On gestational diabetes (or on how I stab myself four times a day)

A routine test that all pregnant women must subject themselves to is the gestational diabetes screening: you drink a bottle of sugary liquid provided by the doctor and get your blood drawn an hour later. The blood draw reveals how your body responds to the sugar by measuring your glucose level: a higher number after a certain period of time means the body isn’t managing the sugar properly. Risks to the baby include a higher birth weight and the accompanying complications (no one wants a 12-pound baby, least of all me) and too high of a blood glucose level at birth, meaning baby’s blood glucose level will plummet after the cord is cut and require some stabilization.

I never thought of myself as at risk for gestational diabetes. Though my dad does have type-2 diabetes, which is apparently a risk factor, I’ve always maintained a healthy weight and a fairly balanced relationship to sugar. I’ve never been one to crave sweets or chocolate, and would generally say I eat a pretty healthy diet: think oatmeal and fruit for breakfast and salads for lunch. So I honestly thought this test was at worst completely unnecessary and at best one I’d breeze through with flying colors. Because look how healthy I am!

You can imagine my complete shock when I didn’t pass the screening. As I told my sister-in-law, I DON’T FAIL TESTS. That just doesn’t happen to me! So I tried to swallow the shock and pass it as a one-off. Surely my next glucose test would show that this was a false positive and I could skip on my way.

The second test is more of a commitment than the first. You have to fast for several hours before testing, get a preliminary blood draw to determine your fasting blood glucose level, then drink a more concentrated sugary drink than the previous screening. Then you had to hang around the doctor’s office so they could do three more blood draws: one every hour. As someone who is mildly afraid of blood draws, this did NOT sound like my idea of a good time.

Nonetheless, like good kids everywhere, I sucked it up and got it done. Good thing they weren’t also taking my blood pressure because my anxiety continued to mount with each successive blood draw. By the last one I felt like a ball of sweat. Correction: a ball of STARVING sweat because you can’t eat anything. Thankfully, the lab techs I had were all very professional and barely had a problem with my veins. I was so thankful! Good experience notwithstanding, I told them all at the end that no offense, but I hoped I didn’t have to see any of them for a long time. Afterward I treated myself to Qdoba.

But as you can guess by the title of this post, the test definitively showed that my body couldn't regulate my blood sugar. And guys, I was devastated. And by devastated, I mean crying in the conference room devastated. Looking back, I'm not sure why I felt so strongly about this (oh wait, hormones). I think it was a combination of the shock of having a condition I never thought I’d have and getting told that there was something “wrong” with me. Plus, the word diabetes is scary anyway!

The next steps included meeting with a nutritionist to discuss my diet (ME meet with a nutritionist? But look how healthy I am!), picking up my glucose testing kit, and meeting with a nurse to learn how to check my blood sugar. For the uninitiated, checking blood sugar entails holding your finger to a little lancing device that jabs the fingertip to produce a tiny droplet of blood. Then you hold that droplet of blood against a testing strip, which tells you your glucose (or sugar) level. I was worried my fingertips would get bruised or sensitive but after the first couple of days, it’s really not bad at all. Having to test my levels is more just a pain in the rear since I have to check it four times a day: before I eat in the morning, an hour after breakfast, an hour after lunch, and an hour after dinner. I’m a slave to my blood sugar alarm!

I haven’t had to make huge changes in my diet but I did learn that my breakfasts had been too carby for my body to handle. For example, my breakfast carbohydrate limit is 30 grams, or 2 “carb choices” (1 carb choice = 15 grams). Now let’s take one of my standard breakfasts of oatmeal and fruit. The serving of oatmeal alone is nearly 30 grams. Add in some honey (1 carb choice) and a half-cup of fruit (1 carb choice) and I was consuming double the amount of carbs than I needed, without even trying! Now I’m eating LOTS of eggs. My latest egg concoction have been egg muffins: a mixture of eggs, chicken sausage, spinach, cheese and peppers cooked in muffin tins. High-protein popovers!

Before anyone gets worried, I should mention that gestational diabetes goes away after delivery. It’s a temporary hassle but it’ll be worth it in the end!

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