys. Freakin’ fruit has to be limited because it has carbs! Fruit is supposed to be good for you!), a carb’s best friend is flavor, and your flavor budget has just been carpet bombed.
Craving Foods You Cannot Eat
I did not put “muffins” first in that last paragraph by accident. The whole second half of my pregnancy was spent craving muffins. All the muffins, you guys. I literally had dreams where I would sit at a table and scarf down dozens of muffins and I would be so happy I’d cry. But could I eat the muffins? Not so much. I made my husband promise to bring me a basket full of muffins as soon as I popped the kid out. (And he did, and it was as magical as I dreamed it would be.)
Re-Learning How To Cook And Eat
Many of the staple recipes in my repertoire are carb-heavy (#ItalianGirlLife), like pasta, couscous, beans (yeah: beans are full of carbs and need to be eaten with care), rice, and bread. As such, I had to scour the internet and my local library to find new, protein and vegetable-heavy recipes. Oh, and did I mention that I also had to find something that my toddler and sort-of-picky husband would also like and eat? When you look hard enough, there are actually a number of really good recipes that are gestational diabetes friendly. When you look only kind of hard, everyone is going to try to convince you that boiled kale and grilled chicken is delicious. It's not.
Feeling Like A Pin Cushion
Ensuring that you are kicking GD’s ass is a pain in your ass. Or, more accurately, your finger. Monitoring blood sugar via a finger stick test is necessary to show you (and your maternal care provider) what’s going on in your body and how to move forward as you progress in your pregnancy. Now the finger stick test itself really doesn’t hurt. The needle is very tiny and the contraption that you use (it looks sort of like a pen) gets you so quickly that you sometimes barely feel it. The problem is when you have to do this 3 or 4 times a day (which you may or may not have to), because your fingers can get calloused and/or you run out of places to poke yourself and you get sore. Also, it’s just annoying AF. (There are, fortunately, some steps you can take to make this bearable.)
To Medicate Or Not To Medicate
Most people’s GD can be controlled with diet and exercise, which is good news. The bad news, for me, is that I was not one of those people. While my blood sugar was normal (and even low after I ate a meal) my blood sugar was higher than it should have been when I woke up in the morning. After experimenting with different pre-bedtime and midnight snacks, my midwife and I determined that the best route was medication. I didn’t have to inject insulin (fortunately, though people I know who have had to say that you get used to it pretty quickly), but even though it was just a little pill with dinner, it was still one more annoying thing to put up with.
Figuring Out How Diabetes Affects You
Diabetes is a tricky minx of a disease, mainly because it looks very different from person to person. While the general rules are pretty standard (carbs bad, protein good) your body will react differently to certain foods than someone else’s might. Recall my anecdote about brown rice from earlier? My body would react more to a half a cup of brown rice than it would if I ate a piece of cake. Some people have difficulty controlling their “fasting numbers,” while others figure out exactly what to eat (and how much of it to eat) at a particular meal, with ease. You won’t know exactly what’s going down until you start monitoring yourself.
Diabetic Food Ruts
Because so many of your favorite foods are (very likely) off the table for a while, your choices are sort of limited, especially if you’re experiencing any kind of morning sickness and most foods made you gag anyway, I should add. Guys, I ate so much kale and quinoa salad. While my body was doing well, I’m sorry, but a girl’s soul cannot survive on kale and quinoa alone. No. The same breakfast, lunch, and snacks every day got old real fast, but when finding even those couple of things took you hours of research (and everything else is bland and stupid) what are you going to do?
Office Parties/Dinners Out
The spur-of-the-moment special occasion is tough. Anytime an all-office email was sent out that said “Donuts in the break room,” and I saw all my co-workers faces light up, a little piece of me died. What's just as devastating? When you’re out to dinner and the person you’re with orders some delicious pasta dish or particularly decadent dessert, and you’re like, “No, it’s cool. This steamed vegetable plate is positively sinful.” Then you laugh delicately, and then your delicate laughter turns into heaving sobs.
They’re like an impromptu office treat or sad dinner out that you get to worry about in advance. Congratulations! Since pregnancy lasts 9 (or more) months, it’s pretty much impossible for you to miss all the major holidays for the duration of your pregnancy. Woe to the poor sap with gestational diabetes on Thanksgiving because, sure, turkey is still fine, but is turkey really anything more than a gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mashed potato delivery vehicle to tide you over until it’s time for pie? Holiday food is the sort of simple, beautiful pleasure that creates anticipation capable of lifting our spirits during the remainder of the year. Gestational diabetes is basically a kind of pan-holiday Scrooge who says “F*ck you! I’m in charge!”
Well-Meaning But Pushy Friends And Family Members Who Try To Get You To Eat Things You Shouldn’t Because They Don’t Get How Diabetes Works
OMG, stop. No, seriously, you need to stop. No, I cannot have any more of your pasta than I just ate. Yes, I know I’m eating for two, but one of us is a 3 pound fetus and the other has gestational diabetes so any more is going to be a problem. You are not the one who has to manage blood sugar or worry about growing a 14-pound newborn with health problems who will destroy your vagina. Leave me alone.
Your Due Date (And The Possibility Of A C-Section) Hanging Over You Like The Sword Of Damocles
If you are planning a c-section anyway, obviously this is a non-issue, which is fabulous! But if you, like me, were planning and looking forward to a vaginal delivery, GD can threaten that plan. Gestational diabetes babies tend to be bigger than your average infant and they just won’t fit (or, worse, their head may pass through the birth canal no problem, but they could get stuck after that, just like an adorable, goo-covered Winnie-the-Pooh) and that can be, well, dangerous. The other concern is that most providers advise that mothers with GD not to deliver past their due date, since both infant health and size are seen as areas of concern if the pregnancy goes on for longer than average. This means that if a woman with GD goes past her due date, labor will likely be induced. While most inductions go off without a hitch and many women wit not going into labor without medical assistance results in a higher chance of a c-section.
I wound up delivering my own GD baby vaginally in a VBAC delivery. She was 2 weeks early and big: 9 pounds, 2 ounces. However, after those 45 minutes of pushing, my long-bland, carb-free nightmare was over. That’s the beauty of pregnancy in general, my friends. No matter how sucky it can get (and it can get pretty freakin' sucky) there's light at the proverbial tunnel. Sometimes that light is obfuscated by yet another dinner of spinach and un-breaded sole fillet, but it’s never completely out of sight. Within an hour of my daughter’s birth, I called the hospital’s room service and ordered French Toast with extra syrup, chocolate ice cream, chocolate milk, and a fruit plate.
Ladies and gentleman, it was glorious.