Pregnancy and Gestational Diabetes

Gestational Diabetes Arrives: I know a lot of people have told me how valuable they found my posts about Pixie and his stillbirth, so it was kind of logical for me to continue to write about our experiences during this pregnancy. I do hope that writing about pregnancy and loss and complications helps someone else. But as I’ve always said, a lot of it is helping me to wrap my own tiny mind around what’s happening. These posts are really more selfish than anything. They run through my mind and sentences form themselves and then blow away to dust over weeks. Eventually I give in and try to pin them down and shape them into something. But it all tends to come out a bit stream of consciousness in the end, so I beg your indulgence.

And I think it shows that these posts are more for me than anyone. That last one wasn’t positive was it? And here we are at 28 weeks and this pregnancy is hard going. I’m not having a great time with it so it’s difficult not to grumble. Because I already feel just a little bit robbed of the excitement of pregnancy – every day is pretty much just dread that it is going to end. It’s still hard to talk about a due date or names or plans, because I still don’t really believe that we’ll get a baby out of all this. And that makes any little complication all the harder to take.

Pregnancy can be tough

Day by day, physically things continue to get harder. I popped to the shops at lunchtime and have pretty much been stuck on the sofa ever since as my hips and lower back have given in for the day after the walk. All the fun things like the umbilical hernia and diastasis recti are there, possibly getting a little worse (certainly the diastisis is) but pushed to the furthest reaches of the mind as nothing can be done until after the pregnancy.

The endless ferris wheel of medical appointments continues, now with the added joy of a maternity ‘fitness’ class – the gentlest series of stretches that sends the poor participants into a whirl of creaks and groans and obvious discomfort. These are the women whom pregnancy has let down, the ones whose bodies have crumpled when they least expected it. None of them are to blame, they just lost out on the maternity roulette wheel.

And to add to the fun, about 10 days ago I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This has been expected by my consultant from the beginning, which did not prevent me from shedding a tear when the apparent inevitable happened. Apparently having a previous big baby is a risk factor (11lb 3 do you?), and being overweight doesn’t help (I had a 2 month gap between having an 11lb 3 baby and getting pregnant…so yeah, probably a bit overweight) as well as having diabetes in the immediate family, which I also had. Once again, I am assured none of this is my fault. It is increasingly feeling like I am no good at pregnancy.

What is gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is having high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. It’s usually diagnosed in the second or third trimester, but can be found earlier. My first trimester Glucose Tolerance Test was clear, my second one recently was not. Pregnancy hormones can make it difficult for your body to utilise the insulin it produces properly, or you do not produce enough, so your glucose levels are not controlled properly. There’s nothing really you can do about it – some 16 out of 100 women get it, and not all of them display the risk factors I’ve mentioned. It just happens, it’s just one of those things. My life seems so full of these uncontrollable ‘one of those things’ I’m surprised that I am given a say in anything anymore.

So far the condition is being managed with monitoring my blood glucose levels 4 times a day, looking after my diet, continuing my exercise and taking a tablet called Metformin. I hope that will be sufficient to manage the condition so that I do not need to start a course of insulin. But who knows? That’s half the fun, the not knowing (jk).

A gestational diabetes diet

Diet-wise, managing the condition is the same as any management of diabetes – avoid spikes in your blood sugar by avoiding sugary foods and foods high in carbohydrate, and moderating your intake of complex carbohydrates. There are all kinds of weird and unexpected rules that I am learning about – such as adding lots of fat to carbohydrate can slow down your absorption of the carbs and stop a glucose spike (or words to that effect), while alcohol can ‘distract’ your liver as it processes the toxin and sort of ignores the carbs (or summat). But of course I already can’t have alcohol.

(I also clearly don’t understand all of these things 100%, but I’m damned if I’m going to spend any more time obsessively reading about them.)

Experimental Eating

So we’re working through an experimental phase, seeing what works for my body. Some people can tolerate a small quantity of baked beans, for example, other diabetics simply cannot. You don’t know until you try. Luckily for me I have The Boy who is tirelessly looking after me, since being able to stand up and cook properly is pretty much out of the question already anyway.

We’ve been working on a high protein diet with lots of vegetables and salad, with wholegrain or seeded carbohydrates at the fore. On the plus side, meat and cheese are very much in, as is proper butter. On the downside, if I could live on pasta I would. And now I definitely can’t. We’ve got away with 50g of wholewheat pasta, so it’s not like I can’t have it at all. But the problem is I am pregnant, which means I am also starving ALL THE TIME. Previously carbs would help alleviate this discomfort. Now I just have to suck it up because I really don’t want to go on insulin. But I still might not have a choice.

Get over yourself

Now you might be thinking “wow, here she goes complaining again, just suck it up!” Which is probably eminently fair in many ways. All things being equal, my diabetes may go away in a few months when I’m not pregnant any more. My risk of Type 2 Diabetes is now considerably increased (not fair) because of this condition I couldn’t do anything to avoid, but apparently the longer you breastfeed, the lower that risk falls. So assuming I actually end up with a baby I can feed, that might help there.

Lots of women have far worse pregnancies than mine. The unbelievable sickness of hyperemesis gravidarum, other conditions which can leave women hospitalised for months at a time during pregnancy. Other people aren’t fortunate enough to experience a rainbow pregnancy at all. Hard though it may be to believe, I am grateful. I’m grateful to have got to 28 weeks with this little girl and we are now enjoying boxing matches together as her wriggles get stronger each day. I am treasuring this time we have together.

But, you might have noticed, my life revolves around food. I write about it, I photograph it, I talk about it. I eat it. And eating it is more of an achievement than you may have realised. I have had a very difficult relationship with food for most of my life, including quite a severe eating disorder for several of my teenage years. Getting past that so unequivocally was something I was quietly quite proud of. Learning to love food and then sharing that passion is what really defines me as an adult. Having to be so conscious about food, in such a negative way, feels like regressing 20 years.

Food Management for Foodies

Every time I test my blood I get anxious. Every result in the red makes me brood and sulk and worry. Even when I can’t help it. Being hungry all the time makes me yearn for the next meal, and then mull over what I’m going to have, analyse my blood over the day and wonder what I can ‘get away with’. And every test makes you feel a bit more of a failure. It’s a hugely demoralising condition as there is no end, there is no win. I’m just trying to do the best not to cause my daughter any damage or put her at any risk. Every day you are just firefighting, trying to minimise the harm.

In the future, a Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis would be like a life sentence to me, if I had to adapt and compromise my diet forever. Given the risk of developing the condition I now have, I suspect that I will never really be able to truly return to my carefree eating days. I hate diets and everything they represent. I believe in eating well and eating abundantly, taking joy in the occasional pig out as much as the first bite of the new season’s vegetables. Trying the produce of my locality is something I love, as is encouraging others to do the same. I want to go back to the days where my brain was occupied with these foodie matters, and leave my foodie – and my pregnancy – worries behind.

Obviously I’m not a medical professional – consult the NHS page for more information about gestational diabetes.


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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