James was a remarkably secure little boy until the night he came home from the hospital after his type 1 diabetes diagnosis. I hardly recognized or appreciated that quality in him until it was no longer there. As I’ve written about before, his experience at the hospital at the time of his diagnosis was very positive. In fact, he cried on his way home. He was treated with kindness by medical staff, visited by friends and family, and given lots of toys and opportunities to watch more TV than usual.
Still, when he first came back from the hospital he was different. His eyes would follow me when I’d leave the room. And nights were the worst. He was a very independent sleeper before. This had been an issue of some conflict when he was very tiny, and he wasn’t the easiest sleeper as a baby. But over time and with consistency, he had developed a great nighttime routine, which was very fortunate because his father and I were both grad students at the time and really needed those early evening hours to study!
Still, something about his pleading face — I just couldn’t leave him our first night home. As I got ready to tuck him in, on an impulse, I climbed into his little bed. And we both fell asleep.
Over the next couple of months (yes, months) we repeated this process. Most nights I didn’t stay there long. Just long enough for him to fall asleep comfortably and peaceably. Until it got to the point that I felt like he was feeling more comfortable with his diagnosis and his life. He was still a very young child at this point, and although he understood on some level why his life felt different, I think he was still trying to figure out the trauma of feeling so terrible prior to his hospital stay, and of now having all of these changes to his routine (shots, finger pricks, carb counting). And I’m sure he felt a little of our anxiety too. It took him a while to settle in.
But at some point, I felt like it was time to move on. I started by just leaning over him and hugging him until he fell asleep. Then I put one arm on him and sang to him for a while. Then it was just a hand on his shoulders until he dozed off.
Soon I was sitting in his bedside chair. And we left it there for a while. I can’t remember now how many days I spent the better part of an hour sitting in the chair next to him, but I know that the interval started getting shorter. Then I moved slowly closer to the door each night. Until one night I was at the door itself.
And then one day, I could just give him a quick hug and let him drift off all by himself.
I look back now on those early days and I’m grateful for the memories. Those days weren’t easy, but they were sweet. I’m glad I was able to have the time to be gentle with him. I’m glad I could give him the space to fall asleep without fear until he was strong enough to do it on his own.
In a lot of ways, this mirrors his growth in other aspects of his life. Like his proficiency at diabetes care! When he was little we did it all for him. All the counting, all the finger pricks, all the shots. Little by little he’s taken over almost every single part, transitioning gradually and when he was ready. And likewise, I feel like those memories, too, are rather sweet.
Part of the joy of the journey of parenthood is adjusting to the current conditions, doing what is needed — even when it isn’t easy or fun at the start — recognizing they won’t stay little forever, and then cherishing those same memories forever.
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. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.