Partners keeping an eye on pregnancy health issues
Receiving diagnosis of a pregnancy-related condition can be a traumatic time. Here, a father tells us how he coped when he and his partner received worrying news.
Gestational diabetes – One Dad’s perspective
There were so many reasons we were surprised when, after taking an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), my partner received her diagnosis of gestational diabetes (GD). For a start she had only just moved past the 14 week landmark – we’d somehow been living under the illusion that GD only affected those in the second half of their pregnancy. Plus, Emma was keeping active and eating well – she is, after all, a personal trainer and yoga teacher whose pregnancy was defined by a keen interest and grounding in health and fitness.
To top things off, Emma is of white European background with no family history of diabetes: there were so many reasons she should have been considered as falling within the lowest risk demographic.
At first we were, understandably, in a state of shock and I really had to work hard to hide the fact that my heart rate increased dramatically at the news. I mean, the word “diabetes” on its own would have been enough to scare me, but “gestational diabetes”, well that was plain terrifying. We were told that not only was Emma at risk, but our unborn child was too: things could hardly have been worse. It was the perfect time to panic, wasn’t it?
Well, in short, the answer is “no”. The fact is that many pregnancy experts actually recommend against even diagnosing the illness. For example, Henci Goer, recipient of the prestigious Lamaze Award for her book Obstetric Myths Versus Research Realities, strongly argues that diagnosis for pregnant women with gestational diabetes only causes stress without, for the most part, ever presenting a serious health problem. Instead, she encourages parents to think of it more as a transient health issue, something along the lines of the entirely less sinister sounding Pregnancy-Induced Insulin Resistance; in short it can be understood as temporarily elevated blood sugar levels. It requires a response, but no panic – it is not a lifelong illness.
Learning to cope with a diagnosis
But it took us some time to become philosophical. I guess that the important point is that we listened carefully to our consultant and then went away and did our own investigations. It would be fair to say that between us we even formed something of a research team, whereby it is was my job to go online and find out the important information, culling anything that sounded too wacky or too frightening, focusing only on those sources that were legitimate, reassuring and informative. Emma’s job was to relax, take care of herself and intelligently process the information I provided for her.
I think that this method is likely to be effective whatever the type of pregnancy-related illness your partner or wife has been diagnosed with. Let’s face it, the internet is a brilliant resource for researching health complaints but it is also something of an informational wild west that has the potential to induce unnecessary fear in any person who might potentially be in a vulnerable frame of mind. And, it is fair to say, that for a while Emma was freaking out, imagining that she might be about to give birth to a huge, toddler-sized newborn while herself swelling to the size of Michelin man.
As Emma and I have discovered over our pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum journeys, there are some medical professionals who clearly wish that parents would permanently disable their WiFi connections. However, quite simply, this is the twenty-first century and it is unrealistic to expect empowered, information hungry, educated parents to not actively seek out the best and most relevant information. We are not all neurotics and hypochondriacs although we all might have those tendencies.
It’s not that the NHS wasn’t great – it was – and it’s not that the consultant we saw wasn’t helpful or in-depth enough – she certainly did her best; it was simply that we felt that like we needed to be as well informed as possible and it was unrealistic to expect a 22 minute consultation to do this for us, even if we did walk away with a pamphlet outlining some of the risks: oversized babies; heightened risk of induced labour or caesarean section; too much amniotic fluid in the womb; premature labour and premature birth; pre-eclampsia; stillbirth. Thank God I was there to help soften the blow of absorbing all this new information.
What we learned was that monitoring Emma’s diet and exercise was important. That having regular meals supplemented by regular snacks and a system of “carbohydrate spreading” was the best way to manage high blood sugar levels. We also learned that regular walks were a great way not only of helping to regulate blood sugar levels but also of us spending some quality down time together that might otherwise have been spent in front of the television. And our neighbour’s dog benefited, too; when Emma was 15 weeks pregnant, our neighbour Nancy slipped on a wet paving stone, breaking and dislocating her ankle. We made a very grateful canine friend!
But we also learned, particularly during the later stages of pregnancy, that it was futile to try to control things too much – we couldn’t. At this stage even a bowl of specially concocted GD friendly lentil soup caused Emma’s blood sugar to spike well above the limits we were aiming for. We couldn’t control it and we had to accept that injectable insulin was part of the solution, if only for the final five weeks.
As for the baby, she arrived healthily via what was pretty much a textbook delivery. She even weighed a happily underwhelming 7 pounds. And the diabetes receded in a textbook fashion too: gone within five weeks postpartum. And mine and Emma’s partnership? Definitely stronger, all because we’d remained a team through a challenging time. It’s what the best partnerships are made of and I’m pretty sure that you’ll agree, whether you’re coming from a mum’s or a dad’s perspective.