There is so much about being a parent that aren't revealed until you are in the throws of it. You know the sort of thing — as soon as you announce you are pregnant, the truth starts to tumble out from those already on the parenting side of the fence. And so the guilt starts. ALL the guilt!
First there are the pregnancy horror stories — the tales of endless vomiting and tiredness. Then, as you progress towards your due date, EVERYONE has a birth nightmare story they seem compelled to tell you. As if you weren’t apprehensive enough approaching the act of giving birth! Essentially, this sets the scene for the rest of your parenting life. It is as if the realities of raising a child must be disguised from childless people right up until the point of no return in order to ensure the continuation of the human race.
However the path through parenthood that myself and my husband have trodden is one that never crossed our minds, nor the minds of those parents wanting to share their negative and challenging experiences of parenthood. I didn’t ever imagine I would need to take on the intimidating task of being an understudy pancreas when my second baby was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at only seven months old. The complicated processes our bodies perform every time we eat something was a biological mystery to me, one of which I was blissfully unaware before 1st February 2004. How could I, idiot that I am, possibly be entrusted with such a complex set of equations and calculations on a day to day basis, upon which my baby’s life was utterly reliant? How could I ever be enough for these new, very specific, (and hugely daunting) needs my girl now carried with her? Surely there would be a nurse assigned to us on discharge from the hospital to live with us forever and keep her safe, I reasoned as I sat next to her perspex cot in intensive care.
Since that day in 2004, nothing about our family life has been ‘average’ or ‘standard’. My children have had a childhood peppered with hospital visits, medical terminology, medical paraphernalia, medical procedures, multi disciplinary medical teams, research, fundraising, joy, school, cousins, friends, birthday celebrations, weddings, funerals, baptisms and family. And cake. All the normal, important elements of childhood, confettied with the equally important business of supporting Pumplette’s continued good health. Sometimes, Type 1 demands too much of her and her support team. It can feel overwhelming, especially at times when it is at its most confusing. Other times, she is supremely adept at keeping diabetes as her shadow — never casting her in the shade, but following on from her lead.
We have forged a unique path in this diabetes land. We are not the supremely organised, regimented set up that may, for some, make the unpredictability of this more tolerable. No. Not us. We are supremely shambolic. Sometimes, as a mother, I worry about whether our bohemian approach to diabetes management will have been enough to protect her long term health and launch her into an adulthood where she is equipped with the skills she needs to take good care of herself. Was it wise to have been so disorganised that we managed to depart for a week long overseas trip without a blood glucose kit? Not especially. Did we panic when we realised as we were boarding the plane? No. What we did do was demonstrate that you can always create your own solution. There would be blood glucose kits available to purchase in Europe, with enough strips to run her CGM from for a week. Was it ideal? Nope. Did it demonstrate how resilient she can be and how there is always a solution to those tricky situations? Yes.
Essentially, the main goal of parenting is to raise humans who are happy, hopefully able to live full, independent lives, and be the sort of people you’d love to spend time with. Having a child with diabetes means we have additional life skills which Pumplette must master and have the strength to return to, day after day. It has also meant we appreciate all of our daughters that little bit more. When I was pregnant with my third daughter, I was asked two questions multiple times a day. The first one was, “Are you trying for a boy?” and the second was, “Aren’t you worried the baby will be like Pumplette?” For the record — we always hoped to have three children in our family. We never had a set gender order we wanted fulfilled. A family of five is what we hoped to be and that is who we are. As to the second question — I have never regarded Pumplette’s life to be lesser than that of her two sisters. They are all equally precious and remarkable. Would I have chosen not to have Pumplette if I’d known what lay ahead in our parenting path? Never. I choose her. Every. Single. Time. Do I wish I could swap with her, and relieve her of the never ending companion that is T1D? Yes. With every breath I have taken since that lunchtime on the 1st February 2004. But as that isn’t an option, we celebrate every single second of every day the remarkable band of girls that we are so fortunate to call our daughters. And we continue to bumble through parenthood — one child is now identified as a bonafide adult, and her two sisters aren’t far behind. I can’t wait to see the impact they will have on the world and how, in no small part down to their childhood experiences, they will continue to be the most empathic, compassionate and fierce champions of all those who have little or no voice.
Diabetes may well be an arse, but those girls are having the last laugh. They have used every lesson and challenge it has thrown into their paths as a force for good. That makes me a very proud mummy indeed.
Hi, I’m Annie. I have spent my days blagging adulthood while finding myself responsible for three daughters and one dog. While I can defuse arguments with great ability, my girls are very skilled at depleting the chocolate biscuit stores without my knowledge. I have been the understudy pancreas for my middle daughter since she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 8 months old. I remember sleep with fondness…