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From Darkness to Light: Pregnant While Diabetic

Author: Carla Zuill (BPM)

Giving birth is one of the best experiences most women dream of. From hearing the baby’s heart- beat for the first time to holding the beautifulbundle of joy, the pregnancy journey is one never to be forgotten.But imagine not being able to see your baby after carrying him for nine months—and fearful if you ever will.

Danielle Harney, 28, was one of those moms. She gave birth to her first child, Essex, in November 2019, but due to the complications brought on by diabetes she was not able to see his beautiful face right away.She was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at the age of eleven. She recalls the first time she took ill.

“I suffered from severe headaches and had a huge increase in appetite but was losing weight. I was also drinking a lot of water but that wasn’t unusual as that is all I drink, but I was just drinking a lot more of it. I thought it was just because it was summer. One Sunday, I was laying on the couch and literally couldn’t move because I felt so ill, but I still finished off a roast dinner and wanted seconds!  My mom knew something had to be wrong so made an appointment for me to see the doctor the following day. The doctor had me take a blood test, and by the time we got home, he left a message asking my mom to call him back as soon as possible. He told her it was a good thing she brought me in when she did, if not I would have slipped into a diabetic coma. The next day I was admitted into the hospital, where I spent a week.”

Danielle was subsequently fitted with an insulin pump and has lived a healthy and active lifestyle like every other young woman her age. In 2019, she learned she was pregnant. Because of her diabetes and an underactive thyroid, Danielle was committed to eating properly and exercised regularly to ensure that her sugars remained at a healthy level. However, last summer she realized that something was amiss. Danielle was initially receiving laser treatments on her eyes locally. But when her vision did not improve, she was referred for treatment overseas.

“I knew something was wrong with my eyes when I started to see little floaters in early August last year. I was first sent to Mass General in Boston for laser treatment in September as they didn’t want to do surgery until after the baby was born. By October my eyes had worsened so badly that the doctor decided to send me to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. The surgeon there took the decision to operate as the risk of losing my sight was so great, he felt it outweighed the risk to the baby. The baby was monitored immediately prior to and after each surgery.”

While saying Essex was never in danger, she was shares she was terrified that she would never be able to see again.

“Based on what the doctors were telling me regarding the damage to my eyes it didn’t seem possible that my vision would return. It was frightening having so many surgeries and being far from home each time. I’m so thankful for my circle of support by my side every step along the way.” Essex was born November 3, 2019.

Although she fully dilated, the doctors did not allow Danielle to give birth vaginally, wanting to ensure that there was no pressure on her eyes as she had just had surgery on them. When she gave birth, she was unable to hold him until the following afternoon because he arrived six weeks early and had to receive immediate medical attention. And although she couldn’t see him, she never gave up hope that she would be able to one day.

“I gave birth in darkness. I hate to use the word blind because I believed that one day my sight will return.

“For the first week I got to know Essex by holding him close and breastfeeding. I would hold him close to my face and imagine the day that I could see him fully. After a week in the hospital I had to return to Mount Sinai for another surgery. Essex was still in the hospital nursery. My dad and Essex’s dad would send videos everyday so that I could talk and sing to Essex so he wouldn’t forget my voice.

 A few days after surgery when the vision in my right eye slowly started to appear, I could make out Essex’ face on the video when I held it right up to my eye. Once I returned home two weeks later it’s hard to describe the emotions, I felt holding Essex and seeing this little person that belonged to me. Everyone left me alone to spend a quiet few moments with my son. The tears I shed were a mix of pure joy, relief, and anxiety of what the future would hold for me.”

With Essex set to celebrate his first birthday in a few weeks, Danielle is yet to regain her sight fully, but she remains optimistic that it will continually improve.

“I have one surgery remaining to remove the bubble from my left eyebut due to COVID-19, I have been unable to fly to New York to have this done and unfortunately it can’t be done in Bermuda. I have about 80% vision in my right eye and can make out the difference between light and dark in my left eye.”

When asked if she would endure all of this again, knowing Essex would be the end result, without skipping a beat, Danielle replies: “Sure would.” BPM