As a naturally-minded mama, it never occured to me to be worried about complications during pregnancy. I’d already carried and birthed one healthy baby boy with no complications. I eat a fairly clean, vegetarian diet. I keep track of my nutrient intake and take food-based supplements when necessary. I walk frequently, run sparingly, and stretch or practice yoga & meditation almost daily. My second pregnancy should have been a piece of cake, right? Wrong.
There would be absolutely no cake involved in this pregnancy. In fact, there’d be very little sugar involved in this pregnancy AT ALL.
My midwife noted elevated blood sugar levels on my first regular appointment between 8 and 10 weeks into my pregnancy. I began tracking my sugar levels at home using a glucometer (I was familiar with this process because my mother was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes when I was in elementary school). Based on these numbers, I underwent an early glucose testing at my local hospital. (If you’ve never had one, you drink glucola - a super-synthetic drink that contains about as much sugar as a candy bar and a Coke) - I fail. I’m called back for a more extensive, 3-hour check. Again, I have to drink the glucola (yuck!) and have four blood draws, each an hour apart. Technically, I pass. But barely. “What happens now?” The answer was disheartening. I’d have to submit to another glucose test around 30 weeks - until then, nothing. Nothing!?! But what about my baby? “What if I refuse to take the test again?” I ask. I’m told that in that case, they’d have to go ahead and diagnose me. And there it was. I have gestational diabetes (GD). I am “high risk.”
The diagnoses was hard to swallow - mostly because it meant I had to transfer out of the birth center and away from the midwife with whom we’d built a relationship. This change was nerve-wracking as I’d wanted an out of hospital birth but most places wouldn’t treat me with GD. Gratefully, I found a ton of support in the birth community. I was able to find a hospital with a midwifery care unit who I saw for most of my pregnancy and a delivery OB with a birth center background that honored my wishes for a completely natural labor and delivery. (I could write a whole entry on how I assembled my birth team but that’s not the point of this post.)
To mama’s reading this article who’ve just been diagnosed with GD, I feel you. I know what it feels like. I struggled with the feeling that my body was betraying me and my baby and I was frustrated with how much more medical attention I was expected to receive because I was “high-risk”. We tried oral medications and injectable insulin. I had to have bi-weekly non-stress tests starting at 28 weeks that turned into weekly checks by week 32. I was pressured to induce starting at 39 weeks (I delivered spontaneously at 40 weeks and 5 days.) But you know what? I was fine. My baby was fine. And we would have been fine without most of that attention.
Now, to be clear, I’m not telling you to ignore medical advice when it comes to managing this condition. To the contrary, you should heed most of it. But I am telling you that there are options and alternatives. And, you always have a choice.
If you take away nothing else from my message, hear this: Any risks associated with Gestational Diabetes are due to UNCONTROLLED blood glucose levels. Every single risk. Therefore, if you can control your blood glucose levels, then you and your baby are at no greater risk than if you did not have GD.
And, I get it. Controlling your blood sugar levels in pregnancy is hard. But it’s do-able.
And if it takes medication to help you control it, that’s not your fault.
Read that again. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.
Pregnancy causes insulin resistance in EVERY mother. But some people’s bodies can’t compensate for it regardless of how carefully chosen their diet is or how much exercise the can squeeze into the day.
If you discover you need the medication - take it. It’s more important for your baby that their sugar levels are low. But, do your research. Oral medications are no longer standard care for GD because research has revealed that they cross the placenta and the effects on the baby are unknown. One of the reasons I fought to stay off of insulin was because it would force me to transfer out of midwifery care but these rules are changing as well. Insulin does not cross the placenta as the baby produces its own so it’s much safer for their development. And, many midwives who were turning away GD mama's just a few years ago, have started accepting them because as long as glucose levels are closely monitored and controlled, delivery is no different.
There’s something powerful to be said about a woman’s intuition. No one knows better than you what your baby needs. Your body is not failing you. It is doing its very best to build another human - and that’s impressive. Treat it kindly and give it the healing nourishment and attention that it needs. Find a care-provider that supports you and research your options. You got this mama.
Carlie is an birth educator & doula supporting women through all stages of their pregnancy.
Get in touch with her by visiting her website, www.wellroundedwomancare.com.
Were you diagnosed with GD? Please share your experience below!