PREGNANCY was something that concerned biology teacher Emma Finnegan because of her diabetes.
But it ended up being less complicated than she had anticipated.
Twelve years ago Liverpudlian Emma, who now lives in Newry, was diagnosed with Type One diabetes while she was studying at university.
“At the time I was at university and lost a lot of weight without trying,” she said. “My housemates noticed that and I was thirsty all of the time which was not like me. I constantly felt the need to drink. I was very tired and moody as well which was out of character. Then someone said to me that I was probably a diabetic - and I laughed it off.
“But as time went on I went to the doctor. I ended up in hospital in Leeds Infirmary for a week at the time I was being diagnosed which I found quite traumatic.”
At the time of her diagnosis, Emma was studying biology at university. So in a bid to equip herself to cope with the condition she carried out a library project on diabetes and its treatment for her degree.
“That really helped me, although I found out too much and almost frightened myself to death,” she said.
“To be honest I am used to it now. I inject four times a day and it is something you just do. When I was first told I had to inject I was frightened but now it is as normal as brushing your teeth.”
But managing her diabetes whilst pregnant was something Emma was not prepared to go alone.
“I knew that I shouldn’t just go and get pregnant. I got in touch with my diabetic nurse and told her I was planning to get pregnant. She, in turn, enrolled me on the pre-pregnancy course which was truly invaluable.
“After I got pregnant I saw them around every two months. They gave me advice about my diet and general health and actually they gave me the go-ahead to try to get pregnant after my first visit.
“However they did advise me take more dairy products and change my diet in other ways. They also gave me a DVD on what to expect as a diabetic.
“I was able to keep injecting insulin to keep my sugar levels stable.”
But Emma found her sugar levels “changed dramatically” when she was pregnant, “especially during the first five weeks”.
“That is why it is so important to go to the clinic,” she added.
“The sugars change because of hormones and other factors of pregnancy. When not pregnant I would do the pin prick test about four times a day - but when I was pregnant it was about eight or nine times a day. I had sore fingers. I injected accordingly and sometimes I was on more insulin and I needed to rest.
“I would recommend that all diabetics who are planning to get pregnant - or are pregnant - attend the clinic to reduce the amount of stress you are under.
“I knew I had done everything according to the book. Imagine if your baby was born and you knew it was down to you doing something wrong, you would never forgive yourself.”
During Emma’s pregnancy she attended Craigavon Area Hospital’s diabetic clinic where she had regular scans.
“I was getting extra scans to check the size of my baby and because of my diabetes - as diabetics can have very big babies.
“You can have a healthy pregnancy being a Type One diabetic. I was so worried about being pregnant and being a diabetic but it is very do-able if you take yourself before and during the pregnancy by going to that clinic.
“That clinic was brilliant and I will go again when I decide to have another baby for that reassurance.
“There are so many complications with diabetes, it is so important to make sure you are monitored.”
Emma had baby Annabelle at 38 weeks after being induced.
“Although I had planned to have a normal delivery I ended up having an emergency caesarian section,” she recalled.
“My baby girl was 7lbs 4oz at 38 weeks. I was warned that Annabelle might have to go into the neo-natal ward if she was unable to manage her own sugar levels because I am a diabetic. After every feed her blood sugar level was tested through the heel prick test. But she was fine and is able to manage her own sugar levels and so didn’t have to go into the neo-natal ward.”
Emma is not overly concerned about her daughter having diabetes as her condition “is not genetic”. Her 34-year-old husband Jerome, from Newry, who she met five years ago, does not have the condition.
“I have had asthma since I was two years old”, she said. “My treatment for asthma involved taking aural steroids which I later found out can cause diabetes.
“Not many people know that, but oral steroids, the ones I took, can cause diabetes and did in me.”
Becoming a mother has opened a “whole new world” to Emma. She, like mothers around the globe, finds the main issue with early motherhood is “exhaustion”.
“If my little story will help someone with diabetes and encourage them - that is all I want,” she added.
“If you control diabetes it is fine. If you don’t control it then you will have bad side effects and it will affect your life.
“A diabetic needs to look after themselves by eating properly and sleeping properly. “If you don’t look after yourself it can be a terrible thing to live with. If you control it you can have a normal healthy life.”