Expecting mothers learn something new every time they visit the OB for a checkup. On my 24-week visit, I learned that I was at risk for gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. As a healthy woman, I wasn't too concerned about this, as I generally took care of myself and watched what I ate. Then my OB told me that my age and family history already put me at risk, which made me terrified of developing gestational diabetes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, gestational diabetes is marked by high blood sugar levels during pregnancy, which increases the risk of high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and preterm labor. The condition is not uncommon, affecting about 18% of pregnant women. While any woman can develop gestational diabetes, there are several factors that put you at a higher risk of developing the disease, including your age, your weight, your race, and whether or not you have a family history of pre- or type 2 diabetes.
As a Mexican-American woman over the age of 25 with a family history of diabetes, my OB told me that I was already at higher risk for gestational diabetes. Then I failed the initial glucose test used to diagnose the condition, and my anxiety started to spiral out of control.
To a degree, I’ve always known diabetes might be something I would have to deal with later in life, due to my family’s history with the disease. (My grandma and grandpa had it, as well as an uncle.) But hearing from my OB that being diagnosed with gestational diabetes meant I’d more than likely have type 2 diabetes late in life scared the crap out of me. I’ve never had to restrict my diet or keep a close eye on my blood sugar levels, so having to do that every day worried me, especially considering that I was pregnant and already feeling fairly vulnerable as is.
All of these "what ifs" kept swirling around my mind, making me fear the absolute worst.
Before I left her office, my OB said that just because I had failed the initial test didn't necessarily mean that I had gestational diabetes. I still had to take a three-hour follow-up test to confirm whether I had it. But instead of telling me not to worry too much about the potential complications of gestational diabetes, or telling me that the condition is manageable with proper attention and care (which it is), she kept on talking about all of the risks and the possible implications for the health of my baby, including high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and preterm labor. None of this was at all helpful to me. All of these "what ifs" kept swirling around my mind, making me fear the absolute worst.
When I got home, I started Googling gestational diabetes, which made me even more freaked out. I learned that in addition to what my OB had told me, having gestational diabetes could put my baby at risk of having breathing problems, according to the American Diabetes Association. Other potential complications included having a large baby, as in 9 pounds or more. I was already freaked out by the thought of a six-pound baby ripping its way through my birth canal, so imagining a 9-pound baby made me wince and cross my legs as I imagined the pain.
The three-hour test was similar to the one-hour test, except, well, longer: Instead of having my blood tested just once, I had it tested every hour on the hour. I was asked to consume a syrupy drink in the waiting room of the lab, and it was so sweet that I nearly threw it up. Eventually, however, the feeling of nausea passed, and I was able to sit in the waiting room with the other test-takers, all fellow moms-to-be who had also failed the one-hour test.
One friend said having gestational diabetes required her to eat healthier and more balanced meals throughout her pregnancy, which carried over to her lifestyle after she had her baby. For her, it was something of a blessing in disguise.
Fortunately, I passed the test and was in the clear. I was no longer at risk for gestational diabetes, though I later learned that despite what my OB had told me, it wouldn't have been the end of the world if I was. Since I took the test, I’ve actually had a few friends who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and their babies turned out perfectly fine — they simply had to watch their blood sugar levels and tweak their diets. One friend said having gestational diabetes required her to eat healthier and more balanced meals throughout her pregnancy, which carried over to her lifestyle after she had her baby. For her, it was something of a blessing in disguise.
I realized that my OB had likely presumed my initial diagnosis was correct before the test even came back. She'd given me way too much information on gestational diabetes and scared the crap out of me. I'd been led to believe that having gestational diabetes was akin to a death sentence for me and my baby, when that was just not the case.