Team Diabetes
May 02, 2017 By Joella Burbidge
Gestational diabetes changed my life in ways I could never have imagined

I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes by my obstetrician (OB) when I was around 32 weeks pregnant. For a week I tried to regulate my blood sugar levels through diet and exercise, but my body had different plans: I was insulin-dependent soon after. I went through a bout of depression, blaming myself and my eating habits and lack of exercise. Even though my OB and the diabetes clinic told me it wasn’t my fault, I still blamed myself. I took their advice seriously and counted carbs, diligently checked my sugars, and gave myself insulin (what a way to get over a fear of needles!). My little girl, Lillian, was born at a healthy 8 lb., 10 oz. on the morning I was scheduled to be induced. Shortly after, my sugars returned to normal.

Exactly two years later, I was pregnant again. I watched my diet and exercise like a hawk. Despite my best efforts, gestational diabetes found me again early in my third trimester. My son, Alfred, was born a week and a half early, weighing 9 lb., 10 oz., with severe shoulder dystocia. In this medical emergency (which I learned is a possible side effect of having gestational diabetes), the baby’s head is delivered but the shoulders are stuck, compressing the umbilical cord and potentially suffocating the baby. Luckily, Alfred suffered no lasting effects.

My husband, Mike, and I were surprised but happy that I was pregnant again 8½ months later. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes late in the first trimester this time, and the pregnancy was going well. We happily appeared at a routine ultrasound at 20 weeks. We left devastated to learn that our son, Gabriel, had a fatal neural tube defect called anencephaly: his brain and skull had failed to develop and he had a 0% chance of survival. The doctors told us that anencephaly can sometimes be caused by uncontrolled blood sugars. While they were doubtful that Gabriel's anencephaly was due to my blood sugar levels, I decided that this tragedy would not be in vain and that diabetes would be my cause.

Less than three months after losing Gabriel, I was pregnant again. This time I was prescribed insulin even before becoming pregnant, as well as 10 times the recommended amount of folic acid to reduce the risk of having another baby with a neural tube defect. After an emotionally and physically taxing pregnancy with many scares and a lot of insulin, Rosalie was born via emergency C-section at 9 lb., 10 oz., and perfectly healthy.

Having never run in my life, I started training for my first 5K just eight weeks after my “rainbow baby” Rosalie was born, using the Couch to 5K training program. I completed my first Team Diabetes event, the Hamilton Road 2 Hope 5K marathon, in 40:06. I was extremely proud of myself.

In 2016, I signed up with Team Diabetes for my first 10K event at the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon in Halifax. A childhood friend joined me during the last few kilometres, and we finished around 1:13, which surpassed my goal of 1:20. Rosalie, who was now 10 months old, cheered me on. I have signed up for the 10K again this year and hope to finish in 1:05.

Because of my gestational diabetes, I know I am greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes in future, as are my children. I plan to do everything in my power to keep it at bay for as long as possible and to continue to do my part in raising awareness.

Joella Burbidge works for the Government of Canada in Annapolis Valley, N.S. She is a wife to Mike, and mom to Lillian, Alfred and Rosalie, as well as two dogs and three cats. In her spare time, she runs, knits, crochets, and gardens.

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