What I Learned from Having Gestational Diabetes

Byline: Ana Isabel Ramos

My heart sank when the doctor broke the news to me: “you have gestational diabetes”. I thought about everything I had read about it, and what weighed most on me was the highest probability of developing diabetes later in life. It was unexpected. There’s no diabetes in my family, and both my mother and older sister, who carried three and two pregnancies to term, never showed any sign of such an ailment. Where did genetics go wrong? More accurately, where did I go wrong?

Before getting pregnant I never had a sweet tooth. Sweets, apart from good, very dark chocolate, never had any appeal for me in any way. I don’t enjoy the feeling of exaggerated sweetness candy delivers to my throat and body. When I got pregnant at the end of summer, I developed a bit of a sweet tooth, despite my previous habits. The beginning of the second trimester coincided with the holiday season, and unlike Vegas, what happens in the holiday season does not stay there. A significant part of my pregnancy weight gain happened during those four weeks.

At week 25 it was time to take the glucose tolerance test, which came back with bad news. I had developed gestational diabetes. This meant that my pancreas, used to regulate glucose, was having trouble processing it on a body with a new-found appreciation for cookies, carrying a twin pregnancy.

Within minutes of hearing the news, the doctor was explaining how and when to test my blood sugar as well as the general guidelines for my future diet. The goal was to control my diabetes with regular intake of protein, together with a mix of carbohydrates and vegetables.

New Way of Eating

My dietitian went on to design a plan for me, divided into twelve – I kid you not – meals per day. Between them, I am allowed only one or two hour breaks. I have to stay up to eat my last meal of the day and wake up early to have the first, as I must fast for a minimum of five hours during the night, but never longer than eight hours.

The main commandment is to avoid sugar at all costs, which made me an obsessive label reader. Sucrose is not to cross my lips. Neither are honey nor anything containing fructose (except for a limited amount of fruit, which must be eaten with crackers to avoid a glucose peak). This isn’t too difficult in terms of avoiding anything sweet, like candy or dessert. But it gets a lot harder when it comes to other foods, even savory ones, which often contain sugar.

So the key is to go back to the basics and purchase raw foods directly from the supplier. Instead of processed foods (or “foods in packages”, as I call them), I favor the local butcher’s for top quality, certified meats,  the local grocer’s for veggies and fruit from the farmer. I keep my packaged food purchases to cheese and milk.

Lessons I Learned

With diet and habits alone I have been able to control my gestational diabetes and have learned a few lessons in the process. Living with a chronic disease, while knowing that it will only last a limited amount of time, is somewhat of a blessing. It’s been six weeks since my diagnosis and my weight gain has been minimal, and corresponds directly to my babies’ development. Moreover, now I know how to eat healthily and how important it is to source ingredients directly from producers, with a minimum amount of travel between production and consumption. Labels on packages are often not clear enough, and sugar – as well as other components – are difficult to recognize on a list of ingredients.

Most important, though, is that a chronic disease doesn’t mean sickness.  In fact, I am healthier today than I was before the diagnosis, have had fewer pregnancy side effects (yes, heartburn, I’m looking at you). And what appeared to be a “terrible” complication is now a lesson in treating my body well by choosing wisely and eating frequently so that I can nourish my babies and carry this pregnancy to term.

As my doctor said, I will eventually develop type 2 diabetes. That may happen at 55 or 120 years of age, depending on my eating habits, lifestyle and body mass index. If I was careful before, always keeping my weight in check, I will definitely be even more careful in the future. I had the advantage of receiving a gentle warning from mother nature and changing my habits while growing two precious babies in my womb.

Ana-Ramos-portrait

Ana Isabel Ramos is an illustrator and designer from Lisbon, Portugal, currently expecting twins. She has lived in 3 continents, experiencing a multiplicity of palates, and is now enjoying delicious Portuguese food. She writes, illustrates and sometimes embroiders “airing from Lisbon”, her bimonthly e-zine and hosts an online Embroidery Club. She dreams of covering the world with yarn. Her website is at http://www.airdesignstudio.com.