Dear Healthcare Professionals, My Diabetes Inklings

Reducing the Mental Burden with Apps

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, the importance of tracking my blood sugars was drilled into me. I started out tracking my sugars in a paper diary, which I soon digitised by creating a Google Sheet I could update in real time via my phone.

A few examples of my online logs – things have definitely changed over time; from the early days of multiple daily injections and being obsessed over tracking my weight to carb counting and fine tuning my food intake, exercise and blood sugars

After this, I discovered the world of diabetes apps to help with tracking blood sugars easily. I went through several different apps before I found that I absolutely love and still use today. With my app, I can see my data that has been represented visually in a way that summarises all the key relevant information in relation to my diabetes management. I can choose to look for patterns if there are things that need addressing urgently or store it away to review with my diabetes team.

Funnily enough, the same approach has been hugely helpful when it comes to looking after a baby. When her last feed was, which boob she fed from, when her last nappy change or nap was…there are so many things to keep track of and it’s nice to identify any patterns as fleeting as they may be. Having all of this info easily available on an app has been amazing to help reduce that mental load, especially amidst the sleep deprivation fog.

However, sometimes when I pull up my baby tracking app during our maternal child health nurse appointments, I felt judged for having to look up details on the app because I can’t tell you off the top of my head how many naps or feeds she has a day. It’s made me come away from appointments feeling like a failure of a mother for having to rely on an app to help me look after my baby. But then I think back to how and why I use these apps in the first place.

Apps don’t need to be fancy either. Something with a nice user interface, easy to navigate and most importantly does the job you want it to is all you need.

The biggest benefit of tracking data for me is the reduced mental burden of having to carry all that information in my head all the time. I just log things as they occur like a hypo or pump site change or a diaper change or feeding session. This leaves my brain to focus on the million other things I’m working on. I can then easily troubleshoot when bub is crying whether it’s time for a feed or diaper change or nap because I am rubbish at differentiating between her cries.

Of course there is a fine line when it comes to tracking data. There have been moments (especially looking back at things now with diabetes) where I developed an unhealthy obsession with the numbers and lost sight of the big picture. It’s taken me a while and regular reminders now that the information I’m tracking are data points to inform my next steps. The reduced mental load helps me to live my life and enjoy the moments and the information collected is not a reflection of myself or a sign of success or failure.

Most importantly, tracking this data is my decision and choice and I certainly won’t care for judgement from a healthcare professional. Everyone will have different ways to managing their data. I hope that healthcare professionals can acknowledge this and be open to learning from their patients around what works for them. You’ll never know when it may help others along the way.

My Diabetes Inklings

Finding A Career + Life Balance with Motherhood

As a student, I was told that there is never a good or bad time to have a baby. You will just manage your career around motherhood. As an early career researcher, I was nervous about being on maternity leave. I have worked so hard to get to where I am now and I am scared of the impact this career break would have on my trajectory. I’ve heard and read from plenty of women who have managed to balance an amazing career with parenthood. But have also read my fair share of stories from mothers who have quit academia to find a better balance in life.

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, my brain went into overdrive trying to protect my already slow progressing research career from disappearing even more into the abyss. With COVID putting a big dent on research grants, I focused on setting up smaller research projects as well as wrapping up current studies so I’d be able to focus on analysis and write up during maternity leave.

But isn’t maternity leave about healing, adjusting to motherhood aka having your body controlled by your cute offspring? And isn’t that what you write about when you’re addressing your academic career gap “relative to opportunity”?

Sure, that’s what the industry would like you to think and if you’re strong enough to stick to your guns and/or if your research career is established enough, you could get away with it. But being in academia has my imposter syndrome at crazy levels at it is. The expectation, pressure and guilt to continue pushing out research outputs while I’m on maternity leave has made me feel like I can’t and shouldn’t take my foot off the pedal.

Shortly after giving birth, panic started to set in that I was already missing out at work; and that I needed to be available and working (even on maternity leave). Thankfully, some of my colleagues and friends have been in my position and their continued encouragement and reassurance that work and research will always be there if I skipped a few meetings for a while has helped to ease the guilt.

Your child is only a newborn once. Cherish this time.

I acknowledge that I am greedy in a way. I want to be one of those women who have a successful career while being an awesome mum/wife/daughter/friend/everything. I have mentors who seemed to have achieved this balance. So in mind, it’s doable. But if there’s anything I’ve already learned from motherhood and life with diabetes is that what you see on the outside is often just the tip of a large iceberg.

You can never tell of all the insecurities, doubt, guilt and sacrifices that a person may be going through, which I guess, will always be there not matter what you do. It’s a matter of finding a balance that works for me and that includes accepting a comfortable level of all those feelings. Needless to say, I have had a bit of time to think and reevaluate what balance I want to strike from here. In particular, what do I want from my career and what or how will it fit in with my family? I have no idea but I know that finding the right balance will take lots of time, patience and trial and error.

Chasing perfection only leads to disappointment.

My Diabetes Inklings

Breastfeeding, Diabetes and the Lessons Learned

As a dietitian, “breast is best” had been drilled into our repertoire during our studies when it comes to feeding newborns. There are so many benefits to breastfeeding that it was a no brainer for me to enter motherhood with a goal to breastfeed for at least 12 months. That is…until I actually started breastfeeding.

I wasn’t counting on my little worm having a tongue tie or the pain of her latching on or the brutality of the midwives kneading my boobs for colostrum to feed my bub with. There’s nothing worse than fighting off a hypo, being sleep deprived, having a screaming newborn who’s hungry and feeling like an absolutely failure of a mother.

Thankfully we had multiple support services we could reach out to and we ended up borrowing a breast pump while waiting for the tongue tie to get fixed, received some advice around supplementing with formula and given a ton of reassurance that we were doing a great job. I had my first cry as a mum after that phone call.

Even after my little worm got a tongue tie fixed, I continued to exclusively pump and supplement with formula when we felt we needed to. My pumping station was organised with snacks, hypo food, water etc. and my husband could bottle feed her. Our system worked a treat, our little girl was thriving and growing well.

I reluctantly went to see a lactation consultant who only focused on going back to breastfeeding and how it was especially important because of my diabetes. It was never implied but I constantly felt judged for not nursing directly from the breast. And perhaps it was partly the guilt I felt for not doing so. But I had already established my comfort zone with pumping and the pain from that first week of trying to breastfeed still lingered.

I gave up within the day and went back to pumping.

It was all going well and we were settling into a routine. Even though I liked being able to quantify how much milk the little worm was getting, pumping was time consuming and a bit isolating. My goal for breastfeeding drastically shortened to six months. That is, until the mastitis hit, which brought along a whole new level of pain and misery.

I was encouraged, again, to nurse from my breast to help clear the mastitis. Out of desperation, I decided to try again. This time, breastfeeding wasn’t as bad as I had remembered, so I persisted. All my friends I had spoken to reassured me that breastfeeding took several weeks for them to establish. So it seemed like persistence is key here.

We’ve now been getting into breastfeeding for about three weeks now. There have been times where my husband has found me crying with the little worm screaming at my breast. But there’s also a newfound sense of pride and freedom of the ability to be out of the house for longer periods of time as long as we can find a place to nurse while I build my confidence up to whip my boob out in public.

Being able to breastfeed has been such an achievement for me. Even though we still have some rough days, I think we’re slowly getting there. More importantly this experience has taught me to be patient with myself. It’s all well and good to push the boundaries but you can’t do it when your mental health is down in the dumps and your body is physically constantly in so much pain.

Even though breast is best, fed is ultimately better, no matter how you do it. My breastfeeding goal now is to last till three months, cos I have better things to do (like cuddle my newborn) than to have sore boobs all the time!

We’re doing the thing!