Top trumps: diabetes v infertility

By | 12 November, 2012
This picture exactly illustrates fertility treatment

This picture exactly illustrates fertility treatment

If, like me, you have just the one chronic disease it’s sometimes hard to get the whole dodgy pancreas situation into perspective. It feels like it’s a real pain at times, but how does it compare to other afflictions? Having had the luxury of muddling through the world of infertility for the last 6 years, I thought a quick game of diabetes vs infertility top trumps might help.

Emotional trauma
Getting away from it all – the 24/7 nature of diabetes can be draining, the inability to take a day or even an hour off. This is where infertility wins. You can choose to lock it in an cupboard and leave it there for months. You can take a break from it and refuse to think about it. And nothing really bad happens. Occasionally, when a particularly braindead celebrity announces they’re pregnant it starts banging on the door and shouting. It likes to rant about where the hell Darwin is – how are the genes of that braindead cretin being allowed to reproduce over ours?

Infertility win – it’s traumatic, but at least you can neglect it for months at a time without it coming back to bite you.

Other people’s reactions
Diabetes often provokes unhelpful and misinformed reactions. “Did you eat too many sweets as a child”, “My Aunty Marg had that, her leg rotted off and she went blind”, “Should you be eating that?”. Generally they’re not particularly supportive, just random ill-informed statements .

People don’t know what to say if they find out you’re having infertility treatment. It’s a tough one. It’s very personal, it makes people sad, we’re not well equipped to respond. The big difference over diabetes is that most people at least manage to come across as very well meaning, but can I just explain a couple of things. “Oh my cousin had IVF 17 times and now she has twins so it does work”. Thank you, I know you’re trying to give me hope. But really, the thought of getting to the point where I have to do this 17 times makes me want to give up now and eat my own head. And I’m quite well aware that it works, I’ve read the research, I’m not doing it because I’m short of a hobby.

Then there’s the other old chestnut, “my friend had been trying for years. They went on holiday now they have quads. Relax and you’ll be fine.” There is of course evidence that stress isn’t overly helpful with the whole conception business, but in my head will always be the response from a witty friend “Why thank you for your expertise. The lack of relaxation is, of course, the cause of our infertility. Not an in-balance of hormones and useless reproductive system. We shall relax immediately.”

Infertility win – comments about infertility are generally not that helpful, but they’re well meaning, which is more than you can say about some of the diabetes related comments.

Timescales
Everything about making a baby takes an age. Drugs always seem to take at least 2 weeks to work, then you have to wait 2 weeks to see if you’ve managed to conceive. If not, you’ve got to wait until next month. Everything is in a timescale of weeks, there are no short cuts.

Diabetes is the perfect condition for the chronically impatient. I make a change to my insulin, I see the effect within hours. I can mess up, go hypo and have it all sorted within an afternoon. That’s pretty satisfying.

Diabetes win – other than sitting on a pump waiting list, there are very few interminable waits when it comes to diabetes, it’s a nice fast, reactive affliction.

Side effects
For me insulin has only really has one side effect. Hypos. They’re inconvenient and unpleasant but I do theoretically at least have some control over when they occur.

The particularly evil thing about several fertility drugs is that that give you symptoms that are very similar to those experienced in early pregnancy. That’s just mean. They make you feel ill and drive you insane at the same time, making you constantly question whether that slight queasiness is morning sickness or just the drugs. And a sympathetic note for menopausal women. I always thought you were making a bit of a fuss over hot flushes. Surely you just get a bit warm? I take that all back. Hot flushes are not just being a bit warm, they’re feeling like you’re going to spontaneously combust any second. They’re turning bright puce and sweating so that people in meetings ask if you’re ok and your husband moves away from you in bed because you’re soaking wet and radiating heat. They’re not good.

Diabetes win – hypos are horrid, but are largely manageable when compared to the nastiness of infertility drug side effects.

Can you be cured?
Diabetes – no.
Infertility – not in the flick a switch and make it go away forever sense of the word. But treatment can often remove the problem for long enough to enable you to spawn offspring. At which point, infertility is no longer an issue.

Infertility win.

Ability to control
One of the most frustrating things about infertility is your inability to do anything about it. Of course, you can do what you can to help – keep fit, eat a healthy diet, don’t smoke etc, but if there’s a fundamental problem that isn’t going to fix it. Fixing it requires a lot of prodding and poking, plenty of drugs and a lot of waiting. There isn’t an awful lot you can do.

With diabetes I have control. I know what to do if my blood sugar is too high or too low. I can take action and fix the problem. Of course, diabetes doesn’t always play ball, but at least I can do something, I’m not sitting around waiting for someone else to do it for me.

Diabetes win – there is nothing more stressful than having no influence over your own destiny.

And the result is…we have a draw. It turns out diabetes and infertility are equally unpleasant, just in different ways. Lovely.

 

Category: Living with diabetes Pregnancy Tags:

About Alison

Diagnosed with Type One in 1983 at the age of four, Alison's been at this for a while now. She uses Humalog in a combined insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring system and any blood glucose meter as long as it takes five seconds or less.

10 thoughts on “Top trumps: diabetes v infertility

  1. Tim

    Just shows how powerful / what a pain hormones are. Insulin is a hormone and it makes you feel crap if you have too little or two much; fertility treatment is, essentially, drowning in hormones, which also make one feel crap. What larks!

    Reply
  2. lizz

    I actually didn’t mind the feeling of being egg-laden hormonally, it felt hopeful, although painful.

    But I can deal with being diabetic and all the problems that it entails emotionally. Most of the time. Being infertile was much, much worse.

    But I am an optimist and that is helpful in both cases.

    We ran the self-help group at our local hospital for people going through infertility treatment for about 10 years. The relaxing thing isn’t one or the other – you are having treatment for your infertility medical problems. But it works so much better without you being full of stress hormones – which definitely prevent pregnancy.

    I used to advise making sure you are very, very busy around the time of treatment. Dinner parties, things that have to be planned and thought about so your mind isn’t on one thing.

    Reply
      1. lizz

        Yes, ‘happy’ busy though, not too stressful busy!

        If I’d gone on holiday to relax it may have worked, but it may have just give me time to think more plus – I think it’s madness to go on a holiday to take your mind off of something, when the very fact you are on a holiday to your mind off something will be on your mind most of the time!

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          I subscribed to the keeping busy idea, but sadly the reality for me was that the hormone treatment made me so ill I wasn’t able to do anything

          Optimism definintely helps, for diabetes and infertility, I don’t know how people cope without it

          Reply
  3. Angie

    First of all: Congratulations on the baby news! I think I missed it earlier but I was so pleased to read about your news 🙂 (And on a completely selfish note, I’ll be following your diabetes/pregnancy story with much interest as it’s something I hope to be doing myself in the not-to-distant future…)

    One of my pet hates is the response of “Oh well, at least it’s not cancer!” when people learn about diabetes, because while, no, it’s not cancer, that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park. I love the comparison here, which really seem to sum up that all of these things are crap, they’re just crap in different ways.

    It does remind me though – I keep meaning to write a similar post comparing the two auto-immune diseases I have, because I want to explain why, if I had a choice and could only get rid of one, I’d get rid of the autoimmune hepatitis and not the diabetes…

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thanks @angie . It’d be really interesting to read your comparison of your two irritations, I find it really helps to get some perspective on the whole situation.

      Reply
      1. Angie

        Lol! In short, it’s similar to what Alison has written in her last section – control. With diabetes, I can see what’s going on with blood testing, and I can take action, whether it’s by insulin, food, or something else. With the hepatitis, I am completely dependent on blood tests and medication changes that happen through my doctor, so I have no idea how things are going, and I have no ability to control what’s happening. It also seems to be a disease that can flare up or get better of it’s own accord, which leads to even less feeling of control. There are other things (the side effects of the meds, or the paranoia every time I feel a bit tired or sick that it’s the hepatitis flaring up again or the way it completely laid me flat when I was first diagnosed) but the main issue is control.

        That, plus it doesn’t come with any of the shiny gadgets that diabetes does 😉

        Reply
        1. Lola

          Gadgets! Shiny gadgets! I don’t know why that didn’t feature in your analysis, Alison. And physical pain – fingerpricks aren’t nice, but childbirth? Why would you?

          Reply

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