This content originally appeared on Beyond Type 1. Republished with permission.
By Kim Baillieul
A few years ago, I sat at a park while my then two-year-old son played on the playground. A wave of dizziness fell over me right as I felt my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) start beeping. One, two, three – three beeps, confirming the low blood sugar I suspected.
Instinctively, I reached into my purse and grabbed the juice box floating among the loose change and used test strips. Of course, my son’s innate ability to sense whenever I have a sweet treat also kicked in, and the next thing I saw were his big, blue eyes fixated on my hand.
“Mommy, can I have your juice box?”
Sure, my sugar had dropped in front of my son before, but this was the first time I had no distraction for him – no alternative snack, no books to read. Most importantly, it was the first time he asked me to share. I shook my head and told him no, but he persisted.
“Mommy, pretty please, can I have your juice box?”
My mind went blank.
How do you explain to a toddler that your juice box is literally keeping you alive?
What I Was Told
For years – even when I was still a child myself – I was cautioned about pregnancy. At 16 years old, my endocrinologist painted daunting pictures of a hypothetical future high-risk pregnancy: weekly doctor’s visits, insanely tight control, constant monitoring. A massive list of things that could go wrong. All of this became my reality over a decade later when I became pregnant with my son.
My high-risk pregnancy with him had overall, gone well, partially thanks to the hard work I put in to maintain a 5.1% average A1C, and partially thanks to luck. I was prepared for the extra scans. I was prepared for the drastic insulin changes. I was prepared for the constant vigilance. I was prepared for what could go wrong.
However, nothing prepared me for how to explain my type 1 diabetes (T1D) to my child. Or why suddenly, at this moment, I couldn’t share a simple juice box. Frankly, I was so dizzy, I couldn’t even get up off the bench.
“I’m sorry sweetheart, I can’t share. This juice box is mommy’s medicine.”
Later, after my sugars were stable, I thought about how to talk to my child about my chronic illness and the scope of what he needed to know. I wanted to achieve a balance – somewhere between knowing enough to be empowered but not so much that he’d become anxious; enough for him to understand what I was doing, but not enough for him to feel responsible for it himself.
All my life I had worked to overcome and ‘beat’ my diabetes, to not let it stop me, you know, upholding the usual mantras of strength. However, as I pondered how to talk to my kids about my type 1, I had to set that all aside. Pride had no place here.
The conversation remained informal, but honest.
Understand that mama’s body doesn’t work the way most other people’s do… I’m not sick, but it can make me feel sick sometimes… This is my insulin pump… This lancet is sharp, please don’t ever touch it.
He had a lot of questions.
Yes, Mommy beeps!… No, you won’t get it when I cough… Yes, even if I forget to cover my mouth… Yes, I can eat most anything as long as I’m careful… Yes, even ketchup… Yes, even ice cream… Yes, even ketchup ice cream – wait, that’s gross!
We both erupted in giggles.
A Universal Struggle
One of the beautiful things about the type 1 community is knowing you’re not alone. As I reflected on this intentional conversation, one of the first ‘growing up’ discussions I had with my son, I realized I’m not likely alone in facing this. Turns out, I wasn’t – the Parents with type 1 community was peppered with struggling T1D parents facing the same hurdle. When I looked for resources, I didn’t find anything quite suitable for a type 1 parent.
Throughout my son’s toddlerhood, I captured my efforts in a children’s book I wrote called “Mommy Beeps: A book for children who love a type 1 diabetic.” It was a passion project of mine to provide a resource that didn’t otherwise exist, and hopefully help another family lessen the mental gymnastics of explaining type 1 diabetes to a child who doesn’t have it themselves. Every page is personal – down to the angry T1D on the phone dealing with a denied insurance claim. Because that is reality. Diabetes isn’t just about the finger pricks and injections – the medical and insurance logistics can be just as heavy. Extra doctor’s appointments, tracking of supplies, prescription refills – it all took time away from playing with blocks, giggling on the floor, or reading “Goodnight Moon” for the third time on a given evening.
As for my son, he took to my carefully crafted conversation well – and all of the impromptu ones that followed. Once, after a particularly harrowing high sugar, we planned a library visit to check out some books about the body, so he could find the “piece of Mama that doesn’t work.” We never made it to that page, though, because he was too fascinated by more amusing parts of the body (the toilet humor sure does start young).
A few years later, I braved the high-risk pregnancy world again and came out with a second little boy. The first time my type 1 diabetes interrupted our playing with trains, I talked to him, too. He shrugged it off and kept the train on its way to the station.
Later that night, he leaned into me. Pointing to my stomach, he exclaimed, “Mama’s Dexcom! I kiss it.” Clearly, something stuck in our conversation earlier that day. And I will take any win I can get.
They won’t know any other way, this will be their normal. And really, that’s a beautiful thing, because the T1D community is now just a little bigger.
Find out more about “Mommy Beeps” here.