Well, it’s been three months now since my baby girl was born and I’m still digesting my pregnancy. While I was, once again, blessed with a relatively easy pregnancy, there were still some hiccups along the way. And by some, I mean one. One big one.
When I was first diagnosed with gestational diabetes (GD), I felt so ashamed which is why I’m only sharing it with you guys now. Here was my thought process: Gestational diabetes only happens to unhealthy people apparently, I’ve been eating too much sugar!? this is clearly my fault. My Midwives reassured me that gestational diabetes can happen to ANYONE, even the healthiest of people. On one hand, I was told that this diagnosis wasn’t my fault, but on the other, I was told that I could mitigate the risks of gestational diabetes by changing my diet. So, wouldn’t this lead you to believe that it was my diet that brought this on in the first place? For those of you who know me, you know that I eat super clean. Of course, I have the occasional glass of red wine or piece of dark chocolate because balance right? I stay away from refined anything and consume fruit in moderation. So, you can understand my confusion when I got the test results back.
What is Gestational Diabetes and who’s at risk?
I won’t get all scientific on you, but basically, it’s when you develop high blood sugar during pregnancy and don’t have enough insulin resistance to metabolize sugars. If you have it, it’s totally not a big deal as your body is likely to resume normalcy as soon as that baby is out. However, if left untreated during pregnancy, it can cause:
• A heavy baby (9 lbs+)
• Difficult delivery
• More likely to have a c-section
• Premature birth
• Excess amniotic fluid
• Increased chances of you & baby developing type 2 diabetes
You’re more likely to get gestational diabetes if you are:
• Over the age of 35
• Previously given birth to a baby over 9 lbs
• Of Latin, Asian, Aboriginal or African ethnicity
• Using corticosteroid medication
• Have had GD in past pregnancies
I didn’t tick off any of these boxes, which left me even more confused, ashamed and angry. So, I decided to take a closer look at my test results.
In talking to other Mamas, taking this test is their least favourite part of pregnancy. Here’s how it works. You go in for a 1-hour appointment they take your blood upon arrival you drink 50 g of pure sugar in the form of an orange drink they take your blood 1 hour after you drink it. If you fail the first test, you are sent in for a second test in which you have to fast for at least 12 hours. They take your fasting blood level you drink 75 g of pure sugar they take your blood after 1 hour and then after 2 hours.
In my first pregnancy, I actually failed my first test by a hair, so I had to go in and do the second test (which I then passed). Meaning that in a span of just two weeks, I was ingesting 125 grams of sugar and it was going straight to my poor baby. So, this time around, I chose to skip the first test and go straight for the second. The intention was that if I did fail the first test, I’d actually be consuming less sugar if I had to take it again. I went to the clinic first thing in the morning (which I highly recommend since you don’t want to be fasting during the day while pregnant). And one week later, I got my results:
Fasting blood sugar level: 4.5 (has to be lower than 5.3)
1 hour after: 10.9 (has to be lower than 10.6) this is where I “failed” you guys…
2 hours after: 5 (has to be lower than 9)
I took a closer look at the time stamps from the lab and it turns out that they tested my blood 5 minutes too early at the 1-hour mark. So instead of waiting the full hour to take my blood after the drink, they took it at 55 minutes. You may be thinking this is no big deal. But if you look at my second result, you’ll see that I “failed” by 0.3. Waiting that 5 minutes would have likely made all the difference. So, make sure that when you go, you are paying close attention to when they test your blood.
I call bullshit
I couldn’t believe that being over by 0.3 on just 1 of the numbers resulted in a diagnosis of gestational diabetes. After being diagnosed with it, I went to the diabetes clinic and was given a glucose meter and a log book. The nurse told me that I needed to write down everything I ate and test my blood 4 times a day at the following times:
• Within 15 minutes of waking
• 2 hours after breakfast
• 2 hours after lunch
• 2 hours after dinner
Okay, cool. But I had to ask why the 2-hour mark and not 1-hour after eating? She told me that it’s the only number that really matters because it gives you the most accurate idea of how your body metabolizes sugar. So WHY is it then, that I was considered GD when I failed the 1-hour by 0.3 and then passed the 2-hour with flying colours? Still makes zero sense to me.
Things have changed
I live in Alberta, so things might be a bit different depending on where in the world you live. Not too long ago, our health system would only send women who were deemed high risk (like they still do in other parts of the world like Europe). Midwifery care is now funded by Alberta Health Services (AHS), which is fantastic because this translates into being a free service for us. But the flip side is that AHS now has more control over what they do and attempt to over-medicalize everything now.
Then, a few years ago they changed the approach because they realized that there was a chance they could be skipping over some women who did, in fact, have GD but didn’t have any risk factors. When they started this practice, if you were to fail 1/3 numbers, you would be considered “glucose intolerant” and no further action, other than suggesting you lower your sugar intake, would be taken. Nowadays, our health system likes to put a blanket overtop anyone who fails any number, even marginally and labels them with Gestational Diabetes.
Don’t let them scare you
I came to my first appointment at the Diabetes Clinic armed with my food journal and as much information as I could get my hands on. My visit went a little something like this.
Nurse at front: “You here for tha diabetes Ma’am?”
Me: “ummm, I guess?”
Nurse takes my weight and height
The FIRST thing she talks about going on medication, taking insulin, and how big my baby might get (holy fear factor)!
Nurse looks at my food diary and is surprised
Nurse: “You’re a very healthy eater! But it doesn’t look like you eat many carbs”.
Me: “No, I never have really. That’s just what works for my body”
Nurse: “I would recommend that you incorporate more carbs, like potatoes and toast, into your meals.”
Me: “That’s not going to happen. And if we’re concerned about blood sugar levels here, wouldn’t eating carbs, particularly the simple carbs like you just suggested raise my blood sugar?”
Nurse: “Not if you eat them consistently throughout the day”
I told her that I wasn’t going to change the diet that has worked for me for the majority of my life just because she suggested I do so. We chatted more about the risks of GD and she taught me how to use the glucose monitor I was given (which is kind of cool, to be honest). She then asked me if I could come in the next week for a follow-up appointment. I asked her what would happen in the next appointment and what I could expect. She told me that they would have a look at my numbers and if they were high, they would come up with an action plan. Word for word, this is what she said:
Nurse: “We’d obviously look at your diet first to see where we could make adjustments before resorting to insulin medication”.
Me: “What changes to my diet would you suggest if my glucose numbers were high”?
Nurse: “Well, we’d probably tell you to lower your carbohydrate intake”.
… WAIT, WHAT?!
I had actually left the appointment feeling a whole lot better about my “diagnosis” because the people running this program were… how do I put this tactfully? Absolute duds.
If I never eat processed sugar and then pump it FULL of artificial glucose, there’s no doubt that my body is going to go batshit crazy. It’s screaming “what are you feeding me? I’m not used to this!” That’s the reason my 1-hour result was high (ish) but then my body knew exactly what to do and metabolized the sugar like a freaking boss to bring my 2-hour number down to a super healthy range.
Here’s another way to think about it… take a vegan who’s been eating this way for most of their life. Then give them a giant burger filled with beef and cheese, and their body won’t be able to digest it. They’d feel like poop and if an observer were going to put a number on how they metabolized that burger, they’d surely fail. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t healthy by any means. This means that they simply cannot digest a foreign food because their bodies are not used to it.
Also, why on earth are they using this shitty drink to test for GD? Give me a plate of fruit or something that normal people would ACTUALLY EAT. Don’t test and then fail me on something that I’d never in a million years do to my own body. I actually asked one of the nurses this question, and she said that the pure glucose drink is the most precise way to test for GD because there aren’t many variables. Whereas if they were to serve fruit, they’d have to take into account the fibre content and the variables are higher. I say stop being lazy, account for the fibre, and give me a dang watermelon.
A healthy body doesn’t know what to do with that much artificial glucose.
If I were to do it all over again
Pretty sure we’re done having kids, but if I were to get pregnant again, there’s no way I would take this test again. I know I didn’t have GD. What I had was a perfectly healthy pregnancy and a beautiful 6-pound baby girl with no health issues whatsoever.
The stress in the latter half of my pregnancy was extremely detrimental to my well-being though. I was crying about it for weeks! I hated that I had to ingest 75 mg of pure glucose knowing that it wasn’t healthy for me or my baby. I hated poking myself 4 times a day just to confirm that my blood sugar level was consistently within a normal range. And more than anything, I hated that I was being treated like an idiot by healthcare practitioners. Just to be clear, I DO NOT mean my midwives – they were phenomenal in all aspects and I felt very supported by them. I’m talking about the nurses in the labs and clinics. I wish they would have treated me like an individual, taken my lifestyle into consideration and had taken a closer look at my diet. Instead, I was blanketed with this condition to which they used scare tactics and told horror stories of a 13-pound baby coming out of my vagina. They also recommended that I have a hospital birth because of my diagnosis. I had my first child at home and was planning on having my second at home too. I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I didn’t heed their ridiculous advice. Instead, I had another beautiful birth in my own bed at home.
I’m still severely disappointed with how all of this went down and the stress it caused me and my family. There are many things that our health system does well, but this isn’t one of them. It sucked that I had to introduce this medical approach, which I for sure did not want in either of my pregnancies.
Here’s the good news
Now that my pregnancy is over, I can safely say that gestational diabetes (even if you actually have it) is not a big deal. They like to scare the shit out of you, but in the end, it turned out to be a total non-issue. In retrospect, I wish I had stressed less, cried less, and worried less.
If you find that you’re not the target audience for GD but have been diagnosed (like me) I really hope that this article will help you navigate through the rest of your pregnancy. Know that you have the right to ask questions, to treat yourself with kindness, and follow your intuition. Don’t feel trapped by the medical system and don’t let them make you feel like you’ve done something wrong.
Love, peace & GD ain’t got nothin’ on me