Wednesday 28 February 2018

Mommy Diaries: My Kid Has Food Allergies . . . Now what?

The second installment of the Mommy Diaries Series comes to you from my friend Heather, check the first article here.  Heather is a full-time working mother to two lovely children, Anna and Niall.  She is a positive and extremely reflective individual.  I am always drawn to her calming presence and she challenges me to always live in the moment and to not take anything in my life for granted.  I am thrilled to have her as a guest blogger here today to share her story.

The Harsh Reality

        They say ignorance is bliss. Looking back, I’m just thankful my ignorance did not cost my son his life. As a baby learning to eat, he’d spit out muffins, pancakes, and cookies. “Wow, what a good eater my son is. He doesn’t have a sweet tooth,” I’d tell myself. I remember trying to get him to eat scrambled eggs. His sister loved scrambled eggs, but oh no, not my son. His stubbornness amazed me as he’d seal his lips with a strong and determined force. “What a kid, he’s so strong-willed!” I’d think. I followed all the baby advice from health care professionals about the ages and stages of what to feed my baby. I hadn’t gotten around to trying to give him peanut butter by the time his first birthday rolled around. Looking back now, I guess that last month before his first birthday I was a little distracted with his new vomiting thing (which I’m sure I chalked up to teething or him just having caught a bug). Now I look back and shudder at my ignorance.

        My son’s first birthday party is when it all made sense. The light came on and “food allergy” became a real thing to us. We had a house full of people, food on the bbq, salads and snacks on the island and an adorable bumble-bee cake ready to be devoured by my one year old. We all fussed over my sweet little boy who was sitting in his high chair, elbow deep in potato salad. All of a sudden he was covered head to toe in a rash! One of our guests happened to be a nurse. She said to give him Benedryl. Okay, Benadryl given and rash subsided. The party must go on! “Here baby boy have some yummy birthday cake!” Within moments he was vomiting all over his high chair. Needless to say, the party did not go as planned. The next day I was on the phone to the doctor to book an appointment. Could it be? Was it possible for my son to have a food allergy?

Learning to Accept Life with Food Allergies

        My husband and I had heard of food allergies. I’d taught kids with food allergies. Some of our closest friends have severe food allergies. But neither my husband nor I had ever been directly impacted by the reality of living with food allergies. Wow! What a wake-up call it was!  After getting our son tested for an egg allergy we found out he also had a peanut allergy that was much more severe than the egg allergy. Although peanut allergies seem to be more and more common these days, I had absolutely no idea what living with food allergies meant and how it would alter the way I approach food for the rest of my life.

        Learning my kid had life-threatening allergies sure kicked my mothering worry gene into full force. At first, I was confused as to what this meant for him and our family. How could this happen to him and not my daughter? What did I do differently during pregnancy? Would we ever eat in a restaurant again? And on and on and on . . . As I was learning how to do deal with all the confusion and worrying, there were also moments of sheer panic when I realized I was seconds away from feeding my kid something that I’d forgotten to read the label of! It was no easy feat learning to take the time to read the labels of every single sauce, spice, side dish, and baking ingredient.

        At first, I missed peanuts, a lot! I longed for my care-free food choices and resented not being able to eat nuts or eggs. Much of my early struggle with navigating this new world of ‘food allergy’ was about me and my selfish ways. I didn’t want to change, but I knew I had to because it was what was needed for my son. The fact that I was responsible for what foods entered his body was somewhat daunting. However, I soon came to terms with the fact that food allergies were a part of our life. I learned to educate myself about label checking and contamination. Paying attention to every single food helped us and it’s really the only way to ensure you’re successful.

Cross-Contamination and May Contain . . . Labels

        We had a scare when my son was three.  According to the doctor it was an allergy mistake. To this day we still have no idea what caused it. The only thing we can think of is that something he ate was cross contaminated. It was honestly the scariest day of my life as a mom. I hope that none of you ever have to go through giving your child and epi-pen and a trip to Emergency. As for the labels that say may contain traces of . . . Many people say this is the company’s way of covering their butts and that it’s probably fine. Um . . . hello?! . . . That may be true. Other people may have a higher tolerance of risk-taking than I do, but I say, “thank you!” In my opinion this is the company’s way of potentially saving my child’s life from cross-contamination! I most definitely stay away from food that says may contain traces of peanuts. I’m not willing to gamble my son’s life on a label or on the words “probably fine.”

5 Things to Stay Away from that may be Cross-contaminated:

1.       Baking by anyone, except mom or grandma (includes bakeries)
2.      Anything bought or stored in bulk
3.      Slotted candy machines
4.      Hand-made candy packages
5.      Pot-luck anything

6 Tips You Need to Follow When You’re Learning to Live with Food Allergies:

1.       Get over it. Get used to the fact that no matter how prepared you are there are going to be disappointments. Your child will cry that others are allowed something he / she’s not. Please remember that you, as the parent, will not be able to have everything you once used to have too. Oh well, it’s better than a trip to the emergency room (and believe me that’s not fun!) Communicate with your child and guide them through your thinking. The more times you explain the circumstances and reality of food allergies to your child, the more he / she will grow to accept it too.

2.      Talk about it. You are your child’s best advocate in every area of life. At daycare, at birthday parties, at the beginning of every school year and new sports season mention your child’s allergies to the teachers, coaches and other parents. Have an epi-pen ‘dummy’ on hand to teach babysitters, teachers and anyone else who wants to know how to use the epi-pen. Talking about it is imperative to keeping your child safe, especially in the early years. 

3.      Always Ask. Teach your child to ask before they eat and to always err on the side of caution if he /she’s unsure.4.   Trust with caution. I’m the first to admit I do not want to bubble-wrap my kid. However, you need to realize that not everyone will fully understand what the implications of a food allergy are.

5.      Be prepared. Think ahead and save yourself and others unnecessary worry. You can’t expect others to put your needs at the forefront of their thoughts. Cupcakes in the freezer are helpful for birthday parties, a baggie of treats sent to school at the beginning of the year is helpful for miscellaneous treat days and a packed lunch kit is perfect for potlucks or play dates.

6.      Carry the dang epi-pen. We bought a neoprene epi-pen belt from that my son wears every day. It is peace of mind for me to know that in a school with hundreds of kids and numerous supervisors that he always has his life saving medicine on him, should he need it. The visible pouch allows him to be noticed by his peers and to have conversations with them about why he needs to carry it.

After 5 years of living with food allergies I’d say my son is well on his way to being a confident and independent little human who understands that his allergies are his. He may not like them and it may not be fair, but he knows what he has to do to keep himself safe. And as his mom, I take the responsibility of teaching him how to safely navigate through life very seriously.

1 comment:

  1. I can only imagine how hard it must be sometimes to worry about if he comes in contact with things that he isn't supposed to eat. I'm glad that you caught things early on and could make the changes. I love that he is confident and knows that his safety is so important. Sierra~Beautifully Candid