When I was planning for pregnancy, and while I was pregnant, I read everything I could about how pregnancy might impact on diabetes (and vice versa). There is a lot of information out there about pregnancy and diabetes (especially pregnancy and type 1 diabetes) I wrote this online diary sixteen years ago, with weekly updates throughout my pregnancy. Heaps of new parents with diabetes share their early parenting stories – with great tips about managing glucose levels during those new days of having a small person completely reliant upon you, while having to manage a health condition that is also reliant upon you!

But what happens when your kid is older and the impact of diabetes on a daily basis seems to be less? It doesn’t seem all that relevant really, but I do wonder if there is a long-lasting impact that I don’t consider. Just how has diabetes influenced the way I parent? Indeed, has it impacted at all? And has diabetes affected my relationship with my daughter? What does it mean for her to have a parent with diabetes?

It’s not my story to tell from the perspective of my 16-year-old daughter. I have asked her many times what it’s like having a mum with diabetes; what it’s like having been around diabetes all her life. One day, she might like to share her feelings with others, but they are her feelings and experiences and I completely respect that it is not my job to share her thoughts. Plus, my interpretation will always be clouded by my own version of events, and my own fears and biases.

When she was younger, my diabetes and its impact on my daughter caused me a lot of unease. I have never stopped worrying that I have passed on my messed-up DNA to my daughter, but it was more of a regular concern (panic?) when she was small. I spent a lot of time with a psychologist learning how to rein in those feelings because they spilled out a lot into anxiety and fear. I had to understand that those worries were about me and my feelings of guilt, not about her – something she told me without hesitation one day when I wanted to check her glucose (for probably no good reason). 

These days, I rarely find myself questioning how much water she is drinking or wondering if she seems to have visited the loo more frequently than usual. Perhaps it’s because I feel confident enough that she knows the four Ts – of course she does – and if she ever were concerned, she would come to me. Or make an appointment to take herself off to the GP. (In those moments when I have noticed that I am starting to get really concerned about this again, I make an appointment to see my psychologist, because sometimes I do need help to keep things in perspective and keep the dread at bay.)

One way that diabetes has definitely clouded the way I parent is how I respond and react to times she is feeling poorly. I am not a sympathetic parent – mostly because diabetes has taught me to just get on with things – even when it is being a royal pain in the arse. I jump to a diagnosis of hypochondria any time she says she’s not feeling well. (To be fair though, that is my diagnosis for anyone claiming to feel unwell, not just my own child). 

I was not a parent who, when the kidlet was an accident-prone toddler, jumped at every tumble or scratch. Sympathy is hard to come by with me – a point she made keenly when she was about three years old and tripped as we wandered down the street. She responded to my ‘Oopsie, up you get,’ with a tear-stained, overly dramatic ‘Just once I’d like you to ask me if I’m okay.’ I promised that if there was gushing blood or a visible bone sticking out that I would ask her if she was all good. But otherwise, up you get and off we go to the park. 

Living with diabetes and the needles that come with it has meant that she doesn’t even get to voice any nervousness when it’s vaccination time. My ‘toughen up princess’ approach to even the start of a frown because a needle is imminent has taught her to not even go there! That sympathy will need to come from persons who do not jab themselves on a daily basis. 

My Italian mamma tendencies do show up with bowls of steaming chicken soup for runny noses, and pastina con burro for tummy aches. But once they are prepared and consumed, there is an expectation that life goes on without moaning or much downtime. I think my own parents find me a little mean, but they more than make up for it by piling on sympathy and compassion, while muttering about what a cruel and indifferent mother she has. 

Understanding my need for the right HCPs at the right time has meant that I’m more inclined to outsource than do things myself. I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked if she would like to see a psychologist because surely, the angst of the tween years or the teen years, or any of the obviously nightmarish parenting she has had to deal with is far better dealt with by a professional. But instead, she has seemed mostly happy enough to chat over homemade cookies and a cup of tea when she has needed to talk something out, so I guess that my nasty, unsympathetic ways haven’t resulted in her thinking that she can’t confide in me when she wants. 

I write a lot of this very tongue in cheek, but I do believe that it is impossible to live with a chronic health condition like diabetes and not have it somehow impact on all relationships, including those with our children. Having diabetes and getting pregnant – and then holding on to that pregnancy – was probably the hardest thing I have ever done, but it is also the most wonderful, incredible, important and worthwhile thing I have done. Fertility difficulties before and after that one successful pregnancy have made me acutely aware of just how fortunate I am, and not a day goes by where I don’t, at some point, think that, and marvel at the amazing human I have a front row seat watching grow into a truly remarkable person. 

Because in amongst it all, I also wonder if diabetes will rob me of some time with my beautiful girl. Will it cut short the number of years I get to be with her? What will I see? How much of how her life turns out will I be witness to? 

These days, I think that is probably what scares me most about diabetes – that I won’t get to have as many of those years and see as many successes and struggles as I hope to. Which makes me horribly sad, because the first sixteen years have been nothing but a delight. Of course, I love her – I adore her! But also, I really like her. I want to be around for as long as I can and to see as much of that as possible. I fear that diabetes will be limiting – limit what we can do together, and simply minutes, hours, days, years together. It’s these thoughts that are locked away in the dark parts of my mind and don’t get to see the light of day much. Because when they do, I feel a sadness like no other and a terror far bigger than anything I have ever had to face.

Me and my girl. Roma, 2018