The Day Canada Tried To Give Me Diabetes

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I Bet The Bear Does Not Have Diabetes… Ottawa, September 2012

Mark was born on October 12, 2012. These articles were written shortly before his birth (it was a great catharsis!) and document the nine months of pregnant where I was definitely not glowing. Up-to-date stories coming up as well!

Pregnant women’s body fluids are highly sought-after in Canada. For someone banned from giving blood because I grew up in Europe, this year, I feel I’ve spent my time peeing in tiny urine sample bottles (why are they so small??) and filling blood collection tubes.

Just another “side effect” of pregnancy, I guess. And of course, I should complain because “it’s only NINE months in my LIFE and it’s for my BABY and his WELL-BEING!” (say crazy women perfect mothers-to-be on forums, who apparently are much less selfish than I am).

Well, hear me complaining one more time. There is one medical test I particularly did not enjoy: the glucose tolerance test, aka “if you didn’t have diabetes, now you do”.

The gestational diabetes screening test is quite common in North America but virtually unknown in France. Some practitioners only encourage testing for women at higher risk for the disorder, including those who are obese or have a family history of diabetes.

I do not have a history of diabetes and I’m not obese, so I was hoping my French genes and I would be exempted from the screening test.

No such luck.

Around the 26 weeks mark, my ob-gyn told me it was time to get tested and she gave me a referral.


On a very hot morning of July, Feng drove me to the lab where I had all my blood work done. Unfortunately, the screening test wasn’t done there, and we were sent to the hospital next door. Mentioning the address of the lab on the referral papers would have helped (okay, I should have asked where the test was done as well!): we ended up wandering from one lab to the other until we found the right spot.

The lab was in the hospital’s basement. Patients were spilling out of the tiny waiting room into the narrow hallway and it was about 40°C. Two stressed out employees were sitting behind a glass window at the reception, and a flipchart in front of the booth read “TAKE A NUMBER + HAVE YOUR HEALTH CARD READY”.

I felt welcome already.

I took a number at the distributor on the wall. Just as I was noticing I was number 84, number 35 was called.

Oh boy.

At the hospital, being pregnant doesn’t have its perks. I could hardly ask anyone for a seat as they were all taken by women much bigger than me and patients who looked sick and tired.

I leaned on the wall and pulled my Kindle out of my bag.

An hour later, I was called by a nurse. She took me to a small room packed with other patients, asked me to sit down, and brought a paper cup and a one-liter plastic bottle that she had retrieved from a fridge nearby.

“There you go.”

That’s how the glucose tolerance test works: you are given a very sugary drink and exactly one hour later, your blood is drawn and tested to see how your body regulates your sugar levels.

Well, that’s what most websites said anyway.

Diligently, as the nurse was busy drawing someone else’s blood, I opened the bottle she had brought and filled the paper cup with the mixture.

And I drank. It tasted like shit—think flat oversweeten orange-flavoured soda.

Once the cup empty, I called the nurse who glanced at me: “So? Finish the bottle!”

Oh crap. I didn’t know I had to drink the entire bottle of pure sugar—are you kidding me?

I sighed, put the tiny paper cup aside and chugged the drink down directly from the bottle.

“You have to keep in down,” warned the Debbie Downer nurse. “If you get sick, you will have to drink another bottle.”

The thought of it helped me suppress the nausea.

“Alright, you can go sit down now,” said the nurse once she was satisfied I wasn’t going to puke on her. “Stay in the waiting room, though. You cannot go anywhere. And it is your responsibility to come back here in exactly one hour to have your blood test, otherwise…”

“—yeah, I have to repeat the test,” I completed, slightly annoyed and completely high on sugar.

I found a seat in the waiting room and read for an hour. I felt like I was on drugs—but not in a pleasant way. Seriously, don’t get a bitchy pregnant woman high on sugar, this is just wrong.

An hour minus two minutes later, I had some blood draw (yay, more fun!) and I gave Feng a call.

“So, do you have diabetes?” he asked when he picked me up.

I shrugged. “If I didn’t now I do!”

(I did not have gestational diabetes. Phew.)


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Wow, seriously? They do that test?

    I have this idea that babies in North America are too protected, they’re grown in surroundings that are too sterile, and so they grow up so vulnerable, because they haven’t had a chance to fight these things and be stronger. I say this in the context of allergies, for example. I think almost every American I know has an allergy of some sort, while people who grew up in Asia that I know seems to be just fine!

    • I totally agree! Plus, for the allergies, the kind of food they eat vary: no raw milk (or very few), no bacterias of any kind… But those are good, both because it’s tasty and also healthy! 😀

      • The allergy issue is pretty big here compared to France, I can’t believe how many people have severe food allergies or are gluten intolerant! So strange. I wonder if they go undetected in France or if there are less cases.

        • I think there is less cases, because allergies are really well treated in France (I couldn’t have been treated in North America with the advanced technology I’ve been treated here in France, I’m lucky). I think it’s because the food is more processed in North America (think enriched flours and enriched anything, actually) and globally less diversified, less… full of bacterias 😀
          But I think this is one very wide and interesting subject to study!

          • There is definitely something environmental in North America that triggers all these allergy cases. Like you, I was treated for various allergies when I was a kid in the 1980s, I’m fine now. But even though, “our” allergies seem to be less severe than the cases you hear about here. Strange. Definitely an interesting topic, for sure!

    • Seriously, I think you are right. There are so many weird diseases and symptoms here… you can get really paranoid! When you read health articles it sometimes seems you should be tested for hundreds of things!

  2. Er… seriously, that’s torture. And is that even useful ? I mean, ges­ta­tional dia­bete doesn’t go unnoticed, usually…
    I have a new theory: the lack of family doctors in Ontario is due to the whole medical staff being busy over-checking pregnant women health. Does this make sense?

    • Makes sense to me! On the other side, I never got a gyn exam (internal) during my pregnancy. Go figure! All they did is checking my blood pressure… and testing my 2 millions urine samples!

  3. You have the right to refuse to take a test. When I was followed by the midwives on my second pregnancy, all these screening tests were presented to me as optional, I really appreciated that. During my first pregnancy the ob-gyn never gave me any options… Needless to say that I highly recommend to be followed by the midwives.

  4. I just went through this for my 2nd pregnancy and guess what? They’ve made it even better here in Vancouver! I am perfectly heathy and not obese but my doctor ordered a TWO hour glucose test. First time I took my ‘number’ and waited for 1.5 hours, I then found out I hadn’t fasted long enough and had to come back next week. We don’t even get the luxury of orange flavour syrup here, it was clear corn syrup and I just about tossed my cookies. Then they draw blood on the hour, for 2 hours and you are supposed to wait in this god-forsaken place. I snuck out to do some shopping much to the other pregnant women’s shock. Then my friend told me she simply skipped this testing! One thing is for certain, our medical system has zero respect or consideration for pregnant women’s time!

  5. I live in France and they do the exact same test here, at 6 months. I tried to refuse but they insisted it was obligatory in order to get healthcare coverage.
    The taste of that vile orange drink still gives me nightmares.

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