The flight attendant began her pre-flight announcement that I’d heard 100 times. I smiled at how intently my 3-year-old daughter in the seat beside me was looking at the pictures in the pamphlet and listening to the voice from above talk about them. She was SO excited to fly and so blissfully unaware of anything else. I tuned in again to the woman’s voice as she talked to those of us flying with small children and how important it was to fasten our own oxygen masks first before assisting others. It was such a poignant moment and that spot in my throat where all of my feelings seem to congregate welled up ready to burst. I’ll never forget that voice at that time unknowingly reassuring me that I was doing the exact right thing for my daughter and myself – I was securing my own oxygen mask – I was saving myself so I could save her. As the plane barreled down the runway and Ruby gleefully cheered us into the air, I recited in my head for the last time the lines Jenny prayed in the movie Forrest Gump: “Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far; far far away.” And away we went.
I had just left my marriage after several unhappy, lonely years of being married to an alcoholic. His admission of a girlfriend who understood him in ways I never could and a plethora of whiskey fueled nights were the final straws. I had been so afraid to leave before – so afraid that, as a Type 1 diabetic, Celiac, and mother of a young child, the world would be much too hard on my own. I realized though that we had been on our own already and that the damage that might be done to us emotionally if we were to stay was far more than anything the world could do to us. I was so broken and weak at the time. I look back now and wonder how I could have ever doubted myself so severely.
I willingly made the choice to become a single mom with T1D, but it took a lot of self-acceptance. Initially, I saw it as such an obstacle and because of years of emotional abuse coming from both internal and external sources, I had stopped believing it was something I could overcome. I had been diagnosed at 18 and miraculously survived my 20’s figuring out not only T1D, but also general adulthood mixed in with battles with diabulimia and destructive relationships. I had never been in good control of my diabetes until my unplanned pregnancy at the age of 27. It was then I had this life-altering realization that my body and my health were no longer mine to sabotage. Turning my T1D care around when I found out that I was pregnant was the first step in securing my own oxygen mask, and since that day, it’s meant becoming the healthiest version of myself mentally and physically and making sure I have the tools and education in place to help me monitor my diabetes to successfully live alone with and raise Ruby.
Ruby and I have always openly talked about what it means if I sound funny or can’t be woken up and how to call 911. We talk about the very basics of Type 1 – I explain it to her by saying, “Diabetes is when your body can’t use food for energy so it needs medicine to help.” And that’s always worked for her. We’ve talked about what signs to watch for in her because, unfortunately, until we do have a viable cure, she is genetically susceptible. We make changing my pump and CGM sites a “together activity” – she’s always allowed to touch and ask questions. Her “job” is to taste the first glucose tablet from a new bottle to make sure the flavor is good and if I have a low and need to treat it, she gets to have a treat with me. In fact, when she used to explain my insulin pump to her peers, as I wear it very openly, she would do so by saying something to the effect of “that’s my mom’s medicine – it’s cool because when it beeps you get to eat gummy bears!” She doesn’t think that diabetes is scary because it’s never been made out to be something we panic or fret about. It’s never been a disability or something to hide. It’s just who mom is and it’s just what we do.
My sweet daughter, now 5, is truly my partner in diabetes management and because of that she is also my biggest cheerleader. Teaching her about T1D has been a bigger life lesson for both of us in that I want her to believe that no matter what kind of label the world might put on her, nothing is off limits. I read a fact once that said you retain 98% of what you teach and so every day I’m trying to teach Ruby that being a girl, diabetic, having Celiac, being a single mom, etc… has no effect on what kind of impact you can have in this world – that everything happens for a reason and that your power is limitless once you decide what you really want out of life and just go for it. Every day, in teaching Ruby, I hope to continue to retain just a little bit of the confidence myself.