Diabetes and My Son

I was going to entitle this post something like “The Fear That Diabetes Might Affect My Son”. But then I realised that although he doesn’t have it himself, diabetes has affected Thomas almost since the moment he was conceived.

He managed to dodge the higher risk of birth defects, and the increased weight gain that comes from exposure to extra glucose in utero. But he was still evicted from my body by medical intervention before he, or I, were ready for it. And consequently he came in to the world through the sunroof, rather than by the more conventional route. No matter how much the medical profession debate it, we still don’t know all of the potential long term effects of being born by caesarean. An increased risk of developing diabetes is, ironically, one topic under scrutiny. If anything should crop up that could be related to the mode of delivery, then ultimately I’d have to attribute it to my diabetes too.

But it didn’t stop after the birth. My diabetes put Thomas at risk of low blood sugars in the early hours of his life as his pancreas tried to adjust. Fortunately he was fine, but as a result of the risk he endured heel prick tests in those precious first hours. I know they didn’t really hurt him, and he’ll have no memory of them at all, but as a new mother, those pricks may as well have been pricks through my heart and I couldn’t help but cry as his screams pierced the delivery room. If it weren’t for my health condition, he’d have been left in peace to enjoy his first feed. It was my first taste of the guilt that comes with being a mother. I felt, however irrationally, as though I personally had hurt my child. My brand new baby.

Since then, diabetes has cropped up infrequently, yet persistently, in Thomas’s life. There have been times when I couldn’t feed him, no matter how imploringly he looked at me or how much he pulled at my top, rooted around or screamed at me, simply because my blood sugar was too low and I needed to sort myself out first. Likewise there have been occasions where I have had to leave him to cry in his cot because I wasn’t safe to pick him up and carry him down the stairs. It’s heart breaking to say no to your child when they want to play because your head is full of cotton wool and fingers tingle with numbness from a low blood sugar. Or when you head bangs a beat and your tongue is drier than the dessert for the opposite reasons. There are tear stains on the pages of one of Thomas’s books, from the time that I cried when the words swam in front of me and I knew I couldn’t read to him.

I know that, once again, Thomas is too young to remember these things. In the grand scheme of things, they won’t matter at all. He may look at me with an expression of confusion and hurt, and he may stick out his bottom lip, or even scream at me, but I know that ten minutes hence all with be forgiven with a cheeky grin and a big hug. And I also know that I sometimes I have to put myself and my health first in order to be the best parent for my child. Anyone who thinks that sounds selfish doesn’t live with chronic health issues, or more specifically, with diabetes.

But knowing those things in my rational brain doesn’t stop my heart from hurting each time diabetes edges in to a moment of motherhood. It doesn’t stop the omnipresent mothering guilt from eating away at me. Diabetes is an impossible beast to control perfectly all the time, but that doesn’t stop me pressuring myself to achieve the unachievable in order to give my son a childhood where diabetes does not feature at all.

If it’s an impossible dream, though, I want the only diabetes that affects Thomas to be mine. Not his own.

And no matter how strongly I feel the guilt about the impact of my health on my parenting or relationship with my son, it pales in comparison to the strength of my fear that one day Thomas may be dealing with this too. It’s a fear that on a day to day basis I fold up and squash deep down inside me, right next to the place where I lock away any hope of there one day being a cure. But from time to time it rises to the surface in a rolling boil that I can’t temper or tame.

It’s usually provoked by something that might a seem completely innocuous to other parents. Like the time I arrived to collect Thomas from nursery and his key worker mentioned “He hasn’t stopped drinking today”. A “normal” parent would probably put it down to a virus, a sore throat, to hot weather or the fact they hadn’t drunk much the day before. Immediately though, the fear is stalking me that this could be the beginning. The first time his nappy leaked in months and months, down to it being completely saturated in only a couple of hours, I didn’t care about the extra washing or change of clothes and I didn’t rush online to find out how I could better boost his cloth nappies to prevent future leaks. Instead I let the fear swallow me up.

So far, however, I haven’t acted on my fear. I haven’t pricked his heel, or toes, and tested his blood sugars. I haven’t pressed urine dipsticks in to his nappies to see whether there is any sugar lurking there. I’m determined to try to keep this in proportion. To remember with my head that the scientifically calculated risks and probabilities are on our side, even if that means nothing to my heart. Because if I spend his entire childhood watching him with fear haunting my gaze, that will be just as bad as actually living with diabetes.

A phrase that crops up a lot in parenting circles is “I don’t care, as long as they’re healthy”. It’s always said with the best of intentions, but as time has gone on I’ve realised how much I hate it. It often seems to imply that the speaker somehow wouldn’t be happy with their child if they weren’t healthy. I know it is not what is meant, since no one wants their child to be ill, or to live with a chronic health condition, but it’s what the phrase makes me think. I can tell you now, though, that one thing is for sure. If it happens, I’ll love my son just as much as I do today. And it will be my job to make sure that even if he is living with it, it still impacts his childhood as little as humanly possible.

That’s the best that I can do.

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