Gestational Diabetes Made Me a Better Mom

by Kelly Riibe December 21, 2016

happy mother lying on couch with her baby

Diabetes gets a bad rap and deserves it, but gestational diabetes actually changed me for the better. I had this diagnosis with all three of my children. It was a hard pill to swallow during my first pregnancy, but one I readily accepted with my next two because gestational diabetes taught me a lot about myself, my health, and the kind of mom I wanted to be for my kiddos.

Flunking the glucose test

I wasn’t all that worried when I flunked the one-hour glucose test during my first pregnancy. I had eaten a large bowl of ice cream the night before after polishing off some Mexican food with my in-laws. I fasted correctly for my three-hour test, but hung a lot of my hopes on the claim that the majority of women fail the one-hour test and do fine on the three-hour test.

Well, I flunked the three-hour also.

When the nurse called me at home, I cried because it just did not seem fair. Self-pity took over for the rest of the day. I had already had two miscarriages prior to this pregnancy, which made me feel like I was owed a perfect nine months of getting fat and feeling comfortable baby kicks.

I wanted to eat pancakes for a mid-afternoon snack and have milk shakes at every meal. After a sleepless night, I did some on-line research. It was comforting to hear that a lot of women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. And like most things, women can handle it.

I visited a diabetic counselor the next week, and we worked on a food plan. She explained that patients rarely need insulin if they follow the diabetic guidelines about portion control and making good food choices. It seemed pretty straightforward and, lucky for me, I had my husband on hand to listen to the medical advice. I got a monitor, testing strips, and some pen needles to check my blood sugar four times a day.

That evening, I had my first diabetic friendly meal, and it was bacon and eggs. I obviously had a lot to learn because that is not the meal of champions. I complained loudly, calling diabetic eating the equivalent of the Atkins diet.

Figuring it out

I needed a mind shift because changing the way you look at food can be hard after years of never thinking about it. I was blessed with genetics that let me eat whatever I wanted and not gain a lot of weight. It helped that I was a super active child and teenager. Looking back, my biggest hang-up amounted to years and years of irritable bowel syndrome with no real answers. I know now that my body was screaming for some quality fiber in-take, but I was too oblivious.

In my mid-20s, a bulge began to hang around my middle. It was nothing serious, but I was not staying in shape or making healthy choices. My husband and I were newly married and both working full-time, no kids. So we enjoyed happy hours, appetizers, and desserts with thoughtless abandon.We exercised some, but nothing that made a huge difference.

The gestational diabetes diagnosis corrected my mindset about eating. It was no longer acceptable to have a plate loaded with white, starchy, carbohydrates and little to no color. I needed to up my fruit and vegetable game big time.

But even more than that, gestational diabetes gave me confidence when it came to becoming a mom. I was shocked at my ability to cut down on sweets and eliminate dinner rolls from my diet. Without question, I became a dutiful student who followed all of the doctor’s orders. Before this maternal time in my life, I would have made a lot of excuses and ignored what was best for me.

Gestational diabetes even introduced me to some new loves. I discovered the deliciousness of cashews, eggplant, kale, spinach, red peppers, honeydew melon, almonds, hard-boiled eggs, Brussels sprouts, and avocados. Having a nutrition plan is so different from dieting. It does not in any way mean a person should starve.

In my case, I just had to learn that a pizza with a side of garlic bread does not a healthy meal make. Instead I learned to opt for the pizza (sans crust) with a spinach cranberry balsamic salad and a cup of berries. Both are equally delicious, I swear to it.

My husband, my kids, and me

The first two weeks with gestational diabetes felt hard. Me – the girl who loved bagels and fettucini alfredo – had to start questioning what was best for my baby and my body. But a few weeks after being diagnosed, I noticed I felt really good. I started having normal bowel movements and trying new things at restaurants. My pregnancy weight stayed healthy, and I delivered an absolutely perfect baby girl.

By association, my husband also began eating healthier. His big conflict had been portion control, plus my obsession with having a bread basket on the table at all times. Since I cooked the majority of the meals and did all of the grocery shopping, he ate what I ate. This was great post-gestational diabetes, but had been a problem pre-gestational diabetes.

The diabetic eating plan had us both feeling so great that I made sure we kept on eating that way. We learned to make awesome chef salads, while getting used to thin crust pizzas and open face sandwiches. I took pride in making sure my kids ate the same way we did. We made our own baby food and never introduced juice.

This has really helped in the whole “kids are picky eaters” department. We are not perfect, and I want my kids to enjoy sweets, so they still eat candy and ice cream. But we always have a fruit or vegetable on our plates during mealtime. I still serve chicken nuggets, but they come with a kale salad and some watermelon.

The best part is that we all eat plenty of food. We just enjoy the unhealthy items in moderation. I want my kids to have a positive body image. I don’t ever want them to feel like they can’t eat something for fear of weight gain. It’s more about being aware of good food choices, especially as a person gets older.

What started out as gestational diabetes has become a new way of healthy living for me and my family. My kids think eating fruits and vegetables for snack is fine, and they notice when these foods are missing at mealtime. The introduction of variety, like dragon fruit or apple chicken bratwurst, can be fun. Our diabetic friendly way of eating also pretty much ensures that my children will never go hungry at a friend’s house, because they have seen it all.

A lot of things about pregnancy and motherhood can’t be controlled – placenta previa, stretch marks, and mustard-seed poop explosions, for example. Handling a gestational diabetes diagnosis well can be controlled, and it ultimately made my family healthier and me a better mom. It’s been a great opportunity to learn, grow, and change for the better.

Kelly Riibe


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