By Brook Gibson
My adolescent years living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) weren’t the easiest. Especially on my parents. And for me, I suppose it was easier because I didn’t really think about my diabetes. I didn’t test nearly as frequently as I should have. I always told my mom I just ‘knew’ where my blood sugars were. I didn’t count carbs and I sometimes even forgot my shots. After the age of 16 I had stopped ice skating. My weight ballooned up as a result of that and hormones starting. And eventually by college I had developed an eating disorder and eventually had to be hospitalized with depression. Why couldn’t I be bulimic and lose weight like the others? My diabetes was a literal weight on me, physically and emotionally. I felt that nobody understood me. My dad never talked to me about his adult onset type one diabetes. To this day he still doesn’t like to. He has the advantage of having some C-Peptides left too, so he’s making a little bit of his own insulin.
My mom always told me that the doctor told her “She’ll go brain dead at 16 and come back around in her mid 20’s” You hate to hear something like that but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. College found me living the traditional college life. I was going to clubs, parties, drinking and I had even started smoking. You do the things to “fit in”. Were they the smart choices? No, but it happened. I have the Diabetic necrobiosis scars on my legs to this day as a result of my smoking. A reminder to never again to that. It healed better than most, but a constant reminder that Type 1 Diabetes and smoking don’t mix. My parents were super hard on me during this time. Do I wish they supported me differently? Absolutely. Trying to work with me instead of “This is Right” and “That is wrong”. People don’t understand the daily struggle that one can go through living with T1D. Some days are harder than others, but not to say that there aren’t great days too and overall life is good!
When I was in my late 20’s things started to come back around a bit. I started to take care of myself again. And then I met my future husband, Kevin! I knew he was perfect for me because of his equal love of mustard and Diet Coke! It was a turning point in my life. A realization that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this man and have children! Well…I really better start taking care of my diabetes if I wanted to have kids one day! I got my A1C’s back into the 5’s and 6’s and as soon as we got married we started to try to have babies!
Then the next journey began. After 6 Months we still weren’t pregnant, and I ended up in an ER visit. It turned out that I had endometriosis on my ovaries. I had surgery to have it removed and 5 months later I became pregnant! Our first baby girl was born in 2010! We talked about definitely having more children. At the end of the next year we became pregnant again, but we miscarried the pregnancy. That is not easy on anyone. I was devastated. After many months of trying again we went to the doctor for blood work and they sent us straight to the fertility clinic. We were put straight into IVF and after being on the strongest dose of medicines and only producing 1 Egg and 1 Intermediate egg, the IVF failed. I was told I had “bad eggs” because I had T1D and that I would probably never have a second biological child and that I needed donor eggs! Needless to say I was devastated again so I went for a second opinion, and after the right evaluation it was determined that it was not bad eggs that I had, but a lack of good ones because they took a lot of my good ovarian tissue when they removed my endometriosis. We quickly became pregnant with our second after a round of IUI! We continued to conceive naturally our third, and that was an amazing surprise! We found out on a Mediterranean cruise, right after we purchased the wine package of course! Needless to say I didn’t get to partake in that remaining part of the trip! I couldn’t believe it had happened on it’s own. We were considering seeing the fertility doctor again after the trip and we didn’t have to!
We miscarried our next pregnancy and then returned for one more IUI to have our fourth and then quite unexpectedly naturally conceived our fifth with which I am currently expecting! We are very excited! We always wanted a big family and it’s so amazing to see it coming to fruition. When I was diagnosed at the age of 6 I believed growing up that I wouldn’t be able to have children of my own, and I’m so proud and happy to say that that is the furthest thing from the truth and to be an example that women living with Type 1 Diabetes CAN have healthy pregnancies and babies! I blogged about our fertility struggles here:www.type1diabetesfertilityjourney.blogspot.com
Before we miscarried our second pregnancy I had approached someone at the JDRF about outreach but also about wanting a group for women living with T1D who were pregnant. I ended up miscarrying that second pregnancy which was very hard for me so I put the idea on the back burner. When I was pregnant with our third pregnancy, but second baby, I was approached again by the outreach manager about starting the T1D and pregnancy group I had been desiring to do for so long. I wanted to be able to connect with other women living with T1D who were going through this stage of family and family planning in their lives. During my first pregnancy, the hospitals didn’t want me to connect to other T1D’s through them. I always heard “Well because of HIPPA I can’t introduce you to others.” I knew there had to be other women living with T1D like me out there who wanted to connect during this journey into parenthood.
Living with T1D and being pregnant is a whole other job itself, and unless you’ve been through it, you can’ compare. To have the support of other ladies I knew would be so valuable to me and I hoped to them. And this is where the Type 1 Diabetic Sugar Mommas came about! (@t1dsugarmommas) We are a group for women living with type 1 diabetes who are in family planning stages, currently expecting or women living with T1D who have young children. We have an amazing online, closed Facebook group where women can connect and discuss everything T1D and pregnancy related. From how to start getting ready, questions throughout as well as for moms living with T1D who have young children and how to navigate these times. We also do get togethers with one another throughout the San Francisco Bay Area! We are growing too! We just had our first Sacramento get together and will be having our first in Long Valley, New Jersey one in September! Some of the events are for the amazing women living with T1D but in many events we also include our children (aka “T1D Sugar Cubes”) and our amazing spouses (aka “T1D Sugar Poppas” and “T1D Sugar Spouses”). We have park play dates, swims, bbq’s and sometimes even wine tasting for the T1D Sugar Mommas! We have grown locally and have started to expand internationally. We have an amazing Instagram page where women living with T1D get to share their Pregnancy stories! When I started this group I never thought of it growing or had the thought that it could be really impactful to others.
Since starting this in 2012 it has amazed me the friendships that have grown from the group and the support it has given. I’m so proud to call these women my friends and I hope that we can continue to help support others throughout their journeys into parenthood. I am also proud that we are starting to get recognition from some of the larger institutions in the area. I continue to do this and live strong not only for me, but for my family and to hopefully show others out there that just because we live with Type 1 Diabetes, that does not mean that we can’t have beautiful families of our own!
Brooke Appelblom Gibson is the founder of the Type 1 Diabetic Sugar Mommas, a wife, and mother to four beautiful children. She has been living with T1D for 33 years. She and her husband Kevin reside with their family in the San Francisco Bay Area. Brooke is proud to be involved in the T1D community.