Cheryl Alkon has worked a long time in journalism. She has also had type 1 diabetes for over 3 decades. This combination seems to have produced an inquisitive diabetes researcher. Willing to share one of the biggest issues in her life, Cheryl has blogged about infertility, pregnancy, and other diabetes related themes on her blog, Managing the Sweetness Within. This has led her to write the new book, Balancing Pregnancy with Pre-existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby. I just highly recommended this book in a review you can read here.
Check out this interview with Cheryl below:
Cheryl, in a few words, how would you best describe yourself?
A writer who asks a million questions and writes pretty much the same way I talk.
Big, huge, super congratulations on publishing your new book! Why did you decide to do it?
Thanks! I wrote the book because when I first thought about having a child years ago, the main message I remember is what terrible complications could happen, and what a downer the whole experience sounded like—if you were able to have a healthy child anyway.
I had a few friends, longtime type 1 women like myself, who I saw had healthy kids, and I knew it was possible. But when I went looking for an insider’s guide of how to do it, I couldn’t find one. I’d always had thoughts about writing a book, and when I realized there was no book like the one I was seeking, I decided I would need to write it myself.
What is the tone of your book?
Definitely down to earth, reassuring, and conversational. In other resources that explain diabetes and pregnancy, the info is straight from the doctor’s office: dry and clinical. I wanted my book to be completely different from that—full of advice and insight and even humor from many other type 1 and type 2 women who have dealt with pregnancy, as well as preconception, delivering, new parenthood, pregnancy loss and infertility—all with diabetes.
Do you talk a lot about your own experience in the book?
Yes—it’s a bit like a memoir at times. I am very up front about what I did to get my blood sugars in relatively tight control, what I ate, how I dealt with insulin reactions and retinopathy, delivering, and my own history with loss and infertility. While I did a ton of research and talked to many people for the book, my own experience helped me figure out what to include in the book.
How have people responded to your book thus far?
I’m thrilled to say it’s all been pretty positive. People have thanked me in reviews and emails for providing a resource that the diabetes community has lacked for so long, and people around the world have bought the book from me and from other booksellers. My own doctors—who co-wrote the forward and reviewed every word before publication—have been really supportive about it, too.
What was the hardest thing for you during pregnancy?
All of it, really. Keeping your blood sugars within the recommended ranges is really tough. I have never had more lows, or freaked out about highs more, when being pregnant. Also, I really like sushi, deli meat, all sorts of smoked meats and fish, and drinking a lot of Diet Coke; none of these foods or habits are recommended during pregnancy, and I missed them.
Raging hormones and having diabetes have the potential to create a lot of emotional havoc. Was the emotional factor a big issue for you during pregnancy? If so, what helped you stay calm?
I am actually 16 weeks pregnant again as I write this. I honestly focus so much on where my blood sugars are at any one time that I’ve barely thought about actually being pregnant except when I’m at the doctor’s office for one of my many checkups. I am lucky in that I have never felt much different while being pregnant than when I am not (except for the obvious weight gain). I’m more annoyed about how my hormones affect my blood sugars for the worse and what I can do to get them down as quickly as possible without going too low a few hours later.
I really wish your book had come out a year earlier to help me through my pregnancy! For a diabetic woman out there considering pregnancy for the first time, what advice would you have for her?
Buy and read my book!
Beyond that, I’d say if you are just thinking about pregnancy, talk to your endocrinologist and a maternal-fetal medicine specialist or a high risk obstetrician about what you need to do before you get pregnant, where you blood sugars should be, what health tests (such as a dilated eye exam) you need before getting pregnant, as well as asking how much experience your endo and your obstetrician have with pregnancy and pre-existing diabetes. You want to find doctors who are up to date, who have managed many other pregnant women with diabetes (and in particular, YOUR type of diabetes, not just a bunch of women with gestational diabetes), and how they will work with you before and during your pregnancy so that you will have the healthiest pregnancy and baby possible.
Something particularly shocking for me after giving birth to twins last June was that the hardship wasn’t over once the pregnancy was done. For example, I had a hard time breastfeeding and figuring out how to take naps and still keep on top of my blood sugars.
Is there anything you would advise a new mom about taking care of diabetes, post-partum?
Remember that you still need to take care of yourself as well as your newborn (or newborns!). Test your blood sugar before your meals—and remember to eat those meals.
If you’re breastfeeding, have some juice or some sort of snack or source of glucose nearby because your sugars can drop as you’re nursing or pumping breast milk.
Walking around the block with your newborn, even for just ten or 15 minutes, can help you try to bring down high blood sugars if you’ve been stuck in the house all day or night trying to calm or feed or diaper a baby.
If you have an insulin pump or a continuous glucose monitor, definitely use them. Test your blood sugar frequently.
And finally, ask for help: friends or relatives can come by and bring you healthy groceries, or a stash of juice boxes to help battle lows, or can even just watch the baby while you nap and take a shower. People are often happy to help you if you can let them know what will help you best.
In the end, you and your son are healthy. You should be proud. How do you feel when you think back on the journey of pregnancy and pre-existing diabetes?
Frankly, it’s been (and continues to be) a very long and potentially stressful haul. To me, pregnancy with pre-existing diabetes is something you have to endure to be able to hopefully have a happy and healthy baby. It was not, nor is it now, a magical time where I can just eat whatever and just plan what my kid’s nursery is going to look like. I think and thought constantly about my blood sugars, what I ate, and how it was affecting my kid-to-be. I hope my book will help others realize that pregnancy with pre-existing diabetes is tough, but it can be done.
Bottom line: my son is fabulous, and I am doing everything I possibly can and hope that my next child will be as well.
Thanks for being so candid Cheryl, I know your hard work will pay off :)