Why Type 1 Diabetes is like a newborn baby

This time last year I was excited about an impending event. The MAD Blog Awards finalists had just been announced and I was on the list. I rubbed my hands at the thought of a great night out with some fabulous bloggers, and started planning my dress. I probably cracked open a bottle of something fizzy and told Twitter all about it. It’s a big deal, The MAD’s and I’m always so thrilled to be a part of it.

Six months later I arrived at the awards ceremony with bleeding heels from a last minute stagger along Knightsbridge, having thrown on a frock from the back of the wardrobe, and taken the last possible train in. No lunch date, no hotel room to gossip in as we all donned Spanx and glitter. None of the excitement of previous years for me. I was sat at the back, on a table with people I didn’t know well. I’m not winning this one, I told myself, I’d be nearer the front if that trophy was mine. And then they called my name.

Winning the MAD Blog Awards

Winning Best Schooldays blog at the MAD blog awards was an emotional moment

Photos by Tom Arber

I don’t like these images. Not because I am crying; nor because of the errant boob or the beginnings of a sagging chin. I don’t like them because they take me back to possibly the worst moment in my life. I was out on my own for the first time since my daughter’s diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes three weeks earlier. I had left my baby with my husband and I was terrified. My heart was broken, I couldn’t eat, I wasn’t drinking, I was barely there. I cried all night long. People tried to talk to me, but I scared them away – no-one knew what to say.

I spent the evening glued to my phone as first my daughter, and then her dad texted blood test results and requests for advice, then moved on to increasingly frantic voicemail messages – hers full of tears, his of angst. Not that she was worse off with him than with me. None of us knew what we were doing back then. We just knew that life as we knew it was over, that our child was on the brink of something that would affect every moment of her life – day and night. It was a lot like the first few months with a newborn baby. Without the joy, and the stitches. Here’s why Type 1 Diabetes is like having a newborn baby.

Type 1 Diabetes is like a newborn baby

  • You will see the clock more times during the night than you do during the day, as you check blood glucose levels to make sure they’re safe.
  • You visit the GP at least once a week, hyper-aware of symptoms you would previously have ignored.
  • You spend two hours of every day in the chemist’s, perusing shelves for things that might be useful, but find yourself incapable of making a decision.
  • You eventually find one thing that is useful (usually for measuring liquid – in this case the precise quantities of Lucozade needed to treat a low blood sugar) and buy so many that the pharmacist has to place an order to re-stock his shelves. You go back the following week and buy it all again.
  • You begin keeping a detailed record of everything your child consumes.
  • You spend hours procuring a life-saving, precious liquid for your child, (breast-milk/insulin) then forget that it needs to be refrigerated, and throw it all away the next day.
  • You buy more plastic storage tubs than you could ever need.
  • The supermarket checkout is something you quite simply MUST. GET. THROUGH. NOW! Before someone cries.
  • You gush every time you meet someone dealing with the same as you. No matter that you have nothing in common – they’re your new best friend, and you intend to stalk them.
  • No matter how much you learn, there is always a good chance of a curve ball.
  • Illness is extreme, and keeps you up all night with worry.
  • You don’t trust anyone with your baby – not even your partner. It’s you she needs, and only you know what to do. You’re going to have to get over that, or you’ll break.
  • You experiment with your diet, to see if it makes a difference. You cook ridiculous things you’ve never eaten before, and never will again.
  • You don’t eat or drink for months. There isn’t enough time, and when there is, you’re too exhausted to try.
  • You up your intake of wine though, despite the certain knowledge that it will impair your ability to cope in the middle of the night.

And eventually your baby will grow; you’ll get better at recognising what’s needed, and heading off some of the tantrums before they’re uncontrollable. You will become a master of ingenious discipline techniques. If only diabetes would respond to the naughty step!

As the anniversary of our diagnosis approaches, I find myself unable to think about the things we did in the months before we knew. I can’t look at photos or my heart breaks again, and the fragile sense of things being okay starts to crumble. She wants a party, to mark how far she has come; I want to turn back time and pretend it never happened.

But we are where we are. We have studied, made notes, and learned. We are not in control, but we do have influence. Diabetes is another member of our family now, with a personality all of its own. Diabetes doesn’t always do what we tell it to do. But with a lot of hard work, patience and attention, most days are fine. A bit like raising a child…

35 thoughts on “Why Type 1 Diabetes is like a newborn baby”

  1. oh Helen this post really moved me. You have come so far this year and good luck (even though we are in same category) I hope you enjoy the night more than last year, but I expect you will still be texting for those numbers!

  2. Best of luck xx I’ve been following your journey and I think you’re coping amazingly well. I guess there is a lot behind the scenes that you don’t let on though, it’s always the same when you have a poorly child. I really hope the awards ceremony is more relaxed for you this year xx

    • Thank you Anne. It’s a tough balance between playing it down for the sake of some normality, and wanting to scream the unfairness of it all from the rooftops. Paddling swan syndrom is what it is, and so many of us are doing it so well, you included x

  3. Gosh Helen, reading this with tears in my eyes, you have all come so, so far and been through a lot. Rooting for you and you have my vote, it will be lovely to see you again x

  4. Your family really has had a horrendous year. I’m sure you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. But you are a brilliant mum and you’ve all come so far.
    Good luck in the MADs!

  5. I read this 5 minutes after a whatsapp chat with my friend Elisa. We grew up together as kids and she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged 4 or 5. in the past 30 and more years, we’ve been clubbing together, got drunk, travelled to remote places, saw the sun rise after a crazy night out. We’ve been to remote beaches with just our bikini, flip flops and her insulin pen. Anyhow, she just whatsapped me to let me know she’s pregnant after only trying for a few months. Her English is terrible or I’d introduced you to her, but at least I wanted to share her story. you guys can do it, try and stay strong. And yes, as a mother of a 5 months old baby, the sleepless night are hideous!! all my sympathy there, just when you thought that they were over…

    • Thank you Fran, positive stories of people living with Type 1 are always so so helpful – I really appreciate you sharing. So glad for your friend, and I hope my girl has a friend as good as you, who understands, to share it all with as she goes through life x

  6. Oh Helen, you made me cry. I’m sorry it’s been so tough for you all. Been meaning to message you for ages. You are educating us all and best of luck in the awards XX

  7. Helen you have come so far this year, I remember our early emails and how you felt, I remember so well because it mirrored how I felt in the beginning. That is exactly how we felt when bringing Jack home from the hospital, like we were bringing a new baby home. But you are all conquering and overcoming now and that is so amazing. Congratulations on the Mads you are amazing and I cant wait to finally meet you xx

    • It will be a helluva party Sarah! Three of us Type 1 mums there on the same night! Huge congrats on your place in the final 🙂
      And thank you for your support this year – so glad I found such a positive person in all of this x

  8. I know you’ve had a difficult year with your daughter and I guess none of us realise how much it impacts on every aspect of your life – even those moments that should be happy. I hope you manage to relax a little more and enjoy BritMums this year even though you’ll be thinking about GG the entire time x

  9. Such an inspiring post. You’ve been on such a journey this last year. My ex was type 1 and despite injecting 4 times a day, hardly anyone knew he even had it. My stepdad is type 2, which is a lot easier to deal with. I have a lot of admiration for you for how well you’ve coped and all you’ve done to raise awareness through your blog. I shall be there to drink and laugh and celebrate with you. Xx

    • Thanks for such a lovely comment Emma – I will definitely want to come and hang out with you and compare frocks again 😉

  10. Oh Helen you never scared anyone away. Just didn’t want to burden you with any more. I am glad the diabetes is like a more grown up child now. You are all such a remarkable family. I wish you (not that you need it) all the best of luck in this years MADs. And all the best for the future. xx

  11. I can’t believe that it has been 9 onths since GG’s diagnosis, you really are doing an amazing job workign this all out together. What a moving post Helen. Mich x

  12. And in another few years it’ll just be life, the new normal, so intrinsically part and parcel of your family you’ll struggle to remember what life was like beforehand. It’s very hard to see it in the early days, but you have been given a gift that will teach you more about what being a mother is all about than anything else. Yes it’s shitty in parts, but that’s what counts, it means that you find a new wonder in the life you have when the shittty bits don’t get in the way. That is a gift that will make you appreciate things in a way that many other people never do. Much love to you honey, and good luck at the awards x

    • Renata, I’ve written almost exactly this in a different post. I wish we (she) didn’t have to live with this, I wish we could have learned what we know about each other, and how much we now treasure each other in a less distressing way. But our relationships are infinitely better because of our situation, and I do treasure that. I know you understand more than anyone could how that is, so it made me smile to hear it from you as well x

  13. What a beautifully written post Helen , it really moved me . What a great Mummy you are to your kids! A great role model for all of us. I hope you’re all coping with the pump ? A huge learning curve I am sure. We have a training session tomorrow then it is starting for real in August after our holidays. And well done on being a finalist in the MADs , a fantastic achievement again and hopefully you will manage to enjoy and absorb it more than last year .

    Take care ,

    Caroline x

    • Thanks Caroline, we’re getting there – pump life is a lot different, but I’m sure will be better eventually. Good luck with yours x

  14. Oh my I remember the MADs last year and just how fragile you were – and then I think to when I saw you a few weeks ago and how strong and determined you are. You are the best role model for your daughter Helen x

    • I really hope so, though I hope she learns not to beat herself up over every imperfection the way I do. It’s a tough condition for a perfectionist!

  15. wow Helen, although i do recall what having a newborn was like, I really do not envy you all that you and your family have had to go through these last worrying 9 or so months. Your daughter is a strong, confident , beautiful young girl and i know she has you to thank for this, because you are the same. You are amazing, she is also amazing and you need to remember this when you feel down, you have coped so well, much better than i would have done I am sure
    good luck with this years MADS xx

  16. You sound like you’ve all had a really tough year but come so far. I hope you all go from strength to strength with it. I have GD and it’s meant to be “temporary” and already feels so draining as it traps me into thinking I have it under control. Then it turns out I don’t.

    • I’m sure it will be but yes, you have a decent run and think you’re getting the hang of it and then it throws you a curve ball and you realise that you’re never in control, you’re just managing what’s thrown at you. Which is what makes it such a draining full-time condition. Hope it’s going well for you though – pregnancy is tough I believe as you have to keep your numbers even lower. Here’s to a happy birth and return to normal for you 🙂

  17. Oh bless you, what a hard night that must have been even though you won the award! This year will be much better, I promise, and I am looking forward to meeting you! x Julia


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