Natalie McCain blamed her health issues on busy motherhood, but after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, she wants other moms to learn the warning signs.
Photographer, author, and blogger Natalie McCain has spent the last three years building The Honest Body Project, a community focused on body and parenting-positivity. Her inspiring photo series have given a voice and a platform to several difficult topics that many moms struggle with, including postpartum depression and C-section anxiety. But now she's taking the stage to share a vulnerable experience of her own: McCain was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in late November. With her diagnosis came her desire to share her story and encourage other moms to prioritize their own health, before it's too late.
In an eye-opening blog post, McCain admits she has neglected her own health to tend to the needs of her children—an experience many moms know all too well. "I had intense brain fog that I assumed was due to not getting enough sleep," McCain wrote. "I had tingling in my fingers, but assumed it was from sleeping wrong on my arm or an old carpal tunnel injury. I started to feel weird after eating desserts, but it didn't click that it could be from the sugar. I would often get headaches after exercise or upon waking," she explained.
Despite her symptoms, she didn't immediately see a doctor. "As moms, we tend to explain things away when it comes to our own health," she wrote. "I didn't take any of the symptoms seriously, even though my body was trying desperately to alert me that something was wrong."
Time to Take Action
When her doctor told her that her A1C level—or the three-month average of blood sugar—was on the extremely high spectrum at around 300, McCain says she was overcome with anger, mostly at herself. She knew diabetes ran in her family, and as the doctor revealed she had 'raging, out-of-control' type 2, she wondered what she could have done differently.
"I exercised frequently prior to my diagnosis and I was not a junk food eating person," she told Parents.com. "I didn't think I was treating my body badly, but clearly my body was not thriving off of what I was fueling it with."
To begin her road to better health, her doctor insisted on insulin, but her pharmacy wasn't able to fulfill her prescription for a few days. Frantic for answers, McCain turned to a friend with expert knowledge on diabetes who suggested she shift her diet. "I started immediately and within two weeks my sugar readings were all at normal levels without ever starting medication," she said. "I was in shock—as was my doctor when I returned to see her."
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Though McCain is now managing her type 2 diabetes with a strict, nutritional diet and exercise routine, she's committed to helping other moms put their health first, so they can avoid a similar scary health experience. She wants to shed light on the many warning signals our bodies send—many of which are easy to miss or ignore.
Know the Warning Signs
It's common for type 2 diabetics to go several weeks, months, or even years, without realizing something is off since the indicators aren't always clear, explains Allison A. Vorderstrasse, DNSc, APRN, FAAN, an associate professor at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. Many diabetics experience increased hunger or thirst, more frequent trips to the bathroom, and fatigue. These symptoms are all due to the fact your body isn't receiving what it needs from fuel, Vorderstrasse explains.
But for moms, these warning signs could just feel like a result of any other jam-packed, overworked day: "A mom might think that feeling tired, hungry, or thirsty are part of the fatigue or lack of sleep associated with having children, family, or work-related responsibilities. She may be less focused on taking care of herself with these multiple competing demands for her time and attention," Vorderstrasse says.
In the same way you listen to your gut about your children's ailments, McCain urges mothers to seek medical attention for themselves sooner than later. It's important to remember that what your children need most is a healthy, vibrant parent who will be around for a long time.
Don't let shame get the best of you, McCain urges. "Being a body-positive activist, I have been preaching about loving your body for years. When I realized I wasn't truly taking care of my health, I felt guilty. The symptoms went on for nearly a year, only getting worse with time," she says. "I knew I needed to share my story to help raise awareness that part of self-love is not only celebrating and accepting your body, it is also being responsible for your health."