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Raising Kids & My Own Diabetes: The Challenge I’ve Always Worked Toward

By Kerri Sparling

Kerri Sparling on what it’s like to (attempt) balance raising young kids with managing diabetes – and how kids can be the best diabetes motivators

Sure, this might be my first column on diaTribe in over a year, but I’ve been working on a little project for the last 18 months.  Let me share him with you:

That grinning guy is my little boy. He was born after two years of hoping for him and then nine months of building him. My heart is fuller and my house is messier as a result of his sweet self, and he joins my husband and his sister, rounding out our family to four. 

Managing diabetes before I had kids was not my favorite activity, but I did it because it was necessary. Diabetes management became filled with concerns that work like open apps on my iPhone, running in the background, eating up a fair amount of my daily battery life. Life was still life and I still felt fulfilled, but I never felt rested or entirely calm because I was always concerned about one diabetes-related need or another.  But diabetes management after kids is different, for me. 

Diabetes is the dog I don’t like but I still have to be kind to. It barks and occasionally pees on the floor (or worse), it has chewed up at least ten of my shoes, and it jumps up and freaks out whenever the doorbell rings. And somehow it has me on a short leash. But even if I’m not into having this dog, I still have to walk it and feed it. It still needs to be cared for and protected. I am its reluctant owner, but at least it behaves when it has my attention. When it’s well-groomed and attended to, it doesn’t bite me. And becoming a parent meant I needed to protect my children from the beasts in my house (with diabetes falling into that beastly category). 

Diabetes has always been something I’ve fought against; my children are something I fight for.

Being pregnant with my firstborn thrust me immediately into a world where diabetes wasn’t just mine anymore, and pregnancy with my son was exactly the same. During pregnancy, every blood sugar I had also influenced my child’s well-being, and I worked very hard to manage my blood sugars to mitigate their effect on my babies’ growth and development. When my kids were born, diabetes still wasn’t entirely mine because now I had my best reason to want to live forever and be healthy long into my old age. They are both a boost of motivation, keeping me checking and properly dosing and following up on doctor’s appointments.

The first few months after the little guy was born were rough, I’ll admit. My son was not much of a sleeper. (Understatement. In those first few weeks of adjusting to life with two, my husband turned to me and said, “We’re awake right now, right? I’m not sure.” It took us a minute to be sure.) Because we were so exhausted, diabetes took a reluctant backseat to all the change. I wore my CGM sensor every day and it was my saving grace, diabetes-wise, because remembering to actually prick my finger was a habit I needed to relearn. I changed my insulin pump sites regularly out of habit, but responding to my blood sugars was challenging, to say the least. Lows were immediately dealt with, out of necessity. I was letting highs linger for far too long, though. My postpartum experience was decidedly worse this time around than with my firstborn, and I sought cognitive behavioral therapy to help work through the emotional and hormonal fallout. At my core, I was thrown for a loop by the arrival of a newborn and my diabetes went unwalked, unwashed, and unfed. 

Adjusting to two kids made diabetes even more of an afterthought while simultaneously making it the most pressing issue. Now I had TWO kids I wanted to be around forever for. Two kids I wanted to see grow up. Two kids I wanted to be the “yeah, but” for – “yeah, but diabetes didn’t stop my mom from [inserting any life goal here].” Diabetes for decades? Yeah, but she still played with us and changed our diapers and sang us songs and went to our softball/soccer/basketball games and nagged us about eating our eggs before school. Life with chronic illness? Yeah, but mom always seemed healthy and strong and capable.

So what’s it like having two kids and diabetes? Exhausting. But entirely worth it.

It’s been nine months since my son was born and my family and I are falling into a routine that feels comfortable. The exhausting days of a newborn are behind us and while the diabetes dog still requires walking, I don’t feel like I’m being dragged around behind it. Now that I have two little ones in my heart and in my care, diabetes has become more of a priority than ever before. Every grin they throw my way reinforces my desire to be healthy, strong, and ready to hug them in an instant.