Two years ago I was sitting in a small, dark room with my daughter on my lap, facing me. I held her tightly with one arm while the other held her hair off her back. Helpless. She was screaming. Violently. She was used to the routine of new doctors’ offices but was surprised and upset by the skin prick test she’d just had performed on her little back. And so we sat for 15 minutes. Her screaming and me crying.
The nurse came back in to check Lucy’s back. To me it seemed the whole thing was red. Large red welts with spidery veins extending from some of them. Her skin was not happy and neither was she.
The nurse told us the initial results and asked if we’d ever used an Epi-pen. “It’s extremely important that you understand this before you leave. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. You need to be comfortable and confident with its use. Should the need arise, this is how you’ll save your daughter’s life.”
The doctor came in next. She spoke with such a monotone voice that [even after the scary Epi-pen talk] I left the office feeling like food allergies would be a minor nuisance. When I told friends their first response was, “But she’ll probably grow out of it, right?” And I kind of started to believe that myself.
And then the doctor called. Less monotone and more concerned. Lucy’s bloodwork showed her allergies to be life-threatening. We would need to completely eliminate her exposure to eggs, wheat, dairy, and peanuts.
Here’s what I didn’t know about food allergies before I became a food allergy mama [or at my least my very basic, surface understanding of what I know to be true]: There are a few different reasons as to why kids develop food allergies. Sometimes it’s genetic. Some believe it can be linked to additives and modifications made to our food. When Lucy’s allergens enter her body, it thinks they’re a foreign bad guy that needs to be wiped out [like it would react to something trying to make you sick]. So each time she’s exposed to the foods that make her sick she builds up more antibodies to fight off the “bad guys” and her body amps up its defense against them.
So in an ideal world we would know exactly what foods make her sick and we would completely avoid them. This is harder than it sounds…allergy mama guilt is a real thing and we have lots to avoid. And I’m not totally confident we know all of her allergens yet. And, rather unfortunately, sometimes she has reactions to things that aren’t supposed to make her sick. So I try to find the balance between letting her “be a kid” and strapping her in a bubble. I haven’t mastered that just yet.
Here’s what I sort of wish all of my friends knew about food allergies:
-I would love it if I never again had to answer the “Will they grow out of it?” question. It’s right up there with “In the old days we just kept exposing them to it until they got over it.”
-Don’t feel bad if we’re coming to your house and you don’t have food for my kid. We’re used to it. And we’re okay with it. We can’t leave the house without snacks. But I do love getting a heads up about what kind of food will be there [if it’s a party]. And it’s never a bad idea to ask which foods shouldn’t be served around them or which foods they have a contact allergy to. For example, we’re an egg-free house so maybe don’t bring your Egg McMuffin over. We’re a peanuts for adults house because we can remember to wash our hands and maintain safe contact.
-If we touch something the kids are allergic to we have to wash our hands before we touch them again. Soap is the only way to make something safe for them. A drop of egg or peanut send Lucy’s skin down a fiery, hive-ridden path. Even if it’s not direct contact it can make them sick. Even if you washed it with water. Even if two days ago you ate a PB&J [Did anyone else just think about Pam Beasley & Jim?!] and wiped it up with your dish towel. If you touch my kid with that dish towel she’ll get fired up [it’s true, I know this from experience, hence the adult pb rule].
-It’s a big [huge] deal for us but I’m trying to downplay it for you because I don’t want to feel like a weirdo [about this anyway]. And I don’t want you to think I’m not appreciative that my children are otherwise in good health. Nor do I want you to think I’m downplaying what’s going on with your kids because it’s different from this. But I’m often having allergy thoughts. It’s the kind of thing that goes from great to awful in a second. And it’s inescapable [you know, unless they grow out of it ;)]. Landon ate a green bean that came from a plate that had at one time had ranch dressing on it and we spent a car-ride home pulling over so I could try to clean the throw up off of him and his car seat. Multiple times. It’s frustrating. And upsetting. And sometimes I just want to relax and not feel like I’m on high-alert. But I can’t. And that’s okay. Because these kids were fearfully and wonderfully made. And I’m blessed with the opportunity of their earthly charge.
I didn’t realize before I started this journey how quickly I could feel comradeship with other allergy mamas. I didn’t realize how deep the impact would be on our family. I didn’t realize how emotional I would get when other people go out of their way to be mindful of our allergies. It’s hard not to talk about it!
p.s. If you want to hear abut how we got our allergy diagnosis you can check that out here.