8 Unexpected Silver Linings of Food Allergies

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chicken-nuggets-kid

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.

Comments

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  1. 1

    Michelle says

    Oreos and Twizzlers were our two go-to store bought treats.

    We only had three food allergies to deal with: dairy, soy and egg. I learned so much about food, label reading, and substitutions. I figured out how to duplicate many treats so we could go to birthday parties and my son wouldn’t feel left out.

    Managers at restaurants are wonderful, they will ensure uncontaminated food and I have even had a couple managers go into the kitchen to do the cleaning and cooking for us to make sure it was done right.

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  2. 2

    Lorraine says

    My daughter has a peanut allergy. I wish I could say that I have had such a positive experience as you have. I hate that not even the library or the classroom are safe environments for her. Do kids really need food EVERYWHERE that they go? It drives me crazy.

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  3. 5

    Lorraine says

    I won’t let her eat any food prepared by anyone because good intentions are not the same as understanding and knowledge. One woman at a playgroup that we used to attend was offended that I did not let my daughter eat the bulk raisins that she went out of her way to buy at the organic food store to make sure they were safe. Then I had to explain to her that organic does not mean it is safe and that she can never have anything from the bulk because of cross contamination. The next week it was muffins. A kind hearted mother went out of her way to make them homemade, but when I asked her if she had read the labels of all the ingredients, she had not. I was most concerned about the oil, because some brands definately do have traces. Finally I just stopped going because I got sick and tired of having to discuss my daughter’s medical problem every single week. It was a two hour class right before lunch time, but heaven forbid if the kids could not make it from 10-12 without a snack and just enjoy playing together. My daughter lives a very isolated life. We can’t even go to a library reading without being bombarded with snacks. Is it any wonder why kids are obese?

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  4. 6

    Lorraine says

    Ironically, the only place I can safely drop my daugter off and not worry is the play area at the grocery store. They do not allow any food in. It is awesome. I wish there were more food free places for her to go.

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  5. 8

    says

    I have a daughter with celiac disease. At first, it was overwhelming. Then when I got a handle on that, she couldn’t have dairy. Thrown for another loop! Now, I’m thankful that her food issues make it necessary for us to all eat healthier, and I too know what goes into all sorts of crazy recipes.

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  6. 10

    says

    As a grown-up who has food allergies and had many many many food allergies as a kid, PLEASE allow your child to challenge their allergies in a doctors office and request that your doctor does so. It wasn’t a common practice in the 80s nor were there readily available alternatives.

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    • 11

      Aimee says

      AGREE! My son was highly allergic to dairy & eggs in his early years, so even though I mourned a “normal” diet (and WOW, are the things in this post familiar, and YES, I can still make darned good dairy & egg-free baked goods!), by the time he was in the elementary school years, it was our version of normal. It was only through caring encouragement from the school nurse (whose daughter has peanut allergies) that she suggested a different allergist and a food challenge. Turned out that he had outgrown all the food allergies!

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    • 13

      Margaret says

      And? Hemp seeds are highly nutritious, psycho-active-compound-free (by like 99.9%), and evidently, tasty… I’ve never tried it, but I’ve read about the nutritional value of hemp seeds and it’s quite intriguing.

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  7. 16

    Samantha says

    My daughter (2) is allergic to food dyes (red and yellow being the worst reactors) and I can only hope people will be vigilante like this mothers friends and families.

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  8. 19

    says

    Love this. Our best benefit has been our daughter’s complete willingness to try new foods. We have always had to try different combinations of meals and use lots of different ingredients to get all of her nutrients in, and it’s resulted in a four year old who is the very opposite of picky

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  9. 24

    says

    Great article, Sarah! It’s true that so many great things can come out of food allergies. When I was nursing my severely dairy intolerant daughter, I lost a ton of weight and felt the best I had in years! Thanks to our daughters’ many food allergies, we are far healthier than in the past. On another bright side, I’ve met many other great, friendly families who are in the same situation.

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