Motherhood, mindfulness and the mysteries of diabetes

Aimee Young’s diagnosis of gestational diabetes came as a shock – so did discovering she had type 1 eight years later.

A busy mother and legal practice manager, Aimee has found her condition doesn’t follow textbook patterns, making it tough sometimes to get adequate treatment.

Aimee Young.jpg

When Aimee Young was 28 weeks pregnant with her first child, she went into early labour.‘

They stopped it, but I’d been quite unwell, and when they did the gestational diabetes test it came back high.” The frontline treatment for gestational diabetes, metformin, didn’t control her blood sugars, so she was put on insulin.

After her daughter was born, her blood sugars returned to normal. “With my second daughter, I was 12 weeks pregnant and they said we should do another HbA1c to keep an eye on my blood sugars – and they were already off the charts. I went straight back on insulin.

“Both babies were fine and my blood sugars were normal afterwards.”

As gestational diabetes sometimes indicates you’re prone to type 2 diabetes, Aimee’s GP and others gave her lifestyle advice, but her diabetes midwife from Auckland Hospital felt “something didn’t add up”. After the birth, “she said, just to rule it out, get this blood test done. It takes a couple of weeks, then we’ll find out if you’ve got the antibodies that indicate type 1.

“I had the test and didn’t give it another thought until the phone call. She said, ‘I hate to tell you this but your antibody levels are high’. I was in shock. My HbA1c was still normal, but they said, ‘It’s just a matter of time. You need to continue to do your HbA1c and check your blood sugars regularly.’”

It wasn’t until about two years later, when Aimee got sick with a virus, that her blood sugars rose, and she had to start taking basal insulin regularly. “So I had the longest honeymoon phase. And they say I’m still in honeymoon. If I eat high carbs, I need short-acting insulin. But a lot of the time I get away with just basal. But I also have terrible lows. They think my pancreas must surge insulin now and again. I can be eating and doing everything like normal, but then what my pancreas creates, along with the Lantus in the background, is too much.”

Aimee took part in a fitness and low-carb diet challenge last year, and during that time didn’t need insulin at all. “I don’t know if it would still be the same now. And no one can give me any real answers about what to expect.” Her pancreas is following its own idiosyncratic time line.

“The hardest thing is that I fall in and out of the system. My levels will be good, so they discharge me to my doctor. Then my levels get bad, and they take me back on at hospital. Then they discharge me again. At present, I’ve only just managed to get another hospital appointment because I dropped off the system altogether, and my levels at the moment are not good. It’s frustrating. Can’t they just keep me in the hospital system? It’s not like it’s going to go away. But they said that’s just how it works.”

COPING MENTALLY

Aimee says the strict way she had to control her diabetes during pregnancy still impacts on her approach. “Take the regular management of type 1 and turn it up by ten. The way I was taught to deal with it during pregnancy, it’s different to how you deal with it outside of pregnancy. During gestational I kept my blood sugars strictly between five and seven – which is such a tight line – and tested every two hours. Now I find I beat myself up a lot. I shouldn’t have eaten that, I should have known what the dose for that was, my levels are terrible ...”

She says a mindful self-compassion course helped her in early 2015. Health psychologist Anna Friis ran it. She was researching the ways stress increases blood sugar levels, and how stress reduction through self-compassion could help people with diabetes. “It was for eight weeks – one night a week – mindfulness and self-compassion for people with diabetes. You had your HbA1c done regularly throughout. The effect it had on people’s blood sugar levels was very positive overall, and her study’s now been published around the world.”

Aimee thinks a refresher course could be useful for her, but she’s recently found joy and relaxation in indoor and outdoor gardening. “That’s a mindfulness thing. When I’m tending to my plants I don’t think about anything else. And you see the results of your care. It’s like daily therapy. For other people it’s having a pet or a hobby.”

WORKING WITH MY IDENTITY

Also vital to Aimee has been seeking out others with type 1 for support and inspiration. “Mostly on Instagram – you find these people and stories, and sometimes that story is a lot like yours, and you reach out. Next thing, you’re networking with people all over the world.”

It was through Instagram that Aimee met Hayley McDonald from My Identity. Aimee jumped at the chance to work with Hayley to design the medical bracelet on this page. She says, “I knew I should wear my medical bracelet, but it was too big. I’d take it off all the time. This I can wear: my birthstone is turquoise, and I wear beads all the time with my Fitbit, it’s perfect.”

Aimee shared her story in the Winter 2019 issue of Diabetes magazine.  Subscribe to Diabetes NZ today to receive your copy.

To read back issues, visit here.

Jo Chapman