When I first started dating my husband, he gravely said that he had something he needed to tell me. I prepared myself for a scene out of a comedy about people who meet online. He’d probably tell me that he had just gotten out of prison for robbing a pet store.
Instead he told me that he had Type 1 Diabetes. Insert huge sigh of relief. That I could deal with. And that is the only time that diabetes would mean a sigh of relief.
Through dating and early marriage we had our highs and lows with diabetes (pun intended). We got the hang of it. I learned how to not micromanage his life (too much) and he learned to give me the information I needed. I learned how to gently suggest that he check his blood sugar and he learned to trust me. I learned that blood glucose test strips have a way of showing up everywhere (literally everywhere).
The birth of our daughter changed the tone. Diabetes wasn’t something that sat at the edge of our marriage. It was an integral part of our family. We had to plan for it and live with it and learn how to teach a tiny human about it.
Observance of the world around her led to an early knowledge of what it means to test blood sugar, how to fill an insulin pump or change a continuous glucose monitor. American Girl came out with a diabetes kit for the dolls and we quickly purchased one for our doll-obsessed daughter so we could normalize diabetes in her life. Normal in our house means dolls – even dolls that prick their fingers and give themselves insulin shots. And even though I realize this is normal, I didn’t expect the question that came when our daughter was a little over three years old, “Will I get ‘betes like Daddy?” When I had to swallow the lump in my throat and blink back the tears and say, “We’ll do everything we can to stop that.”
I didn’t tell my husband about the question for months. I’d watched him struggle, at times, with what it means to live with diabetes and I didn’t want to burden him with another weight. The fact is, relatives of people with Type 1 Diabetes are 15 times more likely to develop the disease than the general population. When I did tell him about her question, I watched his quiet thought and my heart shattered when he told me that his heart broke knowing that she asked that. We all know that when we create a child that we are giving them a part of us. What if it is the part we don’t want to pass on?
I know the fear and worry that broke his heart. It breaks mine too. I fear for him, for our daughter and for our future. Nothing in life is certain though. What I am certain of is the amazing strength that my husband possesses and how he never lets diabetes stop him from living his life. I am certain that my daughter is learning to be compassionate and helpful through her experiences having a dad with diabetes. She is learning that people are different and the same too. This is what we are passing on to her.
We’ve enrolled our daughter in a study to help researchers learn more about diabetes and how to stop it. She gets yearly blood draws that are very scary for a preschooler but she is brave. They look for antibodies in her blood that would be the earliest sign of diabetes. This research is helping the scientific community understand what causes diabetes, how to detect it early and how to prevent it. We’re keeping our promise to her and doing everything we can to stop diabetes.
November is National Diabetes Month. I share our story, as a family living with diabetes, to bring attention to every family living with this disease. We acknowledge that we don’t share the worry of a parent of a diabetic child. That is a worry that breaks our hearts and makes us fight – for better treatments, for affordable options, for normal lives, for prevention and for cures. We are a Type 1 Diabetes family.