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Shared experience

“For the first three months, I’d forgotten that I was pregnant”

Jharna Kumawat, an endurance swimmer, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was six weeks pregnant. In this first part of her story, she tells us about how she came to terms with her diagnosis and managed type 1 before and after pregnancy.

A woman sitting in a park, wearing a continuous glucose monitor

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was six weeks pregnant. It was the summer of 2012, I was quite poorly for a couple of weeks after we’d come back from an adventure holiday; we’d gone coasteering and deep sea diving. I was going to start law school in September. I had to do some prep before my first day and I had this massive brain fog where I couldn’t retain any information. I was constantly tired, I was crying, and I’d never felt something like that before.

I did a pregnancy test and it was one of those ones that says yes or no and it said yes. This it was after my husband and I had been through years of fertility treatment and I’d been told I couldn’t get pregnant. So it was a shock.

Diagnosis

I went to my GP about my pregnancy, and they did my bloods. Two days after I got a call from my GP and they’re like, when you came for your blood test, what did you eat? The test had been first thing in the morning, so I said I would have just had a cup of tea and some biscuits maybe. They said, okay, you have really high blood sugars. Then they asked me to do a repeat test. After that I had a call from the endocrine clinic and they said, Oh, you can’t drive, come in with your husband.

They took a urine sample. They told me my ketones were really high and they were just looking at me like, How are you sitting down here? Like, like if you didn’t come here with your husband, you would have come in an ambulance.

Dealing with first pregnancy and type 1 diagnosis

I was six weeks pregnant when I was diagnosed, so it was very hard for me. I can smile talking about it now, but if you talked to me about it five years back, I would be crying.

The initial months it was just getting to the rhythm of injecting three times a day checking my sugars. I think for the first three months of having type 1, I’d forgotten that I was pregnant.

All I was working on how to get my blood sugars right. I think because the way I was taught and also the kind of person I am, I just thought I have to get it right. Now I know that having sugar that is like nine or ten or having a peak is part of the game of managing type 1. But at the time, I don’t think they wanted me to know that because they want mums to have sugar levels that are really tight because it can affect the baby.

I thought having sugar that was in double figures was criminal. I don’t have cakes and chocolates is not my thing, but savouries and carbohydrate like rice and roti is my thing. I’m Indian. So what are you telling me? Not to have rice? But nobody told me not to have something I wanted. They adjusted my insulin dose around what I was eating. So if I told them I was having Yorkshire puddings every day, they would have told me what to inject.

Post-delivery honeymoon period

After I delivered my daughter, I had a honeymoon period. For the first three days, my levels were five, whatever I ate. I didn’t inject. I was told to skip my long-acting insulin as well.

I thought, oh wow, God has listened to my prayers. I’m a Hindu. I don’t go to the temple every day but I’m a believer, you know, and I thought, oh, wow, it’s gone. But of course, the honeymoon period was only temporary.

My first pregnancy was not happy at all. My baby was healthy and I have a lovely daughter, who’s nine now. By the time of my second pregnancy I had accepted my type 1. That pregnancy was amazing, because I knew so much more.

Burnout

Culturally, where I come from failure is not a thing. We don’t say; Go do the exam, if it goes wrong you can retake it. That is not an option. It’s just competitive.

That feeds into the sense that you’re also failing somehow with your type 1, even though so much of it is beyond your control. Testing my blood sugar used to be like an exam result coming up every time.

You still have to manage other health issues alongside type 1. It got picked up in January this year that I was vitamin D deficient – quite a lot of people of my colour and Asian descent can be vitamin D deficient. I had no energy. But because of the way I train, I was still expecting myself to train four times a week, swimming two kms or 84 lengths each time.

Type 1 doesn’t leave while all this is going on. I wasn’t eating very well and was literally surviving on one meal a day. I wasn’t doing very well with my diabetes because my stress levels were high. That really affects your sugars. No level of insulin is going to cut it. You will run high, but running high, trying to train and not eating, well, I don’t think it was a good combination. But by November-December I’d got my vitamin D levels up and by April I was of it’s almost top of my game again.

DAFNE course

I did a DAFNE course in 2014. It was my first time meeting people who’d been living with diabetes ever since they were young. I also met other people who’d had really late diagnoses. I was the only one who was on the course having being only diagnosed one year.

I think I was there because I just wanted to get it right. Afterwards, my type 1 was much easier to accept. When you see others who are in the same boat as you, you don’t really feel that bad. You feel less isolated. It’s like the best way to break up; if your best friend says she’s going through a breakup as well, for some reason it just feels okay.

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