Adapting and Adopting
"Hi! My name is Ella, and I'm adopted!" my 2-year-old daughter tells another young library patron while they work together on a puzzle. Nearby, I'm holding my infant daughter as I watch my toddler and her new friend.
When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 24, it was immediately apparent that the disease required big changes. Amid learning to use a glucose meter, count carbohydrates, and dose insulin, my husband and I also began to explore adoption as the way to grow our family.
My first year with diabetes was rocky at best. I went through the "honeymoon phase," when my body erratically produced dwindling insulin. Six months after diagnosis, my A1C skyrocketed, signaling the end of my own insulin production. I then battled dangerous lows and sickening highs. I knew I couldn't put myself and a baby through a pregnancy, and I wasn't willing to wait for a perfect A1C in order to become a mother.
I ventured into adoption much as I did into diabetes, determined to succeed despite the challenges. My husband and I filled out stacks of paperwork and submitted to fingerprinting, interviews, and home inspections. Meantime, I gained confidence in managing diabetes. I studied nutrition, learned to use a continuous glucose monitor, and went on an insulin pump.
While waiting to adopt, I was often asked why I wasn't having "my own" children. I'd first explain that a child we adopted would be "our own" and, second, that diabetes could complicate pregnancy. People would tell me of a woman with diabetes they knew who had several healthy biological children. I learned to smile and say, "Good for them. But we believe adoption is the best choice for our family." Adoption isn't second best to having biological children; it's just different. And no two people with diabetes are the same; the disease is quite complicated.
In 2008, our first daughter was born. Suddenly, my focus shifted from diabetes to diapers and midnight feedings. Two years later, our second daughter was born. Again, I had to make room in my life for a new child who depended on me to care not only for her but also for myself.
I've had diabetes for over five years now and been a mother for three. "Mommy, check your blood?" my older girl will often ask with a concerned look, her large brown eyes imploring. She mimics me when I check my blood sugar and giggles in anticipation when she pulls a syringe out of her toy doctor's kit and holds it up high. I can have my infant on my hip while injecting Symlin with my free hand or preparing a healthy snack for my girls. I perform a constant juggling act, like any parent or person with diabetes.
And I think about how, without diabetes, I wouldn't have my girls. In the midst of hardship, some incredible gifts surfaced, altogether changing my life for the better.
Rachel Garlinghouse is a teacher and freelance writer who lives in Collinsville, Ill. She blogs at www.whitesugarbrownsugar.com.