Is it just me, or is that just an incredibly thoughtless and downright rude thing to say to a heavily pregnant lady? Nevermind unnecessary, as the heavily pregnant part makes it completely redundant.
Yet that is the exact sentence that I found being uttered to me the other day, by an acquaintance who knows me well enough to know that I have diabetes, but yet not well enough to have found out about my pregnancy by any means until that time. And I actually didn’t know how to reply. My bump felt conspicuously front and central.
“Well, obviously you can have children” she blustered, waving her hand my belly. “I just mean, I thought you shouldn’t. You know, it was too risky.”
Things seemed to be sliding from bad to worse. I needed to check I hadn’t slipped unnoticed in to the storyline of Steel Magnolias. In the moment that I shifted around uncomfortably, trying to find an appropriate response, I came to the realisation that although her actual choice of words, and the timing, was crass and inappropriate, the misconception behind them cannot be that uncommon. Because for years women with diabetes were discouraged from pursuing a pregnancy because the risks were significantly higher for them thatn for the general population. And that film itself has a lot to answer for.
Fortunately these days medical science has a better understanding of what is going on. We have much better tools in the form of better insulins, home blood glucose testing equipment, pumps and CGMs, which all help lessen the challenge of achieving blood glucose levels as near to normal as possible and so minimise the risks both to diabetic mothers and their babies. I tried to explain this to her.
“Actually,” I began, “women with diabetes have healthy babies all the time. It just involves careful planning and lots of hard work and dedication.”
“Oh yes. You must feel like you’re playing the lottery though.” she interjected, before I’d got anywhere with my moment of spontaneous education, implying, I can only assume that I was gambling with my unborn child and their chance of being born healthy
“Well, not really” I tried to laugh it off. “I’ve been really healthy. Everything looks great with the baby.”
The conversation moved on, but I wasn’t really listening anymore. I was too hurt and angry. In an exchange of just a few short sentences, this woman had made me feel as if I were selfish and irresponsible for wanting to have a child, because I have diabetes. Nevermind the fact that I have done everything I can to minimise risks – which are by no means certainties, and not certain not to affect non-diabetic pregnancies either – and that I have a lot to offer my child. The balance of risks to benefits for my future baby has surely been tipped in their favour?
But what business is it of hers? Or anyone’s? If we are going to start passing judgement on who should and should not have children, I can think of quite a few who ought to be in the queue for assessment ahead of me. How about mothers who take drugs, or drink to excess? I suppose women like her would be quick to condemn them too, but I really don’t think that I should be lumped in together with those who take risks through their destructive behaviour. That might apply to those with no interest in controlling their diabetes, but well controlled diabetes is an incomparable situation.
For as long as there is no cure, diabetes is a life sentence in a number of ways. I’m doing my time everyday, without having committed a crime at all. Type 1 diabetes is not my fault. Do I really deserve to be punished further, forced to remain childless? I know that having children cannot be regarded as a “right”, and I feel blessed to have this opportunity, to have this precious life growing inside me. I’d do anything – anything – to keep them safe. But that does not include not allowing them to be born in the first place.
I won’t apologise for it. Apologising for it would mean that I thought our child should not have been conceived. Yes, I worry about whether they will be OK. But I also know that it’s that worry that keeps me working hard so that they will be. They really will be. If you disagree with me, then in five years time I’ll invite you to tell my kid to their face that they shouldn’t have been born. Is that what you truly believe?
I’ll tell you what I believe. Diabetics can have children. And healthy ones at that.
In just about two months time, I’m going to prove it.