Maternal love and care help ease the sting of diabetes.

By Nicole Johnson, MA, MPH

I am almost two years into my experience as a mother, the ultimate experience of love and nurture. Each part has been exhilarating, heart warming, and exhausting. I never knew I could care so much and sleep so little. I love every moment and aspect! It recently struck me, as my little girl told me for the first time – unprompted – that she loves me, that I am helping raise another mother.

As part of recognizing the beauty and strength of mothers and motherhood, I want you to know a little about my mother. She is a force of nature. She is strong, soft, sensitive, direct, loving, and fierce. I am thankful for and proud of her indeed. She is the one I run to when I am hurt and in need. Or as my little Ava tells me, when a “booboo kiss” is needed. She is also the first one with whom I want to share my joys and success.

Mom has always been there for me. She was there when I was diagnosed with diabetes almost fifteen years ago. She was there when I almost died due to a severe hypoglycemic reaction in 1997. She was there when I first went on the insulin pump in 1998. She was there for my big win in 1999. And she was there when I had my own little one in 2006. Without her, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I was diagnosed with diabetes at nineteen. I was independent, stubborn, and fearless. However, the unknown of this disease crippled me. I didn’t know what to do or what to think. I moved out of my dorm at the University of South Florida and back in with Mom and Dad upon my diagnosis. I was sullen, depressed, in a little bit of denial, angry, and I physically felt awful. Mom decided to take action and help bring me back to reality. It wasn’t easy, but she took steps to help me realize, physically and emotionally, that I could live with diabetes; that I could control the condition that at the time was controlling me. She struggled immensely and still has emotional wounds from the journey. I guess that is all part of being a mom. You share the joy and the pain with your child.

Moms also have to be firm and educational to help their children learn and grow. With my diabetes, my mom encouraged me to discover, experiment and learn. It is something she continues to do to this day. Sometimes I accept her advice, sometimes…well, you know.

Today, I struggle, as a mother, with the delicate balance of discipline, love, attention, and education of a 20-month-old. It is tough, painful, and necessary. Sometimes the hardest part is not laughing. But I am teaching her about strength and resilience, lessons she will need for any experience she encounters. I am sure my mom shares these same feelings in dealing with her adult baby. Oh the stories I could tell about diabetes snafus and how my mom had to come to the rescue!

But speaking as a mom with diabetes, my course in life is different from many. The combo of chronic disease and motherhood is a challenge and is often dangerous. The hard part is taking the time to care for myself. I come second to the needs of my child. Yet, my child needs a mom who is healthy and able. That means loving and caring for her starts with my caring for me. There are the moments I forget to test my blood sugar and give my medication. There are other times that I just choose to not exercise when I know I should. Still other instances when I let stress get to my diabetes and me needlessly. I have a lot of learning to do. However, I know that I need to redirect and prioritize some areas of my life to make sure that I am well for my child.

Scientifically, women, or better yet moms, are the least cared for members of the family. Why? Because these women are so busy taking care of everyone else, they don’t have time – or don’t think they have time – for themselves. A few years ago the American Diabetes Association and the National Diabetes Education Program launched an initiative aimed at women called “Take Time to Care.” The program sought to get women to think of their health first. The philosophy is not one of selfishness, but rather helping women live healthier lives. Part of the aim was to reduce the number of cardiac events in women. (More women than men die of heart disease.)

I don’t know of the results or the impact of the program. I do know that for women with diabetes who are moms, the message is so very important. In the midst of life – diabetes must be a forethought, not an afterthought. That is what is best for our children.

Now, speaking to the mothers of children with diabetes – like my mom – I do know that it may seem you are not appreciated. It may seem that your child doesn’t respect and understand all you are doing for him/her. Motherhood is indeed often a thankless job. However, a mom to a kid with diabetes (biologically or at heart) is of utmost importance. You are the one we look to the most for approval, acceptance, and help. You hold at least part of the key to our lives with diabetes. Your support, love, sensitivity, guidance, firmness, and heart are where our learning to live with challenge begins.

I am so thankful for my mom. She has allowed me to grow as an individual all while striving to protect and preserve my life through delicate instruction. Sometimes it worked, sometimes stubborn Nicole had to learn the hard way. Regardless, I am thankful for the love and care.

I am also thankful for my little girl. She will turn into a “type 3” for her mom. (A person who loves and supports someone with type 1 or 2.) What an incredible gift.

Now, Ava may turn into a type 1 one day. I don’t know what the future holds. I do know that she has at least some of my genes and could be predisposed to this condition. That pains my heart more than I can communicate. However, science and technology are such that if she does live with diabetes, I have no doubt about her ability to strive for and reach her full potential. In fact, I fully believe that if diabetes crosses her path she will be better and stronger because of it. Because, again, that’s what happened to her mom. In reality, if that happens, if she does develop diabetes, her mom might have a breakdown. Moms will be moms. Until the end of time, we will always be trying to love, care and protect, even when life has other plans.

 Nicole Johnson

Read Nicole's bio here.

Read more of Nicole Johnson's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.

Last Modified Date: November 28, 2012

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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