Guest Post by Jacquie Haggarty
Our house is chaotic. With three girls, two working parents and a cat who adopted us but isn’t really ours, there’s never a dull moment. So it was just like any other Sunday. My four-year-old was pulling on my shirt begging me to open a yogurt as I washed the dishes from last night’s dinner. The two big girls were working on art projects due on Tuesday. I heard my nine-year-old exhale with disgust when she made a mistake on her drawing. My six-year-old, M., dropped a bunch of supplies on the deck and set to work.
M. was concentrating. I could tell by her pursed lips, a dead giveaway that she was working hard. She was manipulating something on a poster board, arranging something. I squinted and made out the orange of the syringe caps.
In the therapeutic monotony of the scrub, rinse, repeat of the dishes, I was hurled back to D Day. June 22nd 2015. She had been drinking a ton of water and going pee frequently. Like every 90 minutes the day before. And she was looking thin. Not sickly yet. Just really thin. On our way to the pediatrician, we stopped at La Boulange—our mommy-daughter brunch place—to grab hot chocolate and a pastry. Her favorite was the lemon turnover, I remembered in horror.
I should have known something was wrong by how quickly an appointment became available when I called that morning and explained why I wanted to come in.
“It’s probably just a UTI that isn’t bothering her for some reason …”
“Can you be here in 15 minutes?” the nurse responded.
Naively, I thought I was benefiting from some fluke cancellation. Not three minutes into the appointment, the doctor asked a nurse to take the girls to get some paper to draw. She closed the door. “There’s no easy way to tell you this. M. has Type 1 diabetes.”
The life rushed out of my body – I went numb. The doctor continued talking …“485 … Stanford … CPMC … pack … not enough insulin … four days … lifelong …”
“I know this is unexpected, but you caught this early. That’s really good news.”
I called my husband. I could barely get the words out before choking on my own seeming hyperventilation. I collected myself to confront the girls, who I found waiting in the infant waiting area, giggling as they always did when together (well, when not fighting). I didn’t know how to tell her, and I knew better than to say anything in front of the eldest, who is the worrier of the three. I texted my mom to meet me at preschool pick up so she could take the other girls. Her curt “okay” reply was a relief; I didn’t want to get into explaining anything that just happened. Did that just happen?
With only M. in the car we went home. The radio played, and my mind raced. The doctor said to pack a bag before heading to the hospital. We’d be there a few days. As I shoved my socks and toothbrush into my bag, I was reminded of packing my hospital bags when my babies were born. And just like when I packed those childbirth bags, I looked around and thought, “Things will never be the same when I unpack this bag.” Except this time, there was no gleeful anticipation. No new life. Just fear.
We got into the car and headed to the hospital. M. also compliantly had packed a bag, without asking many questions. She was excited to pack up her Legos and pick a few movies. What an adventure. “Mommy, we’re going to have a date! Just you and me!” Well, sort of.
The next several days were a whirlwind. It had some ups, but mostly downs. Lots of downs. We felt extremely loved and knew she was in excellent hands, but the amount of information was so overwhelming. The endocrinologist explained to M. what was happening in her body, what she would need to do. She took it in very matter-of-factly. I sat her on my lap so that she wouldn’t see the tears streaming down my face.
Visits from the diabetes educator, pediatrician, dietician, social worker, chaplain, endocrinologist and nurses all blurred together. Over the next two days, we got a crash course on the condition and how to manage it counting carbs, administering insulin, not too much or she could go hypoglycemic and pass out, but not enough she’d be “high” which aside from meaning she wouldn’t feel great, also leads to long-term issues—kidney, heart, eye, circulatory …
On our second night there, after all of the visitors had left, M. and I lay in the hospital bed. She turned to me and asked, “When can I stop doing the shots?” It was then that I truly lost it. I told her I didn’t know, but that this wasn’t something that was going to go away. That we would have to find a way to work around it.
“Forever?” she asked.
She started to cry. Hard. Why was this happening to her, she wanted to know? Was it because she ate too much sugar? I robotically shifted into Mom Mode, and got through the conversation with her. “It’s not your fault. It’s nothing you did. It’s nothing I did.” (Right???) Sometimes things just happen. “And the good news is that there is a way to make it so you can still do all the things you want to do.”
I read as much as I could online to reiterate what we were learning in the hospital. Which I of course knew better than to do, but did anyway. Right there, front and center on JDRF’s site: “T1D is associated with an estimated loss of life-expectancy of up to 13 years”. My body somehow found more tears.
“You guys are going to do great.” “She is really lucky to have you.” “She is an amazing kid.” “You’ll find your new normal.” We heard again and again. I knew only one of those things to be true. She is an amazing kid.
But they were right. We have found our new normal. And have found we are definitely not alone. This normal is complicated, and incredibly stressful at times, but her diagnosis also cut out a lot of the unnecessary stress that was consuming all too much (i.e. any) time. I don’t worry about the small stuff anymore. Our day starts at 5:30am so I can pack her lunch and note the carbs and dosing for the school nurse. It ends at 2am with a blood sugar check.
M. does her own shots now—under adult supervision of the dosing of course. It’s a big responsibility for a seven-year-old, but she's accepting her new normal.
Back to Sunday. I looked on at the girls working on the deck. I had given M. the camera as she wanted to do a photo for her art project. It sat precariously on the edge of a chair, but I didn’t have the heart to yell at her to move it. The theme of the project was “Imagine” and I overheard the brainstorming with her big sister earlier that day. Her sister dominated the conversation with ideas of “Imagine if everyone had a house…” “Imagine if everyone had a family…” My four-year-old ran in and yelled “Imagine if I had a unicorn in the backyard!”
M. finally came in and asked me to help her take the picture for her project. I dried my hands and stepped outside. When I saw the circle of needles—the amount she uses in a week—my eyes welled up.
“Imagine a world without diabetes,” she said.
Jacquie Haggarty is a mom to three girls, and finds a break from parenting by working full-time as an attorney in Silicon Valley. Her friends think she has a volunteering problem and her kids think she dances too much in public. She's been featured alongside her girls rocking out in many MyLifeSuckers videos.