‘If I wasn’t around, Zach could find someone he could have a family with. If I wasn’t here, he wouldn’t have to worry. These are MY problems. No one else should have to deal with them!’

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“I don’t remember much about my diagnosis except a nurse giving me a glittery magic wand and a yellow koosh ball. I was in a medically induced coma for 3 days and was in Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital for a total of 8 days. All I really remember after that was my mom giving me my insulin shots in the kitchen and standing there shaking my leg because the needles hurt.

Baby with diabetes sits smiling in christening dress
Courtesy of Tess Heard

I was two years old when I was diagnosed a Type 1 Diabetic.  I tell people all the time I truly don’t know, or at least remember, life without diabetes. I’d never even eaten an ice cream cone before my diagnosis. I thought it was pretty normal to have to take shots. I knew not everyone did it but I also knew a lot of other people did. As I grew older I realized that I was different. I couldn’t eat the same foods as my friends, I couldn’t go to sleepover with just a change of clothes and my pillow. I had to haul a huge bag of supplies with me and my mom would have me call her every few hours to let her know what my blood sugar was. Other girls thought I was weird, boys didn’t think I was cute – all because I had to take shots. Mostly they thought I was contagious and that being around me would cause them to ‘catch’ diabetes. Even when I explained you couldn’t catch it they still said things like, ‘that’s just weird,’ or, ‘I can’t play with sick kids.’ It made me feel really lonely and like I’d never have friends all because of this disease I had no control over having.

Little girl with diabetes sits smiling with her brother and sister
Courtesy of Tess Heard

As a teenager things seemed to get a little better. I had several friends, had a boyfriend, but I was not taking care of myself. I skipped my shots, ate whatever I wanted to, and just didn’t care about my diabetes. I was a ‘Dia-rebel’ as I call it. I didn’t believe that my actions as a teenager would have any lasting effects on me as an adult. I thought I was invincible, like maybe I wasn’t a diabetic after all, that I’d been misdiagnosed. I kept that mindset well into my mid 20’s, when things actually started to go downhill.

I met Zach back in 2013 when we worked together at a local grocery store. I thought he was the absolute hottest thing looking like a taller version of Mr. Fitz from Pretty Little Liars. I knew I’d never get anywhere with him though because things like that never happened to me. Even as an adult people seemed to shy away from me if they knew I had to take shots. Plus I’m a bit of nerd and no one ever really seemed that into nerds. While working at the grocery store nothing did happen between Zach and I despite several people trying to get us together. We barely even spoke. I honestly thought he hated me.

Fast forward to 2016. Out of the blue Zach sends me a friend request on Facebook. I wasn’t sure why but I accepted it. We started talking the next day and have been talking ever since. Our relationship got pretty serious pretty quickly. He knew I was a diabetic and while he didn’t know a lot about it he was willing to learn. So instead of hiding it from him, I used every shot, blood sugar check, carb count and correction to show him how it was all done. Zach hated that I had to take the shots and often would say that he wished he could make it go away. Not because it freaked him out or made him uncomfortable but because he could see the toll it took me day in and day out. He quickly picked up on what I needed and when I needed it whether that was getting my glucose meter and checking me blood in the middle of the night, or helping me count my carbohydrates, or even getting me juice boxes when my blood sugar dropped. He made the whole battle of diabetes a little less daunting and a little more bearable.

Woman with diabetes smiles as her boyfriend kisses her on the cheek
Courtesy of Tess Heard

During this time, my doctor was getting concerned about the fact that I was 25 and didn’t have a regular menstrual cycle. She put me on birth control in hopes that it would regulate me and maybe help with my blood sugar control. It was the first time I had ever really had either considered ‘regular’.

In 2017 Zach proposed and we moved into our first apartment. In September 9, 2017 we said ‘I do!’ and immediately decided to stop the birth control. We had never really wanted kids until we met each other and once we were married we were determined to start a family. Little did we know that starting a family wouldn’t be a cake walk or even mildly challenging. For us having a family would be almost impossible.

Bride with diabetes smiles as she lookds up at groom who stands beside her
Courtesy of Clark Captures Photography

In 2018 I went for my yearly eye exam and was sent to a retinal specialist. Within the first month of 2018 I was diagnosed with Diabetic Retinopathy, a disease that causes vision loss and blindness in diabetics. We immediately started the treatment on my eyes and were given the ‘OK’ to keep trying for a baby. Zach was such an amazing support through my diagnosis and treatment. We left the retinal specialist and I was in tears but by the time we got home he had managed to lift my spirits and help calm my nerves. He held my hand the entire drive home saying that it would all be okay, that we would get through this, and that I wasn’t facing this alone. The rest of my family was just as supportive, making sure I knew that if I needed them they were there. I’ve told Zach more than once that my life was like the Titanic and I just keep hitting icebergs. The only difference is that he was my life boat and I knew he wouldn’t let me drown.

Woman with diabetes stands smiling in home in selfie with her husband
Courtesy of Tess Heard

Three months passed. A pile of pregnancy tests were on my bathroom counter. I’d felt off, nauseous, a little bloated, and just weird. We truly believed that this was it, we were about to be parents. Every. Single. Test. Was Negative. Devastated, I called the doctor to find out why I wasn’t getting pregnant. Several weeks later were sitting in the office of an OBGYN. The doctor comes in, sits down and says, ‘You have PCOS. It’s likely caused by the diabetes. Since you are a diabetic we can’t just give you something to make you ovulate. So you’re looking at a less than 5% chance of being able to get pregnant.’ My heart dropped.

I’d never wanted kids until Zach but now we both wanted that more than anything. We wanted to bring a life into this world created by our love for one another. We wanted to pass down names, James after him and his Grandad and Leiora after my Grandmama. We wanted the baby snuggles and giggles and kisses. We wanted it all and it was just ripped out from right under us. I went into a downward spiral after that. I quit my eye treatments, I was barely taking care of my diabetes, and I found myself lying on the couch day after day, thinking to myself, ‘If I wasn’t around, at least Zach could find someone he could have a family with. If I wasn’t here, he wouldn’t have to worry about my eyes or my health. These are MY problems. No one else should have to deal with them!’ I never once took action to leave, or even planned to. I never once made an attempt to end my life, but I thought about it. Depression enveloped me so quickly and tightly that I couldn’t even see it coming. This time I knew something was wrong and I knew I needed help. My family knew that I had been down and a little out of sorts, but they never said anything about being depressed. While at the doctor’s office, Zach said he felt like it was his fault, like he had failed as a husband. He had a hard time understanding that it wasn’t him at all, it was me and my body. My diabetes had taken my sight and my ability to have children in one fell swoop. It had nothing to do with him. It took a while, but he finally began to understand why I felt the way I did and why it was affecting me in such a huge way. (Fun fact, Diabetics are 25 times more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders.)

I went to the doctor and was put on medication for depression and anxiety. I started thinking about what had me down and it was unbelievable to me. In less than a year’s time I had been told that I could lose my eyesight, that I couldn’t have my own children, and now I was severely depressed. Each of those things would be hard to take on at one time, but having then pile up on you like that is just cruel. It took a lot of soul searching and adjusting my medicine but I finally started getting better and by September we were on to a new journey.

We knew we still wanted to be parents so we decided to become foster parents with the intent to adopt. We went through the classes, did our home study, and waited until we got the call for our sweet baby. Everything that day happened so fast. I had gone to the eye doctor because I couldn’t see out of my left eye. They did an injection and said I would need surgery in a month. As soon as we left the eye doctor we got the call. It was for a 9 year old boy who needed a place for the weekend. Not our baby but close enough! We were part time parents! Once we hung up the phone we just smiled at each other. ‘Are we ready for this?’ I asked him. ‘No, not at all.’ Zach said and kind of laughed. While we were nervous and scared, we knew that this was what we wanted and needed to do. Not just for us, but for these children who needed a place to go. After that weekend we got another call for two girls. By this time my eyes were so bad I could barely see to give myself an insulin shot let alone take care of two little girls. We decided to try and take them on hoping we could work around my failing sight, surgery, and everything else in between. Three days later I couldn’t see at all and not even two weeks into being foster parents we had to close our home until further notice. Once again we were devastated that our dreams of being parents were slipping away. But life has a funny way of working out.

Woman with diabetes stands beside her husband as they stand at counter with birthday cake on it
Courtesy of Tess Heard

In February of this year I had my first surgery to correct my vision. Within a week I was seeing again out of my left eye and 2 weeks later I was told my right eye surgery was going to be fixed in April or May. In the course of this time I was trying to get an insulin pump to help better control my blood sugars and help not only my eyes but my health in general. Once the first eye surgery was done I got approved for an insulin pump and will be starting on it in March. My blood sugars are better than they’ve ever been before and once my right eye is healing up we are planning on opening our home again so we can finally fulfill our dreams of becoming parents. It’s been a long, hard, emotionally draining year. A year that would have likely torn a newlywed couple apart. Our first year of marriage was soul crushing in so many ways, but by the grace of God we made it and we are stronger than I ever imagined we would be. We still have to face the uphill battle of trying to have our own children someday, but for now, we are perfectly happy and so willing to give children in need a loving home, whether that’s forever or for a few days. Looking back I can’t believe the mountains we faced and how we managed to overcome them. I know my story is long, but I hope that it helps inspire and encourage someone going through the same thing. I don’t want to hide my struggles if my victories will help someone get through theirs. I believe that God has brought me to this place in life for a reason and I want to shout from the rooftops that if I can make it through this, so can you. We are still waiting on our miracle baby but the miracles that have happened in the last 12 months just show me that anything is possible.

Today I am full of hope and optimism. While we don’t have any foster children or biological children right now we are surrounded by baby love from our 6 nieces and nephews, family and friends. We are blessed beyond measure by our families and their contact love and support. We have 2 fur babies, Milo (a Yorkie mix) and Merlin (our skittish Tabby cat.) We have learned to love our lives just the way they are and not wish any second of them away. I’m using these trials in my life to speak life and hope. I discovered in my depression that writing makes things better so I hope the emotions of my life in this story will encourage others.”

Bride with diabetes stands beside groom and their two families in front of brick wallCourtesy of Clark Captures Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tess Heard of Lawrenceburg, TN. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.

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