When You Fail Your Glucose Test: surviving gestational diabetes

THE GLUCOSE TEST. For many pregnant women, it’s simply a hoop through which to jump. For the rest of us – those who have failed this test – it marks a sad moment: the day we must give up our pregnancy rights to eating cold pizza at 2 a.m.

When I failed my own glucose test, I actually cried real tears. What? No more bagels?! Perhaps that sounds dramatic; after all, some of you reading have lived with diabetes for much longer than a few months (and you have my complete respect for doing so). But even if gestational diabetes lasts only a short time, the diagnosis still marks a sudden life change during a time when you’re already facing a lot of change.

Somehow, I did survive three hormonal months without pizza or bagels … and with only a few bites of cake! I also learned quite a bit about food and blood sugar control along the way. So, I want to help clear up a few common misconceptions about gestational diabetes and then provide some tips for those of you who are navigating (or helping a friend navigate) a similar diagnosis.

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Misconception #1: Women who exercise during their pregnancies will not get gestational diabetes. When I told people I had gestational diabetes, their first response was usually, “but you work out!” True, I was probably in better shape while pregnant than I am now since having a kid has given me plenty of excuses to stay home from the gym. But while certain lifestyle habits can be risk factors for developing gestational diabetes, nothing makes you immune from becoming diabetic. That’s because gestational diabetes is triggered by pregnancy hormones which create insulin resistance. That resistance can be heightened if you are already genetically prone to insulin sensitivity. The good news is that gestational diabetes usually goes away as soon as the pregnancy hormones leave your body.

Misconception #2: You should offer a woman with gestational diabetes a banana. If only I could have eaten a piece of cake for every time someone offered me fruit as a consolation prize for dessert! Controlling diabetes is all about controlling carbohydrates, which convert to sugar. Fruit – while GREAT to eat in proper quantities and at the right times – still contains carbs. Bananas in particular are a high-sugar fruit. Even starchy vegetables like corn and beans have carbs! So, managing gestational diabetes isn’t just as simple as cutting out bread and pasta; it involves thinking about the carb counts of everything you eat. It means eating the right types of carbs, pairing carbs with protein, and learning what foods spike or drop your blood sugar at what times of day. So, while it’s incredibly well-intentioned to offer a hungry pregnant woman a banana, it’s probably best to just ask what she can eat.

Now, for any of you who may have recently been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I want to offer you my solidarity. Keeping a strict diet and/or managing insulin with all those pregnancy cravings is no walk in the park! Your doctor is your first and best resource for all health advice, but here are a few tips I found helpful:

Tip #1: Walk when you can. I often had high blood sugar readings until I began the practice of walking after every meal. Yes, even after breakfast or between meetings at work … which sometimes involved waddling my pregnant self up and down the building stairs. Only 15-20 minutes helped, and I eventually started to enjoy those walking breaks in my day.

Tip #2: Search for the best and most affordable supplies. As anyone who has regularly tested their blood sugar can tell you, diabetic supplies are NOT cheap. The monitor I got for “free” from my doctor’s office was actually outrageously expensive when I started buying test strips! Then I tried another monitor that gave me inaccurate readings. So, I recommend taking the time to research your options before buying anything. My local pharmacist is the person who ultimately helped me find the best supplies in terms of quality and affordability.

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Tip #3: Plan your splurges wisely. I love a good latte, but it just wasn’t worth ordering one when every carb mattered (and milk = carbs!). However, I DID eat a few bites of cake at my baby showers, because it felt worth it to celebrate my upcoming arrival as long as I didn’t go overboard.

Tip #4: Be honest with friends and family. As anyone who has a food-related limitation knows, it can be tricky to bring up with others. How do you say, “I realize you might be planning to fix pasta when I come for dinner, but will there also be any meat?” However, I learned that most people were grateful to know what foods I could eat freely, and it was less awkward if I was honest about it. Also, while you can’t always go around throwing a big pity party every time there is cake at the office (well, at least not on the outside), you definitely need a few friends who will affirm that it is HARD NOT TO EAT THE CAKE. Here’s hoping those same people will also bring you cupcakes after you deliver, which will make it feel worth the effort.

Of course, you’ll also have a beautiful baby, and that will obviously make it all worthwhile, too! (But I do recommend eating those cupcakes. 😉 )

If you’ve also experienced gestational diabetes, how did you survive?

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