Steel Magnolias: Why I Hate This Movie

Written by Quinn Nystrom

I have a dear friend from college whose favorite movie is the 1989 classic Steel Magnolias. I remember her popping in the DVD (this was before Netflix) and everyone gathering around with their popcorn like it was yesterday.

To refresh your memory, the movie tells the dramatic real-life story of Shelby (played by Julia Roberts) and her mother M'Lynn (played by Sally Fields) as they fight to save Shelby's life. Against the advice of her doctor, Shelby—who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant—decides to go through with the life-threatening pregnancy. I had never seen the movie and I sat in horror as I watched it for the first time. Why did I bawl my head off throughout the story? 

Like me, Shelby has type 1 diabetes but her condition appears to be complicated by a number of factors that aren't explained in the movie. We do know that Shelby receives a kidney (donated by her mother) and that the stress of the pregnancy causes her kidneys to fail. In the end, Shelby gives birth to a healthy son but she pays for it with her life.

Watching the movie, you would assume that all people with diabetes have frequent hypoglycemic seizures and that kidney failure, following childbirth, is the norm.

I was completely shaken during the movie. It brought me back to the day I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Sitting in the doctor’s office at the age of 13 and hearing the news left me feeling completely overwhelmed. At that moment, so many thoughts raced through my mind of what now wasn’t going to be possible because of diabetes. How life was so unfair.

Watching this movie, reaffirmed one of the most terrifying thoughts I remember thinking on my diagnosis day...that my dream of one day having children of my own would never happen.

Sure, my logical brain told me the movie was Hollywood drama at it’s best. Plus, I had been told by medical experts that pregnancy is possible with diabetes but as I’m watching Julia Roberts onscreen and getting caught up in the story, I'm starting to doubt what I know to be true. I'm believing and believing that Shelby's story would be mind and the floodgates of my tears started to flow.

Pregnancy and Diabetes: Not Mutually Exclusive

Here's the truth, straight from an expert: "Medically speaking, the movie’s tragic storyline is very, very far from the truth,” says endocrinologist Richard Hellman, MD. “Many young women with diabetes who saw this movie shied away from having babies because they were convinced that if you get pregnant, you die. The reality is, for women with diabetes pregnancy is difficult but very doable."

Here are some terrific resources for anyone who has diabetes and is interested in becoming pregnant:

Since being diagnosed nearly 20 years ago, I used to always tell people that I would never even try to have my own children (nightmares from Steel Magnolias) unless a cure for diabetes was found. Today, I've changed my view. Thanks to resources like the Pregnancy Toolkit and Ginger's great book, I believe that given the Lord's blessing, I'll be able to have a healthy child of my own someday.

My new motto is --------------->