Years ago, I went on a date with a diabetic. This was during a time in my life when I was convinced that I would never, ever again meet someone I could possibly love, let alone spend the rest of my life with. I was 29 or so and in the thick of dealing with my body going awry and watching what I perceived as every single person I knew getting engaged or married, and so I went on a date with a man who asked me out on — if you can even recall such a time — Friendster. He claimed to be like Josh Lyman from The West Wing, and that meant a whole lot to me in those days.
When I arrived at a restaurant in a neighborhood I would never have chosen (someplace in Gramercy, under scaffolding), I immediately knew the guy was gay. If his mannerisms didn’t have me convinced, he ordered the most absurd fruity drink while I downed a beer. Very early on in the date — maybe within fifteen minutes — amid awkward conversation, he pulled out a diabetic kit and stabbed himself with a very tiny needle. He then left the bloody tissue on the table and acted as though nothing at all had happened. When I tried to engage him about it, figuring it was weirder that I pretend nothing had just happened, he pretended nothing had happened. I remember leaving the date and telling the story of the evening in very dramatic tones. I mean, he didn’t even go to the bathroom!!! The bloody napkin!
Fast forward half a decade, and here I am, pricking myself with the same tiny needle. Now I see why that guy did it right at the table with a total stranger: You have to prick yourself so many times a day, right at the exact right moment, that if you wanted it all to be private, you’d spend your life hiding in the bathroom. Sometimes you have to just live the life you have, right out in the open, and not apologize or explain.
Like every other pregnant woman, I was tested for gestational diabetes. My numbers came out borderline, meaning, with all these new hormones, my body doesn’t know how to process sugar properly, or produce insulin properly — or something. My understanding is, clearly, very vague, since no one has explained to me what’s happening and, unlike my husband, who survives on research, I like human-to-human explanations. For a month I was taken off chocolate and ice cream and cake, but when that wasn’t enough — of course it wasn’t enough, I later learned! Sugar is sugar is sugar, whether it’s in Ben & Jerry’s or an apple — I had to go to the hospital to get one of these little kits and prick myself six times a day and make sure my numbers are under a certain level all through the day so that my baby doesn’t grow too big by producing insulin for me.
The pricking is more annoying than anything else, but it wore on me until I figured out how to get enough blood each time to get a proper reading — the tip of my finger now looks something like a professional guitarist’s — and how to manage my diet. My pregnancy books say it is the most common pregnancy complication and manageable. This is certainly true, and I am, believe me, acutely aware of how much worse it could be. (See: my mother’s experience.) But it still takes a while to get the hang of it and to not walk around starving. I spent a good part of the first week living in fear of eating the wrong thing and getting a bad number. When my best friend was here, we ate burritos and the tortilla sent my number soaring. So did ketchup. That not only sent the number up but prompted my husband to say, “You ate ketchup?” as though it were common knowledge that ketchup is full of sugar. (Maybe I am the only person who just learned this.)
Perhaps it’s because I’m nearing the end of the pregnancy and about to enter another phase — or two, really, if you count the birth — that is entirely unknown and unpredictable that I feel not so much on edge, but like I’m not really here or there, wobbly and vulnerable. Not wholly my former self and, despite already worrying about the baby, not yet a mother. A real sense of bardo — a Buddhist term for having left one place but having not yet arrived anywhere else — has taken over life here. I often have the feeling I did when I first moved to New York: that, in theory, I was in the right place but that it was just too taxing and I wasn’t strong enough to shoulder it. At 22, when I would walk down into the subway at 10pm after work, I often stood on the platform crying as I watched an F train roll out of the station. I hated feeling so out of sync with the world around me.
Today I sobbed through dinner, and my husband tried so hard to figure out what was wrong. I couldn’t really explain, and rolled one story into another, as one will do in moments of feeling overwhelmed and emotional. Being a wonderful, but rational and action-driven husband, he was trying to parse and organize, but the only thing we really ended up sorting through was that I was worried he’d never want to have another kid because this has been “too hard on him.” (He rightly said we should maybe table that discussing for a few months, if not years.)