Gestational diabetes didn’t go away after she gave birth
Nicole Crawford-Tichowanna found out she had diabetes—and that she was pregnant—nearly simultaneously.
It started with chest pains. “I’d been having them for about a week,” she recalls. “My husband finally said, ‘This isn’t normal,’ and I went to the ER.”
After a battery of tests—and before they ran x-rays—the doctors asked if it were possible Crawford-Tichowanna was pregnant. Though she and her husband said it wasn’t possible, they gave her a pregnancy test anyway. The next morning, she found out she was six weeks along.
“We were in shock!” she says. They never did find anything wrong with her heart.
During her first prenatal exam Crawford-Tichowanna asked if she could have a diabetes test. She’d had a pedicure a week before the ER visit and her technician saw a sore on one of her toes that hadn’t healed. The tech said that was a sign of diabetes. That test, the doctor explained, was usually performed at 14 weeks, but at Crawford-Tichowanna’s insistence, the doctor did it at that first exam.
“I got a call a week later. They said, ‘Get over here now.’ They checked me into the hospital. I had gestational diabetes.”
Managing Diabetes While Pregnant
During her pregnancy, Crawford-Tichowanna was the perfect diabetic patient. “I knew there could be problems with the baby,” she says. So when the doctors said to keep tight control, she followed orders—checking all of her numbers regularly, learning to give herself insulin shots. (Pregnant women have to take insulin; pills are detrimental to a fetus.)
She thought gestational diabetes would go away when she gave birth. But six months after her son was born, she still had diabetes—only it had turned into type 2 diabetes. “It really hit me hard. I burst into tears,” she says. “I didn’t want to have it. I expected it to go away once I had the baby.”
A Major Lifestyle Change
We’ve come a long way since the days when diabetics had to dip paper strips in urine to measure their glucose levels, but living with diabetes is still not easy like a Sunday morning.
Crawford-Tichowanna takes four insulin shots each day: a short-acting one five minutes before each meal and a long-acting one at night. She checks her blood glucose first thing every morning and then two hours after every major meal (more often if she’s “feeling weird or clammy”). She says her fingertips are dead from the needles she uses to check her glucose, so she’s switched to a monitor she can use on her palms, which hurts less. She’s changed her diet drastically. “Typically, I don’t eat white foods. I’m not a vegetarian, but I cook mainly vegetarian foods,” she says. “I’ve learned how to make really delicious red cabbage.” And she’s nearly kicked her chocolate habit and replaced it with fat-free, sugar-free yogurt.
Still, she figures she needs to drop about 25 pounds. And life stresses sometimes deter her vigilance. “I was going to grad school, juggling marriage and my child. And then my husband’s parents started getting sick. I got overwhelmed and I found I wasn’t taking care of myself. Every day, day in and day out—at roughly the same time each day—and when you’re stressed or feeling overwhelmed, you tend to slack off. Sometimes, I just wish I didn’t have to do this.”
“But I’m really trying to get back on track,” she says. “I do not want to suffer with the things that can happen as you age with diabetes. (Complications from diabetes include kidney disease, heart disease, blindness and amputations.) I had an aunt who did not take care of her diabetes and she died in her late 50s. My grandmother, who was a good diabetes patient, lived until age 84, and she didn’t die of diabetes complications. I want to go out like my grandma.”