Friday, December 21, 2012

Fighting for my Womb: Black Women's Reproductive Health and the Medical World

As a black woman in academia, motherhood is already a complicated venture. First, most of us have fibroids (I had one that thankfully calcified on its own). Secondly, when you're in education, it's proper to plan a summer delivery (which means you only have a three-month widow to conceive). Thirdly, when you're a professor, you have to decide how to fit a child in while you're on the tenure track.

So, things were and are already complicated.

Therefore, when the diagnosis of diabetes (in other words HIGH RISK PREGNANCY) got added to the list of complications, it was natural for me to decide to not have children. The problem with this decision is... black folks in the South (my family) and Caribbean black folks (my husband's family) don't take kindly to that kind of decision. Not having children is not an option. Parenthood is like an obligation to your family and God. Because I knew that no one would understand just how I felt, I held my feelings about not desiring to become a mother inside for many months. After about six months, I shared my thoughts with my husband. I didn't have much of a choice in the matter because his cousin asked me if I wanted children in front of him, his parents, his grandmother, and one of his Aunts. There was no way, I felt, that I could look all those people in their eyes and say "No." So, I managed to squeeze the most faint "yes" out of my mouth.

That night, I confessed to my husband that I had lied. That I in fact didn't want children. That managing diabetes was hard enough and that I couldn't even imagine having to check my glucose every 4 hours and breastfeed every two. That I couldn't see how I would be able to change a baby's diapers all day long and change my lancets, needles, and test strips too. I wasn't sure if I could care for a baby and my hypos.  What if, like in Steel Magnolias, I passed out leaving my baby helpless?

The idea just seemed too much. He listened and said, "we don't have to decide that now. Give it some time and we'll come back to this conversation, there is no rush." I was relieved.

To my delight, I am still in this "give it some time" space and it's working for us. I've been given time to think about motherhood more closely and I've met some pretty amazing diabetic mothers. They inspire me. It is because of them that I was able to handle a horrific encounter I had with a gynecologist recently.

It was the first time he and I met and the conversation went like this (post my pap)...
He said, "I see from your chart you're a diabetic. Do you want to be on birth control?"
"No, " I replied.
"Are you sure," he asked.
"Yes, I am sure."
He looked in silence. I looked back in silence.
"Well, you know that as a diabetic your child could be at risk for a number of birth defects."
I just looked at him in silence.
He wouldn't give up, "Are you sure you don't want the birth control?"
"No, I don't want birth control."
He continued, "Your child could have heart defects, they could be premature or overweight...." He continued to list all the things that could go wrong and I began to tune him out, "You should really consider birth control."
This time I looked at him and rolled my eyes.
"It's up to you, but are you sure?" he asked again.
I looked at him in silence. Finally, his female assistant broke the awkward stare-down  between the two of us by saying that I could get dressed.

I didn't even feel like explaining to him that while I am a diabetic, I'm med-free and my last two A1C results were 5.4 and 5.5, and that my endo assured me that these were good numbers to have when considered pregnancy. I didn't care to explain because he didn't ask.  He didn't ask what my numbers are? He didn't ask to see my glucometer. He didn't ask if I was taking meds? He didn't ask how long I'd been diabetic. He didn't ask anything except if I wanted birth control.

And because that was all that he asked, I sat there thinking about all the ways the American medical system has tortured, manipulated, removed, and benefited from black women's reproductive health. I thought about the history of birth control in America and how it started with a white feminist name Margaret Sanger who promoted the pill as a key to white women's liberation, but when she ran out of money, some eugenics helped fund her project with one major exception--they did not promote the pill in white middle-class communities (like Sanger wanted), but rather they they administered it to black neighborhoods to prohibit black women from having babies. Birth control was dropped off at black churches and pastors were asked to inform their congregations about it. When the depo shot was invented, it was tested on black women and the side effect was sterilization in early trials. The hysterectomy (a very population operation for all women) was perfected on (and therefore unsuccessful on many) black women. In the very state that I live in, just last year the State Senate considered offering many black women a financial retribution for the massive 50-year long sterilization program that took place. In fact, the state "averaged about 300 sterilizations per year between 1950 and 1963" many victims were black women and there are still "roughly 2,944 living victims of state-sponsored sterilization initiative." Unfortunately, this past June, Republicans denied any amount of compensation to the women for their pain. Perhaps had I not known these bits of historical facts and had he asked me just one more question to offset the birth control question, I would have not felt so degraded and de-humanized. Something inside of me just wanted to squeeze my womb and protect it.

I demanded all my records from that office and vowed to never return again. I have a new gynecologist (a Caribbean man) who requires that all his patients sit on a sofa and talk about what's going on before they enter the examination room and de-robe.  I like that MUCH better!

African American women have a very difficult history with the medical world and our reproductive health. Now that I am managing diabetes, I am learning first hand that the battle is not over. Having a chronic illness only adds layers to the problem.

I am still not 100% convinced that motherhood is for me, but I will continue to resist all notions that diabetes alone means that I cannot or should not be a mother. I will protect my womb, keep my glucose levels normalized, start back reading books about pregnancy (adding ones about pregnancy and diabetes), and wait to reach a decision.  I've been a late bloomer all my life, so perhaps a desire to be a mother is no different.

For more information about the exploitation of African American women and the medical industry. Check out this book.

For information about the massive sterilization project, you can visit this website.
Link 1
Link 2

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Cousin is Cured of Diabetes!

I'm home for the holidays. It feels so good to wear short sleeves in December. South Florida certainly is one of the most beautiful places in America.

I saw one of my cousins last night.  I haven't seen him since last Christmas when I told him that I was no longer on medication and that he could have my insulin pens. He said that he would take them to his doctor and see if he could use those instead of the syringes. He had never seen insulin pens before and seemed excited about the possibility because as a Type 1 diabetic (diagnosed decades ago), he's been doing this for a while.

So, last night when I saw him briefly, I had to ask.  "How do you like the pens, cuz?"

He replied, "I'm not a diabetic anymore, cuz, they didn't tell you?"

Anyone whose been a diabetic longer than six months has heard something like this and your heart goes out to the person who is probably on the path of self-destruction by not taking care of themselves. So, I asked with a frowned brow, "No, no one told me. What do you mean, you're not a diabetic anymore?"

This is when the excitement began. His face lit up (realizing that he would be the first to tell me the news) as he blurted, "I got a transplant. Cuz, I got a whole new kidney and I'm not a diabetic anymore. I been on the list a long time, when I got that call, I was soooo happy and blessed, cuz. I go to church every Sunday now too, ask Grandma."

"Whhaat?!  That's a real blessing, man." I smiled back.

He proceeded to walk away, continuing with the agenda he had before I interrupted. But, I still wasn't quite comfortable. Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas that then effects every other part of your body. So, if he didn't get a new pancreas, then he's still a diabetic. So, I yelled (since he was further away by the time my thoughts were clear), "Did you get a pancreas too?"

He stopped. Walked toward me with an even bigger grin on his face. "Cuz, I got a pancreas too. I'm so happy. And, I even got Lasik eye surgery cause the diabetes was causing me to go blind in one of my eyes.  God is good, cuz, I'm telling you.  I'm no longer a diabetic.  I thank God EVERY day."

"Wow." I stood there happily speechless.

Then my uncle, who ALWAYS makes a joke out of everything says, "You was praying to God somebody died huh?"  We all started laughing.

But what he was really thanking God for wasn't that someone died, because death is promised to us all.  Rather, he was thankful that someone understand how AMAZING it is to GIVE life to someone else as you pass on. Whomever gave my cousin a pancreas and a liver not only saved him from the finger pricks, the injections, the dialysis, the blindness, the medical expenses, but now that he's back in church, the person may have very well helped to save his soul.

Thank you organ donors for understanding what a wonderful blessing you can be to someone else.

For now, transplants are the only cure for diabetes and I feel pretty special to be able to say, My cousin is cured!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

2012: Traveling with Diabetes

This month's DSMA Blog Carnival asks us to "take a moment to reflect on diabetes in 2012."

Here I reflection of 2012 is primarily about my adventures traveling.

I love traveling. But when I was diagnosed with diabetes last year, I thought that I would not enjoy it anymore.  Traveling as a diabetic is a challenge. But this year, I couldn't avoid the challenge of traveling because I flew on five international flights within five weeks.

Oddly enough, by traveling as a diabetic, I now have two things to get excited about when I arrive at my destination: First, getting there safely, and Secondly, having normal glucose levels.

I started the year off by traveling to Boston, MA to see Robbie McCauley's play about Diabetes entitled SUGAR.  I had a BLAST!!

I was invited to share my story with hundreds of other people at various locations. This was one of the best experiences because I was able to tell other people just how blessed I am. It's not everyday you meet someone who finished a dissertation, avoided a diabetic coma by a few hours, and lost their home in a tornado all within a matter of months and that person is able to stand to tell the story.  I shared my story with the DSMA Blog Talk Radio show community, at a health fair, and for the local United Way. Thanks for all those who listened and also encouraged me.
I launched my own website Black Diabetic Info. Which is dedicated to providing information about diabetes in black communities that is uplifting rather than daunting. It's no secret that Diabetes has a devastating impact in Black communities, but it can be emotionally difficult when ALL the information on the internet is negative. My website is the place where anyone can get information that is cultural sensitive and appropriate. My motto is I'm Diagnosed but Not Defeated!

I attended my first ADA Diabetes Expo.  It was held in Atlanta, GA. I had a great time and I'm so thankful that my friend Ava was able to join me.  The freebies are awesome, too. :-)


I traveled to CHINA.  This was another BIG adventure filled with questions about how I might manage diabetes on the other side of the world. This was also the first time I traveled on a 12-hour flight. I made sure that I packed enough snacks to avoid lows.  For some reason, I experience lows on international flights.

Overall, I managed my glucose fairly well.  I ate a lot of noodles but balanced it with climbing The Great Wall, dancing on Wangfujing Street, and Thai Chi in a square.

In China, I ate a type of protein that I would NEVER eat in America, but since they told me it was chicken, I tasted it. I thought it might have been a Cornish Hen, but was in fact, pigeon.  Here are pictures of pigeons on a stick.

 Aundrey 2 traveled with me to the Great Wall (and every where else, of course).

 I joined a group of middle-aged Chinese women in a park for Thai Chi in the morning.  That was pretty cool and it help to lower my glucose.

 I asked for the best tea for diabetics, was told that it is Bitter Black Leaf Tea, and I purchased some to bring back with me to America.

I rode in the back of a police car for the first time in my life. Some hoodlums in Beijing tried to rob me, but when "Chinese hutong alley ghetto ways" met "Refined South Florida ghetto street smarts," there was NO contest.  I was able to get out of the alley with my passport, ALL my money (they demanded 300 yuans), and a private escort out of that area.

I would like to give a special thanks to the two officers who didn't speak ANY English for their patience and the creators of the iPhone app that I used to translate. Without you, my trip to China would have been VERY different.

I traveled to the UAE...Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

For my Birthday, I went Sandboarding AND Indoor Skydiving. Not sure the effects of these activities on my glucose, but they sure were FUN!!  It was on my birthday that I realized that I won't let diabetes win. I will continue living life to the fullest.

While in Dubai, I noticed that there were a lot of unique food items for diabetics.  I tried a few and they were tasty. Diabetic Atta is very popular, but unfortunately, I have no idea what that it is or how to cook it.

 I participated in Diabetes Art Day by painting with oil for the first time.  It's the Diabetes Circle of Awareness (in case you didn't know).

I traveled to Guadeloupe and visited a rainforest. While in Guadeloupe, I asked the same question, "What's good for diabetics?" My next blog will be about what I found, so come back and check it out.


Another big challenge this year, has been figuring out a routine and sticking to it.  I'm not a routine person by nature, but this illness requires one.  I have a feeling that I'll struggle with finding a routine for a while (perhaps for life).

My endocrinologist moved to Africa, so I currently am without one.  I'm managing diabetes to the best of my ability.  My last A1C was 5.4, so I'm doing fairly well at the moment. Hoot, hoot!! :-D

I took a "before" picture of my right arm at the beginning of the year thinking that I would have an "after" one by now.  Unfortunately, I report that the before picture might actually look better than a current one, so I'll postpone taking an "after" photo until sometime in 2013.

This was the look on my face when I realized that all the traveling I did this summer erased all the progress I made in Pilates class. I was on my way to being a champ but when I returned, I was at beginner status.

I also traveled to one of America's greatest cities...NEW YORK!!  The biggest worry on my mind was how do I fit Junior's Cheesecake into my carb count.  I figured it out! Nothing can stop a diabetic from figuring out how to fit their favorite carbs into their meal plan.  :-D

Finally, I didn't always wear blue on Fridays, but I gave awareness about diabetes every chance I could.  2012 marks my first full-calendar year as a diabetic and I think I managed it well. I have many more years ahead of me. I hope that with each coming year, I will be able to manage it better than the year before. Here's one of my Wear Blue Friday pictures.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I'd appreciate it if you clicked the "Follow" button on the top right. This post is my December entry in the DSMA Blog Carnival.  If you’d like to participate too, you can get all of the information at

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An Apple Is Making ALL the Difference

As you know, I was struggling at the gym two weeks ago trying to figure out a way to prevent the hypos that I kept having.  They were extremely frustrating and were cutting into my workout. A drop in glucose levels can switch your mood and can possibly affect your entire day, so hypos were causing havoc on my Gym Time. I knew something would have to change. Well after a week of trying something different, I am here to report that it is working. And, thank God. 

Want to know what it is?

It's an apple. Fuji apples are my favorite.

I discovered that if I eat an apple before working out that my glucose levels remain around 100.  I've been doing this for a week and I haven't seen anything within the 70s and I'm SUPER EXCITED.  I have even been able to move my cardio from 30 minutes up to 45 minutes.

My old way: 
  1. Check glucose before working out.
  2. If I was less than 100 then I ate something (usually a nutrition bar or some crackers with cheese or tuna)
  3. Workout for 30 minutes and stop to check glucose.
  4. This is when I would usually find a number in the 70s and would treat the low or just end the cardio.

My new way:
  1. Check glucose before working out.
  2. If I am less than 100 then I eat the entire apple, if I am 100-150 then I eat half the apple. (I haven't been above 150 in about a year, so that is why I stopped at 150. Just in case someone else would like to try this.)
  3. Workout for 30 minutes and stop to check glucose.
  4. This is when I've been discovering that I am usually still around 100, so I get back into the cardio routine for another 15 minutes.

Here's my stock pile for this week!  Seven FUJI APPLES to the rescue.

For a reward, I signed up for Nike+ to chart my progress. Once I figure out how to use it, I'll let you know.