The unpredictability of life seems to always reveal itself, especially when things seem so under control. What feels like an almost picture-perfect life can become shattered in the face of a new and harsh reality. Just as I slowly settled in Qatar and embraced motherhood for the second time after a 10-year gap, my life took a wholly unexpected and unwanted turn.
One day, after coming from school, my son complained of bouts of vomiting and stomach pain, which turned my usually active child extremely weak. At that point, I also realised that he had lost a considerable amount of weight. Before that afternoon, I attributed my son’s changing frame to his return to in-person classes, increased physical activity, and just growing up. But the immediate hospital visit that followed, blood tests, and emergency room admission that evening would prove me sorely wrong. That evening, my 11-year-old was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes—a condition where your own body attacks your pancreas, resulting in low or no insulin production. Thankfully, it is treatable, but it also meant that my son would need to take insulin shots before every meal and stay mindful of his diet for the rest of his life.
Needless to say, this diagnosis changed my family’s life, too. We had struggled to come to terms with the fact that our healthy and active boy had type 1 diabetes and was dealing with alarming blood sugar and ketone levels. His test results meant he had to stay under observation at the hospital until the situation was under control. How many days? No one knew. Naturally, my husband and I broke down, and after profusely shedding tears that night, we realised that we were not facing a one or few-day affair but a circumstance that we would deal with forever. Living far away from family in a different country, we were left with no option but to muster up some courage and face the situation on our own. And oh, was it a tough time! Those four days in the hospital were spent hiding our tears and putting up constant smiles to reassure our son that things were improving and under control and that he would be discharged soon. We had to do this because we realised that leaning into the shock of the diagnosis and the emotional turmoil it brought would not help us think straight. But things started to look clearer once we accepted our reality, and all we knew at that point was that we had to face it together as a team.
Acceptance is the first step to finding a solution to any problem in life, and it is rightly said that acceptance makes half the battle won. Yet, there is another half that has to be conquered, and it’s not an easy task. There are a lot of daily challenges that come with parenting a child with a chronic illness. For us, the first and foremost was understanding the disease and learning more about it, as knowledge makes situations easier to tackle. With that said, I truly appreciate the efforts put in by the doctors, the diabetes educator, and the dietician at Hamad Hospital, Qatar. They made our lives a little easier.
My husband and I were given a list of dos and don’ts to manage our child’s illness, along with some education on it. We also took some tests to ensure that we could keep the illness under control and that our son would be well-cared for at home. All of this helped us feel more confident about tackling the situation. Learning how to measure blood glucose, calculate carbohydrates in our son’s meals, work out the correction for his insulin, inject the insulin, and keep a log was like clearing an examination, and a tough one at that. Yet, despite all the given information, we still faced challenges while processing all this new information and modifying our daily routine accordingly. For us, the greatest challenge was monitoring our son at school, as managing a new diabetes diagnosis in that environment can be tricky. Plus, he’s a pre-teen, and that alone comes with its share of tantrums and reservations on the part of the child. Besides that, as his mother, I found it difficult to restrict my son from being freer with meal choices, especially with his love for food. However, informing his teachers and the school medical staff of his condition helped ease some of those issues. My husband and I would also take turns tagging along with him sometimes to help him adjust to his new routine.
Settling into a New Lifestyle
Keeping track of mealtimes and water intake, counting carbohydrates, making balanced meals, and regular physical activity have all become integral parts of our family life. Although I admit it took time. Still, we all knew that the sooner we started, the better it would be.
My husband and I aimed to educate our son about his condition so that he could manage it independently and have a responsible attitude towards it. So, of course, we were impressed when we noticed him calculating the carb content in his food before choosing what to eat or exercising a bit more to keep his blood sugar in check. Overall, we welcomed this newer, healthier lifestyle because we realised that we all wanted to be fit for one another. This journey towards fitness continues, even if we miss some walks sometimes or enjoy sweet treats. And my son gets to join in with the latter, too! The only difference is that we now work together to measure his intake and choose the best times for him to eat desserts to help with blood sugar management. If we want to dine out, we decide on the menu beforehand and make all the necessary calculations before stepping into the restaurant. And if our son feels there was a miscalculation, he climbs the stairs to return to our seventh-floor apartment instead of taking the lift.
At the time of writing this, it has been under three months since my son’s diagnosis, and he can now check his blood sugar, calculate the carb content in his meals, do corrective calculations, and take insulin on his own. Furthermore, he has been sharing all the valuable nutrition information he has learnt with his friends. Remarkably, his friends have also been keeping an eye on him and helping him manage his sugar cravings while giving him a small piece of chocolate whenever his sugar levels drop too low.
Dealing with Lows
The more regular, uneventful days are relatively easy to live with when your child has a chronic illness. However, the not-so-normal ones, where there is a change in temperament or mood swings because of their blood sugar levels, take power and patience. Those days require strength, deep-rooted faith, and hope. Sickness, weather changes, and mental or physical stress can all trigger them, so I personally find that clinging to the belief that “this too shall pass” helps me get through them. Despite knowing this, we can still have days when we feel completely drained and like don’t know how to manage ourselves or our children’s needs. In those moments, we hold on and wait for those more regular days to come by again.
Inclusion and Finding a New Normal
Undeniably, children with chronic illnesses are often treated differently at school, home, and other environments, and this treatment keeps their condition at the forefront of their minds, consciously or not. Because of this, I have tried to keep my son’s routine as normal as possible while adhering to the list of dos and don’ts our healthcare professionals gave us. And, in my opinion, I think that it would be helpful for other parents to do this where possible.
Understandably, some parents may find themselves in situations where their children might take advantage of their extra efforts to accommodate them. However, in time, it will be easier to distinguish between a child’s genuine needs and any sneaky attempts to evade school work or the consequences of their actions, for instance! So, if you’re in that boat, do not hesitate to keep accommodating your child and including them in events and activities. Your child is also likely going through a lot trying to accept and deal with their new life by tuning into their body’s signals and working out their needs. So, it will be completely unfair to restrict them from any activity without medical necessity. And it is not just parents—school staff and friends should also practise inclusion and not bully or discriminate against children with different needs.
Throughout this journey, it has become clear that parenting a child with chronic illness requires exceptional patience, strength, and resilience. Nothing can prepare you for this new life of frequent doctor visits, among other changes. It is overwhelming to embark on this journey, but with a dose of courage plus the enormous love you have for your child, things gradually fall into place. In the midst of it all, do not forget to appreciate and applaud yourself for all the ways you go the extra mile every day, pushing your comfort to the backseat just to safeguard your child and make their life a little easier.