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I gasped loudly in the silence of our sleeping house. She wouldn’t trade it for the world? Angry and offended, I sat upright in the chair, startling Reid. How could she say that? She, who because her name and face is recognizable, has a ready platform for diabetic women wanting to hear her message. How could she minimize the awfulness of this disease? And why was our society so desperate to hear only happy endings, why are we unable to confront the ugliness in life? Fired up, I wanted to know why society only wanted to hear from the pageant winners of the world.
For 25 years I avoided diabetes support groups. When I was a kid I refused to go to any kind of diabetes camp because I didn’t want anyone to see me prick my finger, to smell the alcohol swipe as I wiped my thigh before piercing it with a syringe, to see the red drop of blood. I didn’t want anyone to see me stumble or slur my words when my blood sugar was low. The shame persisted and as an adult when I heard about local diabetes walks, I made other plans.
Unable to fall asleep, I wonder what having a child with diabetes was like from Mom’s point of view. I wonder how my diagnosis changed the way she’d mothered me over the years. Here she was in bed beside me for an entire week. Whose mother still did those things for her thirty-nine year old daughter?
The closer I got to home, the worse I felt. It was becoming hard to pick my feet up off the ground; they shuffled and dragged along the pavement like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz when the monkeys took his straw. I tightened my grasp on the handlebar of the jogger with both hands, afraid to let go. Pushing it out in front of me, I leaned forward and knew that I resembled my grandfather pushing his walker. I stared at the last stretch of sidewalk. We’re almost there, I said to Reid. I can make it. My vision began to blur and flash. I couldn’t see my feet. Almost there. I stopped the jogger at our front door and began to cry with relief. Leaving Reid in the jogger, scared to lift him, I pushed open the kitchen door, opened the fridge, and guzzled orange juice from the carton. My hands shook and the juice spilled out of the corners of my mouth and down my shirt. Slowly, I could see.
My children’s birth stories are different. I did not experience the surprise of my water breaking naturally, or the surge of nervous excitement that follows. I did not count contractions. With our first son, my water was broken in the hospital and my labor was induced with pitocin. After hours of pushing and vacuuming and forceps, I was rushed into surgery and our baby was finally cut from me.
Will began struggling with worries in kindergarten. His throat hurt and he worried that he wouldn’t be able to swallow at school. I tried to explain to him that his throat was tight because he was worried, but it didn’t help. He began to carry his water bottle everywhere. He worried about mascots and couldn’t go to baseball games or Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties. I had to force him to go to school, picking him up and carrying him into the car most mornings, handing him off to his teacher and driving away from his cries, shaking. His worries seemed to come out of nowhere, though he had always been a shy child, a toddler who preferred to stay by my side. Like the type 1 diabetes I was diagnosed with at 14 years old, no one could pinpoint the origin of his anxiety. We just knew that one day he was pretty okay, and the next he was not.