Raising a Child With Diabetes: The Diagnosis

Parenting is a hard gig as it is. Being the parent of a child with a chronic illness or condition adds another layer of difficulty.

Hi, I’m Tamara and I’m the mother of a child with Type 1 diabetes. In this series of blogs, I want to share some pieces of our journey over the last 12 years as we’ve done our best to raise a well-adjusted child who deals with his condition.

Our journey started on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006 when my son’s second grade teacher called me at work to ask if he had been sick over the holiday break. She explained that it looked like he had lost a bit of weight since she’d seen him last and she mentioned that he seemed to be extremely thirsty that day, asking multiple times to make a trip to the fountain for a drink. There was no recent illness to speak of so she suggested we make an appointment with his doctor and have him tested for diabetes.

Whoa! Diabetes? My husband and I have no family history of diabetes and we didn’t know a lot about it. I hadn’t noticed any weight loss, but to err on the side of caution I called his doctor and made an appointment for the following week.

That evening I spoke with my husband about the teacher’s concerns and we did what any parent does – we went to the internet to research. After reading the symptoms, and horror stories of complications of diabetes we almost had ourselves convinced that he had it. That night as we laid in bed talking about what this might mean for him, I heard my husband cry for the first time since we met. The fear that overcomes you when faced with the mortality of a child is nothing that a mother or father can ever describe.

We didn’t make it to the following week. On Friday, Jan. 6, 2006 I dropped my son off at the babysitter before heading off to work. I left him with a banana and some juice to enjoy before school. As I settled in to start my day at work I received a call from the babysitter saying that my son had fallen asleep as soon as I dropped him off and when she had him eat his banana before school he immediately vomited. I quickly packed up and headed back home, which was about 30 minutes from my office. On the way, I called our doctor’s office and explained to the nurse what was going on. Every muscle in my body went tense as she calmly instructed me to pick him up and bring him to the office immediately. Making the call to my husband at work was one of the hardest calls I’ve ever had to make.

At the doctor’s office, we were rushed to an exam room and they immediately checked my son’s blood sugar on a blood glucose meter. When it didn’t read on a standard meter my stomach sunk to the floor. When our doctor came in to speak to us about what was going on it was almost like an out of body experience. I was hearing the doctor but had a million things running through my mind. How could this happen? I don’t even know anyone with diabetes.

We were sent to the children’s hospital for final diagnosis and treatment. We had so many questions as we looked at our child who couldn’t even stay awake because his blood sugar was so elevated. The two-hour drive to the children’s hospital was a blur. When we arrived, they were expecting us. First it was liter after liter of fluids. Then came the insulin. Then the news that we’d be at the hospital for four days to undergo diabetes boot camp, an intense program to teach you all about nutrition, blood sugar checks, trending, A1c tests – the list went on and on. All the while my son was so lethargic he could not keep his eyes open.

After twenty-four hours of sleep and countless finger sticks overnight my son finally woke up. As I lay in the cot beside him in his room staring at the cartoon Band-Aids on every finger I struggled with the words to tell him about his diagnosis and what it would mean for the rest of his life. When I explained that he had type 1 diabetes and that he’d have to check blood sugars and take shots of insulin every day he was not fazed. He didn’t cry. He didn’t ask a lot of questions. He listened intently and learned alongside my husband and I for three days.

In those four days, we established a partnership with the diabetic educators, endocrinologists and dieticians. We worked on an insulin regimen by trial and error to help determine the best insulin to carbohydrate ratio. We followed these steps and always came back to this process when my son had a change is schedule, sport or growth.

  • Check your blood sugar before eating and write down your result.
  • Count your carbs & give insulin. Write down the insulin-to-carb ratio you are using. Many health care professionals will recommend you start with 1 unit of insulin for every 15g carbs.
  • Check your blood sugar 2 hours after eating and write down your result.
  • Follow this process for a few days before adjusting your ratio. When you do adjust, small increments are best. Be sure to communicate this with your partners on the medical team.

They say children are resilient. I fully believe that. When my son was given life-changing news at the young age of seven he took it in stride. It has not always been easy for him or us as a family, but he has persevered. He was a student athlete all throughout school and is now in college learning to manage his diabetes with his new lifestyle. As his parent, I never stop worrying or wondering about him and his health.

This was just the beginning of our journey. Check back to hear about how each school year started, conversations with coaches and realizations that this disease could hold him back from things in life.

If you’re just starting to navigate the obstacles of being a parent of a child with diabetes, here are a few things to consider:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your child’s doctor, diabetes educator, or dietitian.
  • Do your best to learn how to read nutrition labels.
  • Learn the difference between simple and complex sugars.
  • How to calculate carbohydrate to insulin unit ratio.
  • Learn how to educate other adults that come in contact with your child.

Questions? Want to share a story? Drop us a line in the comments!

Presented by: Tamara Martin

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