A year ago, I would have heard the term ‘food allergy’ and probably would have shrugged it off. Never in a million years did I think I would have a child with food allergies. That is until December 2015 when I learned that my little guy was an allergy statistic. He was one of the 1 in 13 children in the US born with food allergies.
We knew something was up when we gave him a yogurt drop and part of his face started to swell. We called the nurse line, gave him Benadryl, and scheduled an allergy visit. A few weeks later, the day before Thanksgiving, we had our first appointment with an allergist. We skin tested for a few things, including milk and soy. Milk came back positive. The doctor wanted us to do a blood test after to test for the ‘Top 8’ allergens. One awful blood draw later, we confirmed that Josh was allergic to milk, egg, sesame, peanuts, and most tree nuts.
I will never forget the day that the doctor called me to tell me the test results. I was at work and I just lost it.
I was instantly thrown into a world that I knew absolutely nothing about. I had no idea what questions to ask, I had no idea what the doctor was telling me. I left work and spent the afternoon trying to wrap my head around the lifestyle change I was about to face. I didn’t know who to turn to for help. None of my friends had dealt with this. I felt alone in this journey…but not for long.
For all of you mamas out there that are dealing with an allergy diagnosis, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Here are some things that should help you along the journey…
Talk to Others
It took me a little while, but I realized that I do know other food allergy moms. And it turns out, like most ‘mom’ things, allergy moms love to help other allergy moms. They will give you tips, they will give you tricks, they will give you reassurance. And most important, they will let you know that everything will be ok.
Find Allergy Groups and Resources on Social Media
There are loads of Facebook groups for allergy parents. Down to the specific allergies that pertain to you. I also have my favorite organizations and fellow allergy moms that I follow on Instagram. I follow them to find recipes, stories of their food allergy experiences, and latest news and breakthroughs in the allergy world. Hello Epigate.
Learn to Read Labels
Because after all, you will read the label of literally every single thing your child puts in their mouth for the foreseeable future. And if there’s not a label on something – back away. Luckily the FDA requires manufacturers to list all ingredients on the labels. And a lot of products now list the ‘top 8’ allergens at the bottom (see photo to the right), so it’s easy for you to see. They must also list potential cross-contamination risks.
Discover Go-To Foods
This will get easier as you go along. And you will also realize that there are a lot of typical foods/brands that are ok – you just have to look! But here are a few of my allergy-friendly favorites to help you get started. All of these are dairy, egg and nut free: Enjoy Life Foods (cookies, baking mixes, etc.), Annie’s Pea B & J pockets, Daiya Macaroni & Cheese, and Follow Your Heart cheese.
Navigate Dining Out
This is an area that I have yet to master. My 20-month-old is a picky eater. One would think that since his diet is limited to half the food in the world, he would be good. But noooooooo. Right now, if we eat out, I take his food with us, or only order him something I know for a fact is ok. But definitely talk to a manager upon arrival and have them talk to the Chef. This is something that I know I will get used to in the years to come. For now, here is a list of some of the top allergy friendly restaurants.
Don’t Be Scared of the World
Eventually I stopped reading all of the blogs, and I stopped following the Facebook groups. Because they just scared me, put negative thoughts in my head, and took up way too much valuable time. Let your kid be a kid. I am not the mom that is scared to take her kid to the playground, for fear that a kid that might have had peanut butter on his hand and touched the slide my kid is going down; however, just because that’s me, doesn’t mean that I judge those moms that do. I just want my child to be able to live as normal of a life as possible.
Think in the Now
I used to spend a lot of time worrying about how Josh would have to sit at a different lunch table. Or how he would be left out at birthday parties. Or that kids might make fun of him for being different. But again, I had to let those negative thoughts go. Who knows what things will be like when he starts school in a few years. He is in daycare now and he does everything that all the other kids do. He even sits at the same lunch table, he just sits on the end where it’s harder for him to grab the other kids’ food. There’s no need to worry about the future, when you don’t yet know what the future will bring.
My close friends and family are now very aware of the food allergy epidemic and are so accommodating when we come over or have playdates. There is no better feeling to an allergy mom then other moms that get it, ask questions, and educate their own kids. I also share information about food allergies on social media occasionally, because the more we spread awareness, the more education there will be for parents and other children. And yes, there will be a teal pumpkin on my porch this year!
And Finally… Keep Things in Perspective
While food allergies are life changing for the whole family (and anyone around you), it is a manageable diagnosis. It is far from easy, but after spending two nights in a children’s hospital this spring for bronchiolitis, I realized that my kiddo is happy and healthy. And that there are children and parents out there dealing with MUCH bigger issues than this.
I’ve been a (known) allergy mom for almost a year now. And while there are lessons and struggles that will constantly rear their ugly face, I feel that I have come to accept this diagnosis. That’s not to say that I don’t have tears, because seeing your kiddo go through a prick test and a blood draw will floor any tough mama, but I’m at a point of acceptance, and a point where I find myself being the one helping other moms. As the allergy epidemic continues to grow, so does the list of things that continue to be developed to make our lives easier. Who knows what new breakthroughs will be around when Josh starts kindergarten.