When my daughter was born, I was overwhelmed, like so many new moms before me. I didn’t know how to snap the little snappy things on her onesie, and I wasn’t sure if the car seat was buckled the right way, and she’s fed and changed and clean and she knows I love her, right, so why is she still crying?!
I remember calling my mother, just a few days after my kid was born, and issuing a rapid-fire word salad of “I’m sorry!” and “Thank you!” for all the paces I put her through when I was growing up. As I adjusted to the ebb and flow of motherhood, I thought back to what it may have been like, raising a child with type 1 diabetes back in the 1980s and ’90s.
I was diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 7, so old enough to be educated and informed about diabetes but not old enough to execute all the diabetes tasks on my own. Essentially, my mother had to think like my pancreas, even though she had just learned what a pancreas actually did.
My mom brought measuring cups everywhere with her, buried deep in her handbag and unearthed when we were at restaurants so that she could precisely measure my food so it would match against the peaks of Regular and NPH insulin.
She worked part-time so that she could be the alpha-parent, taking time to attend every school field trip with me, ensuring that my diabetes would be managed without making me the odd-kid-out.
She sent me out on my first sleepover ever at the age of 7, just three short months after my diabetes diagnosis, because she didn’t want diabetes to ever be positioned as a reason I “can’t.” She made diabetes the reason for insulin in our fridge and for the many doctor’s appointments, but it wasn’t ever a thing that kept me from feeling like I was not just living, but really alive.
She searched for, and found, a summer camp for young girls with type 1 diabetes so that I could be with my peers for the first time ever. I took insulin before each meal, played softball and did archery and swam in the pool while carefully monitoring my blood sugar. I sang camp songs loudly and proudly in the dining room just like everyone else because we all had diabetes.
Even to this day, my mother is still trying to keep up with the advancements in diabetes and treatment technology. I currently use an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor, but these tools didn’t exist when I was diagnosed, so my mom asks a lot of questions about my “GPS” (read: CGM) and about how my insulin pump can deliver varying basal rates. She hears my meter beep or my CGM wail and doesn’t freak out, but casually stares at me without making it seem like she’s staring until I grab some juice, for crying out loud.
She’s subtle but effective.
Parents of kids with diabetes often ask me what they can do to help empower their child, and I always defer to what my mother said would be her advice:
“My role as guardian and nurse was restructured as you got older. I became an observer of sorts. I had to let you test your wings; you wouldn’t live with me forever. I love you. That’s why I had to let you go.”
Thank you, Mom, for being strong enough to take care of my diabetes when I little and strong enough to allow me to take it on as my own as I grew older.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.