Parenting with Diabetes: I Taught My Two-Year-Old Daughter How to Be My Caretaker
By Cherise Shockley
diaTribe Community Manager, Cherise Shockley, shares the story of her diabetes diagnosis and how that diagnosis affected her family
I was diagnosed with latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (or LADA, a type of diabetes between type 1 and type 2) in July 2004, at the age of 23. I was a newlywed, my husband, Scott, was deployed, and I had just finished five-and-a-half years in the Army Reserve. I was placed on oral medication (glipizide), and I began to manage this form of diabetes with diet and exercise, knowing that someday I would require regular insulin for the rest of my life.
In March of 2005, Scott returned from deployment, and a month later we found out I was expecting our first child. Nine months into my diabetes diagnosis, I was carrying my first child; I was temporarily placed on Regular and NPH insulins, because I had to stop taking my oral diabetes medication during pregnancy. At the time, I did not have a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) – the first version of the Dexcom STS wasn’t invented until March 2006, as my colleagues at diaTribe wrote about here.
My pregnancy was smooth-sailing aside from my diabetes, which took quite a toll on me, but I knew if I did what I could to manage the condition, my little girl would be okay.
Eight months after I gave birth to my daughter, Niya, we said our good-byes to our families and moved from Kansas City, Missouri, to our new duty station in Southern California.
From the time my daughter was one year old, until she was reached two, I was taking oral medication, and my hypoglycemic episodes were few and far between. When I did experience hypoglycemia, I was either at home or at work, and my husband or my coworkers could help me out.
After my daughter turned two, I noticed that my medication was no longer working. With the help of my nurse practitioner, I tried everything in my power to get oral medication to work for me, but it was time to see an endocrinologist.
A few days after my first visit, I met with a nurse practitioner. He told me, "Your beta cells are still present, but we do not want to burn out what little function you have, so I recommend you start taking insulin." I paused. Although I knew this day was coming, it was like hearing "you have diabetes" all over again.
When we began talking about pump therapy, I asked for something easy to use, knowing that my two-year-old daughter would be my primary caretaker. I wanted Niya to be able to help me if she needed to. With my husband working late hours and traveling, we made a decision to teach my daughter how to manage my diabetes. We taught her how to call 9-1-1, how to treat my lows with apple juice, and eventually, how to shut my pump off. In the back of my mind, I wanted her to know how to manage diabetes just in case she received her own diagnosis later in life.
Many parents of children with diabetes share stories of not being able to sleep because they are worried about waking their child up in the middle of the night to check their blood glucose levels. In my family, my daughter was the person I woke up in the middle of the night when I experienced low blood glucose. Before I had a CGM, Niya was the person helping me check my glucose levels and stuffing glucose tabs or candy into my mouth in the middle of the night when my husband was not home.
From the time she was two, my daughter was my primary or secondary caretaker. Scott retired two years ago, so now Niya only helps me out when it’s just the two of us together. If she hears the alarm from my CGM, she asks if I am okay.
I never asked Niya how she felt about her role in helping me manage diabetes; I was nervous to interview my 13-year-old daughter, but I wanted to know how she felt.
Me: How did it feel growing up with a mother with diabetes?
Niya: I was a normal kid. I can eat what I want. I was able to learn how to manage your diabetes and help you when you needed help. I know how to recognize when you are okay.
Me: How old were you when you realized I had diabetes?
Niya: I was four or five. You asked me to film a diabetes video for you. The hook in the song, "Who has diabetes? Help us stop diabetes," made me realize that diabetes was a bigger issue. Diabetes was my normal – but the video helped me see that diabetes was also serious.
Me: Was there ever a situation that scared you?
Niya: We recently went to Disney Springs together during Friends for Life. You went really low, and I was scared that you weren't going to be okay. I didn't want anything to happen to you when I was with you; I didn't want to be responsible. Diabetes is a lot of responsibility for a kid, but in some ways, I'm used to it.
Me: That was a scary moment for me, as well. It was the first time in a long time that I was not able to get my blood glucose levels to go up (with glucose tabs or candy). It was important to me to let you shop with your friend while the team at Disney Springs sat with me.
Niya: Thank you for letting me be a kid and not forcing me to live as if I had diabetes. I love you.
Me: Is there anything you would like to say to other children who have parents with diabetes?
Niya: It is sometimes difficult having a parent with diabetes. I now have two parents with diabetes, since my dad has type 2. I want other kids to know that they can navigate it – they will feel extra pressure that other kids don't feel, but hang in there. When your mother is as special as mine, it's worth it; diabetes is a big part of my family.