From first reaction, to diagnosis, to hitting my stride — What raising a child with food allergies has helped me learn.
Imagine the excitement of going to birthday parties when you’re three, where one of the most exciting parts is the birthday cake. Not so much when you’re the only kid in the room allergic to eggs. Just one of the many skills I’ve mastered as a food allergy mom is the ability to soften the blow beset upon the host when we politely decline the slice of cake passed his way. I prep myself for the response as they slowly make the connection (Katie’s son is allergic to eggs and, this cake has egg in it): “I’m so sorry, I didn’t even realize…”
At 11-months-old I gave him his first forkful of eggs. Although he usually took great afternoon naps, I thought the “No-Nap-Today-Mommy” attitude wasn’t necessarily unordinary behavior for my soon-to-be 1-year-old. But when he started to look at me funny, and pull on his ears, the red flag went up. As I laid him down to change his diaper, he looked me right in the eye, and started to chatter his teeth. Adrenaline pumping, I scooped him up, grabbed my keys and headed to the car. We made it to the clinic just before the vomit started.
The blood antibody test concluded he was allergic to egg whites, almonds (tree nuts) and peanuts — three of the top nine allergens which cause the majority of food allergic reactions. According to the doctor’s follow-up letter, while his first reaction didn’t result in “anaphylaxis — he did have vomiting, jitteriness, diffuse erythroderma, and some mottling, so he should therefore avoid all items with egg on the ingredient list, baked goods with eggs, casseroles with eggs and eggs of course.”
My job description was completely warped from one day to the next. I was scared to feed him anything at all. Even for as careful as I was, one month after receiving his diagnosis, I gave him pre-made lasagna from a grocery store, not realizing that it was made with egg noodle! A whole lot of hives, and one chunky baby thigh jabbed with an EpiPen later, we were back in the Emergency Room. I was failing at this.
Eventually, I found my groove. Grocery shopping was easy since most items sold in a store are required to denote any of the top nine allergens they may contain thanks to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA). I researched eggless pancake and muffin recipes and really put a lot of effort forth (ask my husband) until I realized that some things are just better left to the experts. Thanks to Bloom Bake Shop, a neighborhood bakery on Monroe Street that makes “allergy-friendly” part of its business model, we have never been without a proper birthday cake, OR a substitute, vegan cupcake for whatever kind of birthday party came our way.
Albeit with a lot more experience under my belt, navigating food allergies now compared to seven years ago, feels a lot easier. Nonetheless, I’ve honed a few valuable skills along the way.
5 Life Skills I Gained as A Food Allergy Mom:
- Read a food label: Honestly, it wasn’t until I had to understand what was in everything that I started reading labels on packaged items because let’s face it, half of those words are not part of our everyday lexicons. Tell me precisely what is monosodium glutamate, aluminosilicate, or thiamin mononitrate?? I quickly learned how to cut to the chase though, fact-checking every allergen listed at the bottom, after the word “CONTAINS:”
- Cook: When normal people are lazy, they may opt to just go out for dinner but when you have children, and you have strict dietary restrictions it really is just easier to make meals at home. I unfortunately did not have the luxury of knowing how to cook anything (like seriously anything) until I was 22 years old so needless to say, it was an uphill battle.
- Get creative: Turns out, when a box mix of Ghirardelli brownies are made with bananas in place of eggs, they don’t really rise as they should. With an eager room full of 4-year-olds ready to eat “cake” — you do what any other resourceful host would do, and make cake pops! Well, sans the stick — brownie balls!
- Plan: Before kids, I was not a planner. “Hello kids and food allergies” — the difference is night and day. School lunches and snacks, birthday parties, dinner at Grandma’s, you name it — We must know what is on the menu before the day arrives to either make suggestions for alternatives, or so that we can bring our own.
- Advocate: If you thought your fellow mama-bear could be fierce, just wait until you meet mama-bear with food-allergic child in tow. I’ve learned to speak up in advance for the sake of my child feeling as included as possible. It means letting neighbors know ahead of time which treats would be safe to hand out on Halloween, offering to bring the snack for the playdate so that I know it’s a snack my child can also eat, and requesting to “speak with the manager” when we’re not getting straight answers about ingredients in menu items in restaurants.
***In the months leading up to his first allergic reaction and subsequent diagnosis, my son presented with many of the common indicators of a food allergy. I’ve shared that story here.