My Diabetes Inklings

The Privilege of Informed Consent

Here we are again, back in lockdown with mixed emotions. From others, there seems to be a pronounced sense of frustration and anger. People are getting increasingly cranky about mixed messages and lack of clarity around guidelines and being forced to close their business at the drop of a hat (understandably). Passing conversations with people around our community has taught me that majority are worried about getting the COVID vaccination. They have questions but are too afraid to ask them for fear of being shut down and labelled as an anti-vaxxer or feel forced and pressured by their doctors to get the vaccine.

I am well aware of how they are feeling as I’m in the same boat. Numerous conversations with my diabetes team and friends in the health industry have all led to my decision to wait as long as possible before getting the COVID vaccination. This doesn’t mean that I am an anti-vaxxer, which I have already been accused of. I am very well aware of the benefits of vaccination and am grateful for them. Especially as I rely on herd immunity for a few things like chicken pox as it turns out that I am one of the small percentage of people where its vaccine is effectively useless.

I’m grateful that my diabetes team have been willing to have an open discussion with me on the risk and benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID. They listened to my concerns and situation, provided me with what information they know and supported my decision. I only had one GP who insisted I get vaccinated simply because it was “the right thing to do” without considering my medical situation.

In research, we teach our students the importance of obtaining informed consent from participants before they take part in a study as part of ethical practice. I am lucky that we get to exercise that here in Australia, where you even need to sign a consent form to feed your baby formula in hospital because your breastmilk is taking its time to arrive. Before people are able to make an informed decision though, unbiased, evidenced based information and opportunities to ask questions should be provided.

At the moment access to safe spaces to have such discussions is limited to your healthcare teams. Information is only coming through social media, often through media companies where bias is rife. Social media is also a cesspool for peer pressure; with people blame and shame are inflicted upon those who dare speak out against the norm. It makes me feel guilty for having a medical reason to postpone getting vaccinated against COVID.

It’s not a surprise that I am feeling so exhausted and burnt out from social media. There’s little room to hide from such negative sentiments when it’s all everyone is talking about. I’m trying to focus on things I can control and minimising my time on social media or refocusing my content stream to things that are helpful or positive. But it’s tough and can be isolating. So if you’re in a similar situation, I hear you. You are not alone. And if you’ve got your COVID shot – awesome, now please be kind.

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.