Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Imagine walking into a grocery store and nearly every box, every drink, and every bag (even the organic, all natural ones) have the potential to poison your child within two hours (or less) of ingesting it. The poison may just make your child sick to his or her stomach, or it might cause hives, or even catastrophic breathing failure. This poison is so strong that it may make your child sick if he or she eats foods that are even on the same equipment as that poison. The problem is that this poison is often odorless, invisible, and tasteless. You are your child's only defense. You must read every label of every food you give your child multiple times to ensure that you do not feed him or her something that will poison them. You also wash your hands constantly when you are in the kitchen and practically panic any time a well-meaning relative tries to make safe food for your child just because you know how much your child trusts you. He or she will eat whatever you give because they have ultimate faith that you could never hurt him or her. (Faith that, despite your best efforts, proves to be occasionally misplaced.) That is the pressure that is on a food allergy mom every minute of every day.
In my case, my son currently has dairy, nut, and egg sensitivities. Additionally, pork is the only meat we've found so far that he can eat without throwing up. (Sensitivities in small children are basically identical to official allergies with the same symptoms and life threatening potential. The only difference is that "sensitivities" are not officially diagnosed and (often) the child grows out of them by the time they hit puberty . .. or at least that is every mom's dream. For official diagnosis, it is also recommended that one has the blood test, the skin test, and a challenge done. I'm hoping that he will outgrow them before all that is necessary.) Meanwhile, because of the pervasiveness of dairy and his extreme sensitivity to it, I do not trust any restaurant's food enough to let him have it. (It's really hard to pin down accidental contamination). So, every time we go out to eat, I have to prepare and bring food for him to eat on his own plate from home to decrease the potential for accidental contamination. Every visit to a friend's house, I have to be painfully aware of what my child is putting near his mouth at all times. If their child is having a snack of peanut butter and milk, I have to make sure that my son does not touch the table, the cup, or the wash cloth that touched any of the food. Every time we are invited to a birthday party, we have to make our own birthday cake and/or ice cream and (often) a meal to bring with us and I spend most of the "eating" portion of the party on pins and needles afraid that he will start crying because he cannot have what the others have or (worse yet!) will get hold of the other children's food, have a reaction, and we will end up in the emergency room.
Don't get me wrong. I know that I am ultimately lucky. I have a child who is very healthy and will likely remain healthy and I also know that it is very, very probable that he will grow out of some, if not all, of his sensitivities. I have also never had to witness my child gasping for air because of any reaction, yet. We have had some facial swelling, nasty rashes, hives, blood in the stool and heart racing episodes, but those have, thankfully, been few and far between. Mostly, we have a lot of diarrhea, stomach aches, light rashes, and sleepless nights when he comes in contact with his problem foods (signs of intolerances rather than full allergies, thank God!).
My son's food sensitivities have also forced me into a new relationship with food that has led to many new, positive choices that I may have been too lazy to make before. (Spending increased time in the health food store will do that to a person!) I also am extremely fortunate that I am a stay at home mom who really can buy, prepare, and watch every morsel of food my son eats. We can also afford a lot of alternative foods that are pricey, but that give my son a sense of "normalcy" (soy puddings, "safe" cake mixes, a sometimes necessity since I'm only slowly learning how to become a better baker, safe gummy treats, etc.).
Are his food issues caused by all the chemicals I exposed him to when I was pregnant? Perhaps. I probably wasn't as careful as I am now about what foods I bought. Are they the result of a bad genetic lottery? Perhaps. His father certainly had many food issues at his age and I have several seasonal allergies. Over all, I've found the search for the "whys" are pretty useless at this stage in the game. For now, we just hope that it won't last forever and I'm just grateful that our diligence has paid off in that, most of the time, our son is happy, healthy, and eats very well. I offer this testimony, not to complain about my life, but to explain a little of how a food allergy affects everyone in a family. For better or worse, this is our life and this is who our son is. We are doing everything we can to make the world a safer place for him and to be the best parents we can be. Just remember when you hear about a child with a food sensitivity or allergy how important it is to help his or her parent out a little if you can. Pay attention to the ingredients if you want to make something for the family to eat, try to avoid snacks that contain the allergens if the child is coming over, let the parent know what you are serving at birthday parties so that she can try to approximate it as best she can for her child, and remember that this is about safety, not special treatment. It takes a community to keep some of our most precious, fragile children safe.
Thanks for reading,