How I wish kids came with a warning label or an instruction manual.
You know, something to the effect of:
- doesn’t sleep through the night
- will only wear shoes with socks, so don’t waste money on sandals
- needs a 3 PM nap everyday or will raise holy terror to all those around
This would be so beneficial and potentially life saving. But even if there was a manual, I don’t think it would have prepared me for multiple emergency room visits at 9-months-old due to an anaphylactic food allergy.
Wait a second: ER visits? Multiple times?!
My children, particularly my youngest child, have multiple food allergies. It has been a long, ever changing process of living in fear, learning how to eat and what to avoid, and adapting our life to these dietary restrictions.
So how did we start with all this?
As those with children know, 9 months is the time your baby is trying all sorts of new foods. Not all at once, but one at a time. In our house, we did baby-led weaning. This is where you feed your baby small amounts of the food that you are eating. No jars of baby food.
So we tried peas one day, maybe sweet potato another. One day, we tried a bit of hummus for breakfast. But then quickly, it evolved to this:
What’s this rash?
Why are you gasping for air?
My baby can’t breathe!
Straight to the emergency room we went. My baby survived with three EpiPen shots to the leg, steroids, and an overnight stay in intensive care. OK, got it. No more hummus. But what was the allergic reaction to?
We were now on high alert with new foods.
For weeks, my little guy lived on breastmilk, spaghetti served multiple ways, and a variety of vegetables. Things seemed to be OK. I know how to feed children, right? He has two older brothers, so I know how this feeding thing works. So on another day, it’s breakfast time. I’ve whipped up scrambled eggs and waffles. I figure that eggs are soft and will be no problem.
But all of a sudden, we are having an reaction again.
Is he choking? Wash it down.
But his face looks different.
The rash!! He is gasping!
It was like hitting the repeat button. Back in the emergency room we sat. We received the shots and treatment. These actions went on…multiple times.
Of course, we went to the doctor after the very first ER visit.
We were seen at a pediatric allergen specialist. We had our own EpiPens and steroids. We developed our own game plan for eating and foods allowed/not allowed in the house. After the first set of allergy tests, he needed a second set for even more food allergies. What were we going to eat? The list of his anaphylactic food allergies was so long. The range was ALL nuts to sesame, eggs to shell fish, avocados, and, and, and… how were we to eat?
Label reading was now about survival. A simple trip to the grocery store became a battle field of terror around every corner. What use to take 30 minutes to run in and out now took hours to read every line of ingredients and warning labels. News flash! Ingredient lists aren’t complete, and warning labels aren’t all-inclusive. My other two kids were having to forfeit favorite snacks. Dinners and meals were all different. Spaghetti was life for so long.
Not only was this internally life changing, but our social life was challenging.
Birthday parties, potlucks, work events, and dinner at a friend’s house was a struggle and anxiety inducing. This wasn’t all about living in terror. This was about the fact that people didn’t think it was that “big of a deal” or they would forget to put something away. Sometimes people simply forget. You also have the, “I can’t dictate what kind of food was served at someone else’s event.” While this is a very true thing, it was still difficult to explain to my young children. They couldn’t even play with other young children who just ate a PB&J for fear of an exposure to their brother.
My children also weren’t fully rehearsed on what not to touch or eat. It became dangerous. We became isolated. We became the “it’s too much trouble to invite them” family.
But we learned and adjusted to this life, learning along the way.
The food allergy road is never ending. We still read labels four years later. I still jump if my son accidentally grabs the plate with the real eggs instead of the fake eggs. Did you know that the “may contain nuts” is on every single “normal” fun holiday chocolate bar? Or that sesame is in candy corn? It’s everywhere, and we have trained our entire family to be vigilant.
I had a special shirt made for my son to wear at social events when he was younger that said, “I have food allergies, please ask before feeding me.” This shirt saved him more then once from the wonderful sweet old ladies at the potlucks just trying to sneak a kid a piece of candy.
Eating out is a nightmare. Our poor waiter is peppered with questions: Does it come with this? What oil is it cooked in? Are they fried in the same oil? Is it on the same grill? Can you change gloves? Please leave this off. Picking it out isn’t good enough. Can you use a clean pan? Honestly, it’s easier to not eat out.
But there are some positive elements of our life with severe food allergies.
If it weren’t for food allergies I wouldn’t be half the amazing cook I am! I now make hummus from scratch with sunbutter as the substitute for tahini. Egg substitutes are just as good as the real thing and made from mungbeans. Most all of our seasoning blends I blend myself, and almost all of our snacks are homemade. Park picnics have become the new fast food.
Your world begins, ends, and revolves around food. Where is our next meal coming from? What will we snack on?
You would think we’d end up spending so much more money on our newly shaped diet, but that is not the case. We all know it’s more expensive to eat out. Since we can’t really do that, all our meals our are homemade and packed up. I’ve learned an instant pot will keep its food hot for 4 hours after it’s unplugged. You can put anything into a pasta salad, and it travels in a cooler.
Once you find out your child has food allergies your life will never be the same. And yet, I’m grateful.
I’m grateful that in the grand scheme of life, my husband and I were trusted to protect this magnificent wonderful ball of infectious energy. I’m grateful to help bring awareness to something that isn’t as widely respected as it should be. It’s much better than it has been, but food allergy awareness is nowhere near where it should be.
Food allergies are real. They aren’t some made up, overly-protective thing parents are seeking attention from. Any parent of children with food allergies can explain the fear, the long hours of medical visits, or the trauma of an allergy test. If you think your kiddo has allergies, get them tested and stay aware. Get involved. If you don’t think they have allergies, be cognizant and compassionate of the problem.
It’s life-changing for families but can be life-threatening for the children!
Hi, I’m Meredith. I like me. I’m comfortable in my own skin and with who my friends are and where my life has taken me. I haven’t always been this way. It took a lot of life experience and learning the hard way, along with celebrating the good days to get get here.
I’ve been with my husband for 15 years. We have 3 kids, all boys! I like to tell people that tell me, “you’ve got your hands full” that, “I’m never bored”. And there could never be a more true statement! I left my 6 figure career to become a military spouse. Our marriage has blossomed more and more over the years of base hopping around the world! We grew in love and so did the size of our family. I homeschool all 3 of our boys and run a business. Our lives are full of surprises, and I’m always being told we should be a sitcom.