On Sunday, I pottered around the front garden, doing a bit of weeding and tidying up and decided to cut a couple of small branches from the beautiful Little Gem magnolia trees we have along the fence-line, doing their best to hide us from the bluestone lane that runs along the side of our house.
I took them inside and arranged them in the largest vase in the house, setting it in the middle of the table in the kitchen. They looked magnificent – the leaves are the most beautiful glossy dark green on one side and a matte brown on the other.
Standing in the kitchen later that day, I said to Aaron ‘Aren’t the magnolia leaves gorgeous?’ ‘Yep,’ he answered. And then added ‘Are they steel magnolias?’
The term steel magnolia is a term used in the US South and refers to a woman who is traditional and feminine (that’s the magnolia part) and strong (that’s the steel part). I didn’t know this until quite recently – it isn’t a term we use here in Australia and for me, it was just the name of a film.
I can remember first watching the film years and years ago when I was babysitting. I can’t remember who I was babysitting, but I know that the kid was in bed and I was looking through the families VHS collection (I said it was a long time ago!) and there on the shelf was Steel Magnolias. I popped the tape in and watched it, and was a completely dishevelled mess of tears by the end of it.
There was no comprehension of what it meant in terms of someone living with diabetes – I had no idea. And yet, a little seed was planted: women with diabetes shouldn’t have babies or they will die. From somewhere, the seed became a huge tree the day I was diagnosed with diabetes, because one of the first questions I asked the endo treating me on 15 April 1998 was ‘Does this mean I can’t have children?’
On Sunday night, as I was flicking through the TV channels, there in front of me was the scene in the hair salon from Steel Magnolias. It was early on in the movie, and the women were discussing Shelby’s wedding (‘My colours are blush and bashful’).
I snapped a photo and snapped off the TV quickly, because I knew watching Julia Roberts have a hypo in a hair salon, and then two hours later die after having just had her beautiful baby was not going to be a good way to end the weekend.
I joke about this movie, I quote this movie, (frequently a juice is accompanied with the comment ‘Drink your juice Shelby’), and I shake my head at how ridiculous it is and how untrue – or at least old-fashioned – it is in its portrayal of diabetes and pregnancy. Most women with diabetes I know have a Steel Magnolias story.
I may mock it. But there is no way that I can watch it. Which is what I said on Facebook when I posted the photo I had just snapped of the TV.
The comments after my photo (and in some private messages) were from friends around the world with diabetes. The impact and consequences of this movie for women with diabetes – many of them having seen it for the first time as children or teens – is far reaching and actually did shape their decisions about having babies.
Yesterday, as I was standing in the kitchen making dinner, I walked over to the leaves on the table and gently rubbed one between my fingers. I thought of how in a few months’ time the trees out the front would be covered in beautiful white flowers that last for days before their beautiful petals drop to the ground. ‘White flowers‘, I thought, and shook my head because I always connect them with babies – my babies – lost.
And then my kid ran into the kitchen to tell me about something that had happened that day. I listened to her and watched her unstack the dishwasher, barely pausing for breath as she told me her funny story. We giggled together and I reached out and gave her a quick hug. And as I do more and more often, I marvelled at her just being there. That movie terrifies me. But not as much as the thought of not having had my baby girl.