A woman with Gestational Diabetes lying in a hospital bed
Photo courtesy of Yasmine Singh

I Had Gestational Diabetes, But All Anyone Cared About Was My Diet

Like most women, I intended to eat healthy during pregnancy but looked forward to indulging the occasional craving or two — I had fried pickles and ice cream on my pregnant-lady bingo card. As luck would have it, however, just as my nausea subsided, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes (GD). I was really looking forward to eating my favorite foods again now that I could actually keep food down, but was instead put on a strict low-carb, high-protein diet by a nutritionalist, and asked by my doctor to test my blood sugar levels four times a day. Changing your diet is the first course of action when treating GD and if this didn't work, medication was the next line of attack, which I was hoping to avoid. Luckily, the diet worked and I was able to control my GD, but I was judged harshly for sticking to a diet throughout the pregnancy.

When I was diagnosed, I was devastated and blindsided. I was in denial at first because I ate healthy and exercised regularly.

The condition is relatively common, with around 2 to 5 percent of pregnant women developing gestational diabetes, according to the American Pregnancy Association, and a higher incidence (7 to 9 percent) among women with certain risk factors. In short, GD is a temporary (in most cases) form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy, when a woman’s body is unable to produce enough insulin in order to regulate sugar. Obesity and a family history of diabetes can heighten your risk, but it can also appear out of the blue. GD is manageable, but, untreated, puts you at risk of a large birth weight, premature delivery, temporary breathing problems for your baby, and jaundice, among other issues — scary stuff. I had never really heard of GD, so when I was diagnosed, I was devastated and blindsided. I was in denial at first because I ate healthy and exercised regularly. But having a family history of diabetes is what ultimately did me in.

Photo courtesy of Yasmine Singh

I didn't have an easy pregnancy up until that point, and being diagnosed with GD made things even harder. But I was determined to do whatever it took to have a healthy baby. So I adjusted to my new diet and meal schedule that was put in place for me. It wasn't easy. I had to significantly reduce my intake of carbs, which meant cutting out bread, sugar, and even most fruits. Simply drinking juice or eating an apple could spike my sugar. I had to prick my finger four times a day in order to test my sugar levels with a glucose monitor. I also had to write down everything I ate along with my sugar readings, and send them to a nurse every week.

Because I had GD, I had to undergo more testing, monitoring, and attended more doctor visits than the average pregnant woman. I went to the doctor anywhere from two to three times a week so my doctor could monitor how well the diet was working and if everything was going smoothly with my pregnancy.

Hundreds of tokens for the super-human effort required to manage gestational diabetes — four blood-sugar tests a day. Photo courtesy of Yasmine Singh

As if the adjustment to all of the additional testing, doctor appointments, and my new diet wasn't enough, I found it extremely hard to stick to my diet at social gatherings or when I was around people. I felt like I was constantly being judged or questioned for the way I was eating. It was strange for a lot of people to see a pregnant woman refuse indulgent foods like cake or chocolate. There's a misconception that pregnant women can eat to their heart's content — that we should stuff our faces.

My mother-in-law was constantly asking why I wasn't eating more. She would offer me bread, desserts, and soda because, as she put it. I 'needed to fatten up.'

But according to WebMD, "the reality is you need only 100 extra calories a day during your first trimester, and 300 extra calories a day in the next two. That means adding the equivalent of an extra glass of milk in the first trimester; a glass of milk, an apple, and a couple of graham crackers in the second and third." And as a woman with GD, I had to be even more careful not to eat too much or too many foods high in carbs or sugar.

Photo courtesy of Yasmine Singh

Whenever I went out to restaurants, the waiters frequently seemed shocked that I refused a bread basket or that I was eating small portions. On one particular occasion my husband and I went out for a Valentine's Day dinner and I overheard a waitress whisper to another waiter that I wasn't eating much. And when I had to opt out of dessert, I got a lot of dirty looks. Other patrons overheard me say, "I have to check how many carbs are in that before I eat it," as I Googled away on my phone and they looked baffled. It didn't help that I was already thin, and so people assumed I was just trying to avoid gaining weight for superficial reasons. And it wasn't just strangers that were concerned.

People would make judgmental comments like, 'Well I ate healthy, that's why I didn't get it,' as though I had somehow brought this on myself.

Even though I explained that I had GD, my mother-in-law was constantly asking why I wasn't eating more. She would offer me bread, desserts, and soda because, as she put it. I "needed to fatten up." She would compare her pregnancy to mine and remind me of all the things she was encouraged to eat — all of which I was told to avoid. This caused some tension between the two of us. She was worried that I wasn't eating enough or not gaining enough weight. But according to my doctor, I was gaining enough weight and everything was fine.

Being on a diet during pregnancy is unheard of for most people. It can seem extreme or bizarre. Worst of all, sometimes when I would explain that I needed to eat a certain way because I had GD, people assumed having diabetes was somehow my fault. People would make judgmental comments like, "Well I ate healthy, that's why I didn't get it," as though I had somehow brought this on myself. GD isn't always caused by unhealthy eating habits or because a woman has done something. I became really defensive, especially in the last few weeks of my pregnancy.

Even though I was constantly defending the way I was eating, I continued my diet and eventually had a healthy baby. In hindsight, it just seems amazing to me that instead of applauding and supporting a woman who is doing her very best to ensure a healthy baby, my pregnancy was trailed by endless criticism and judgment. Adjusting my diet was necessary for the health of my baby, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Having GD opened my eyes to a lot. I saw through our ideas about how a pregnant woman should behave and look, and the hypocrisy of blaming a woman for a hereditary condition even as her attempts to control that condition were met with ridicule. It was a true baptism of fire into the world of motherhood. Today, as someone who had GD, I'm at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the next 5 to 10 years, and so I'll be using things I learned during pregnancy to handle nutrition — and the judgment that comes with — in the years to come.

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