Life with Food Allergies: What You Can Do to Ease the Burden of ParentsHeather Neal
As I sat in the doctor’s office with my toddling 2-year-old, I fumbled through my over-packed diaper bag (which somehow totes everything but diapers), tossing aside Ninja Turtles, plastic keys, and half-eaten rice cakes. My fingers finally scraped against my planner; the one that held the list of questions I couldn’t forget to ask the doctor. We were seeing the pediatrician that not only put up with my endless questions, but somehow even seemed to enjoy answering them, and I didn’t want to miss my opportunity to pick her brain. Goodness knows it could be another six months before we could squeeze into her busy schedule again.
The list contained the questions that I wouldn’t have considered asking had my son not been diagnosed with food protein-induced enterocolitis, an allergic colitis, as an infant. This diagnosis meant all of his crying, reflux, pain, and bloody stools were caused by food. The same thing that was supposed to nourish him and make him grow was instead making him sick and miserable. We’re lucky enough that his food allergies actually seem to be intolerances, which is not just a matter of semantics. It means that while some foods may make him sick, they don’t cause him to stop breathing or threaten his life, and he may one day grow out of them.
The experience has made me both cautious and worried about things that I would normally brush off, though the worry has eased as we’ve progressed through the last two years. We think we’ve isolated his problem-foods, but every new food we introduce is a question, a watch-and-see event. I’m constantly worried that he’s reacting to a food and we just haven’t made the connection yet. The list of things to cover with the doctor was exactly that: Is it normal for babies to wheeze when they run? Why is he constantly digging into his scalp with his nails? Is the eczema on the back of his knees and ears food-related or something else? Is that rash from drool or a reaction to food? I never know what’s normal kid behavior and what could be a possible sign of allergies.
I’ve admittedly loosened up as I’ve seen him do better and better as he gets older, but it’s given me a new appreciation for the families that have to deal with full-blown, anaphylactic allergies. Every time I pack a lunch for school or put my son in a grocery cart, I think about kids that are allergic to peanuts. My son’s lunch or what he ate in the shopping cart could literally kill someone else’s child. I don’t know how you live with that burden and fear as a mom, let alone as a kid.
I can’t imagine the distress of having your life turned upside down due to food allergies: what it’s like to sit outside of birthday parties and wait for an impending emergency; what it’s like to have a thorough medical discussion with every single person that makes contact or cares for your child; what it’s like to have an Epi-Pen in every pocket, purse, lunchbox, and backpack.
My son doesn’t have an allergy that affects his airways, but it’s taught me to become aware of those that do. The more we know about other people’s situations, the better equipped we become to handle them and to help one more child have a “normal” life instead of an allergy life. It may never ease the burden a parent of a kid with food allergies carries, but it might help lighten the load just a little. You never know how you could be helping another parent fight their battle just by arming yourself with their perspective. Smacking a Goldfish cracker out of my son’s hand may seem trivial to some, but when a friend does that for me, I’m eternally grateful for the suffering my son will avoid because of that action.