When my first-born was ten months old, he suffered from an anaphylactic reaction to hidden dairy in his rice cereal. The resulting visit to the emergency room earned me a few stripes on my Mommy Badge, but not as many as the subsequent visit to the pediatric allergist, where he was diagnosed with moderate to severe allergies to thirteen foods. From that day forward, he was not to ingest peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, wheat, barley, oats, fish, shellfish, green olives, black pepper, malt, or cantaloupe. He wasn’t to ingest or come into contact with foods containing milk or any dairy derivative.
To Evan, this didn’t mean much of a lifestyle change. Having already earned the title of World’s Pickiest Eater, I wasn’t going to need to make many changes to his diet. And, because I was a stay-at-home mommy, I would make it my job to keep his environment free of his allergens (although avoiding cheesy Goldfish dust at libraries, public train tables, and playgrounds–and the full-body hives that they triggered–did present our biggest challenge).
But to say that my life was turned upside down in that moment of Food Allergy Diagnosis would be an understatement. I took Evan’s two new Epi-Pens from the doctor and put them in my diaper bag. Then I burst into tears. How was I possibly going to be able to keep my baby safe? And, to a lesser degree of importance, as a still-nursing mommy, I needed to cut those allergens out of my diet, as well. What the hell was I going to eat?
In the weeks and months that followed, I didn’t eat much (and my resulting skin-and-bones figure sadly proved it). But somehow, we did keep our baby safe and he hasn’t suffered from another anaphylactic reaction in the six years that have passed since that first reaction. Now, at just a few weeks shy of his seventh birthday, Evan has successfully challenged most of his allergens and has outgrown all of his allergies except for peanuts and milk.
With this new perspective from, maybe not the other side of food allergies, but perhaps from the curb on the far side of the road, I can look back and see how Evan’s allergies have actually had some unexpected silver linings. Here are just a few:
1. I learned to trust my mother’s intuition. For 9 months, we dealt with dozens of unusual symptoms, issues, and ailments that *seemed* to add up to more than your typical newborn maladies–colic, sleeplessness, rashiness, eczema, congestion, etc. When we could finally connect all of the dots with One diagnosis of Food Allergies, I felt justified in my repeat visits to the pediatrician and my “overprotectiveness.”
2. I learned how to cook. I had to. Most prepared foods contain at least one of his allergens.
3. I learned how to bake. Less than two months after his diagnosis, I needed to make a Very Special First Birthday Cake without using milk, eggs, or wheat. I thought it couldn’t be done. I was wrong. If one of my kids ever comes to me at 9pm on the night before a school celebration, with a note requesting baked goods for the class and I don’t have eggs in the fridge…I won’t have to go to the store or bug the neighbors. I can think of 6 different ways to make egg-free treats now.
4. I have learned a lot about what is *in* a lot of the food that we were eating. Start reading labels and you may be surprised. And icked out.
5. I’ve also learned about what’s NOT in some foods. I don’t know how they do it, but Oreos and Hunt’s Lemon pudding are both dairy and egg free. Um…sort of ick, but I’ll take it!
6. I have become confident in my role as my child’s medical advocate. We don’t blindly follow the advice of our pediatrician (although we could….she is wonderful), but research, deliberate, and ultimately decide what’s in the best interest of our children. And it’s not always the same answer each time or for each child.
7. Our kids have been exposed to a much wider variety of foods than they would have been if it had not been for Evan’s food allergies. We have at least three, oftentimes four, different varieties of milk in the fridge. While Evan exclusively drinks hemp milk, Max and Molly have a mixed beverage diet, also including almond, coconut, and dairy milk. We also keep a wide selection of nut and seed butters on hand to meet everyone’s dietary needs.
8. And finally, I have been touched, time and time again, by the consideration and the kindness of others. From my sister, who went out of her way to make Thanksgiving Dinner safe for my son (and the 21 other guests she hosted!); to my neighbor who is nearly fanatical (in a good way) about hand-washing when our kids play together; to the playgroup mommies who call to verify what my son’s allergies are before packing their kids’ lunches; to the friends who don’t bring peanut butter sandwiches and Go-Gurt to my house when they visit; to the parents who make safe Birthday Party Goodie Bags for Evan (so I don’t have to take half of the treats away from him when we get home); to the teachers who make it a part of their jobs to ensure that their classrooms are safe for all children; and to all of the people who, when they learn of Evan’s allergies, don’t look at me, or him, with sadness or say things like, “Wow, that poor kid.” I am so fortunate to be surrounded by such good people.
I’m thankful for Evan’s food allergies because they have, in part, contributed to the amazing kid that he is…and I wouldn’t change a single thing about that boy of mine.