While planning her wedding, Carrie Gardiner was also planning for fertility treatments. She married later in life, at 39, so she knew the clock was ticking if she and her husband, Larry, wanted to have a family.
It wasn’t just her age working against her; she’d recently gone through a myomectomy to remove uterine fibroids, had chronic high blood pressure and her doctors also suspected she had polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal imbalance that can impact fertility.
“We knew we might have trouble, so we were proactive,” says Gardiner, now 42 and a nurse in the Maternal Fetal Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital.
The couple married in June 2013 and started the in vitro fertilization process seven months later. Although the embryo transplant failed, the Gardiners conceived without intervention in April 2014. But what came next was a complication Gardiner hadn’t planned for in advance — a diagnosis of gestational diabetes at 26 weeks.
“[Certain pregnancy hormones] peak around that time that cause your body to not use the insulin as it normally does to control blood sugar,” says Dr. Jennifer Ahn, director of the OB Ultrasound and Antenatal Testing Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, who treated Gardiner. “High blood sugars cross over to the baby but insulin or other treatments the mother is on do not cross over to the baby.”
The implications for the baby are significant — high birth weight, higher chance for a cesarean section, increased risk of developing diabetes later in life and even death — but the mother faces risks too. Ahn, who had to manage her own Type 1 diabetes during two pregnancies, says that 50 percent of women with gestational diabetes develop diabetes later in life.
The news was a wake-up call for Gardiner.
“You think in pregnancy, Oh, you can eat anything you want,” she says. “But I thought, OK, I can do this. I got all of my sweets out of my system over a weekend, because mentally I knew I had to go cold turkey.”
She worked with a nutritionist at Akron Children’s to craft a diet that balanced carbs, protein and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and increased her physical activity.
In December 2015, Gardiner delivered her daughter, Becca, at a healthy birth weight. Gardiner’s glucose levels immediately began to drop, staying within a healthy range ever since.
Becca now loves being outside in the water and taking Mommy and Me gymnastics classes.
“A lot of women are in denial that they may have had some issues beforehand,” Gardiner says. “If they had known about it, they could have had better control of their diet and exercise.”
The experience has even made her a better nurse and educator, she adds. “I have walked their walk.”