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Hi! It’s been almost 3 years since my last post. Thought I’d start with that, if you’re still reading my blog 🙂 While one of those years was busy due to travel and just plain ol neglect of blogging, the other was busy with the birth of my most adorable daughter and subsequent learning of how to be a parent. Yeah just that tiny little thing that happened, no big deal. The full-time foodie is now a full-time mama to a vibrant little toddler! I spent the better part of the first year making sure I ate something, anything, in between feeding, diapering, rocking, comforting my little girl. Of course I have to say, even if it’s something you might’ve heard a billion times and is cliche as heck, that the chaos was all worth it. Being a mom is the hardest thing I’ve done, but also the most rewarding. As you can imagine, the foodie-ness had to take a bit ‘ova backseat until my daughter reached her 8th/9th month, when routine finally started creeping back into our lives and I had time to grocery shop, meal plan and cook again! (Shout out to my mama for feeding me until then!)
But I’ll be honest, I have not had a chance to cook as creatively (i.e. nothing interesting enough to post here) and even if I had cooked something interesting, I definitely haven’t had time to stage and take photos of our meals. I guarantee the moment I’d set up a nice bowl of something yummy with the perfect light and the perfect background, I’d have to run over to grab my kiddo who managed to climb and jump on the couch and is a heartbeat away from a bad fall. Murphy’s Law becomes an enormous part of your life as a parent.
So I have no recipe to share, but the reason I’m posting today is actually just to share my new challenges with food- Food Allergies. I was contemplating posting because I’m not about posting suuuuper personal stuff like this for the world to see. But as I fall deeper into the food allergy vortex, I find having a village is important. I’m thankful to all the food allergy moms who share their experiences, workaround recipes and so much more because it has helped me navigate some of my anxiety and confusion. I hope someone can benefit from our story too!
So the basics, what are food allergies?
Remember that movie Hitch with Will Smith where his face blows up after eating shellfish accidentally and there’s a comical moment of him chugging Benadryl? This might sound odd, but I truly wish it were a comical thing to accidentally eat an allergen. Then we could all brush it off as an “oops!” moment because no one would suffer a fatal reaction. The reality is quite different.
Food allergy(FA) is when a person reacts to a particular food by ingestion, contact and in rare cases by inhalation. Reactions can be mild for some and for others they can be serious and yes, also fatal. This is not to fear monger- believe me, it’s just the nature of the beast known as food allergies. They are simply unpredictable. Even the allergy testing that’s done isn’t 100% fool proof but it’s what we have at this time to take measures safe-guarding our kids. That’s why you see us FA parents being extremely careful because we just don’t know when an accidental exposure can lead to anaphylaxis (when the body goes into shock and airways close to stop breathing). If a reaction was predictable and always resulted in mild discomfort, there likely wouldn’t be so many of us worrying about it and I would not be writing this post.
Why are food allergies a thing now?
My analytical self is constantly asking this question and my hypothesis changes by the minute. There are many many theories out there- genetics, environment, climate change, lack of diverse gut bacteria etc. I’m not a scientist and I’m not an allergist so I have no good answer here. I go through a lot of guilt over what I could have done differently to prevent this for my kiddo and have to remind myself that there is no definitive answer with FA. The fact is that FA’s have been around for a long time, but are becoming increasingly common and I hope that beyond the treatments that exist after the fact, we have a definitive way to prevent them for future generations.
How did we find out about S’ food allergies?
This is something that I feel fortunate about but wish the circumstances were different. My nephew also has multiple FA’s and while I wish he didn’t, it was because of him that I had awareness. It was because of him I tried to be proactive and eat every kind of nut out there while pregnant because I truly thought that exposure in utero might help stave off any nut allergies. So when a study came out about early introduction to nuts helping prevent nut allergies, we promptly jumped on the recommendation and decided to give S peanut butter in a controlled environment with Benadryl on hand at 7 months.
So you can imagine our utter disbelief when she developed hives around her mouth, a runny nose and swelling around her eye prompting us to actually use the Benadryl. How could this happen? I ate peanuts like it was my job during pregnancy. Heck I even ate peanuts and other nuts WHILE breastfeeding her because nuts and trail mix were my go to snacks! She had no other telltale signs like eczema, bloody stools or hives. I didn’t believe it until we went to an allergist who did a skin prick test (SPT) and sure enough, her skin reacted to peanut and the subsequent blood test showed elevated IGE levels for peanut. I don’t think we understood what this meant, but a few days of research had us in tears. Nuts are one of the most difficult allergens to outgrow and for some impossible. We also read about how FA’s can decrease the quality of life for the children who have them and their families.
In the next several months we also learn that S is allergic to egg (when not extremely baked into things like muffins or very hardboiled), various tree nuts (cashews, walnuts etc) and as of this week- sesame as well. We learned about the egg after she had successfully eaten hardboiled eggs several times, and we decided to try an omelette which resulted in hives around her mouth (a symptom of FA that can progress to a more severe reaction). I decided to test her for tree nuts after I figured she had increased chances of being allergic due to the peanut and egg. Sesame was a bit of a curve ball because even though it’s known commonly as an allergen in the FA community, to the world outside it’s a weird one and one that sneaks into foods unfortunately. My nephew also shared similar allergies to S, but sesame was not one of them. S’ mouth and hand had hives after eating hummus last December. She tested positive on her skin test, but we’re still awaiting labs from blood work. Unfortunately, I feel certain that sesame is not her friend.
1 year from her initial diagnosis, how are our lives impacted?
We have mostly reeeeally great days around here. Everything is as normal and lovely as can be with the usual struggles and happiness of family life. I’ve learned to read labels on everything I buy and I cook more to make sure S gets nutritious food that I also feel completely safe giving her. Her daycare has been PHENOMENAL at avoiding giving her foods that are not safe (shoutout to all the nut free and allergy accommodating child care centers out there!).
But as you know, there are difficulties. Like-
Cross contamination. Bakeries for instance make all kinds of stuff. So if the equipment hasn’t been cleaned properly the risk of allergens sneaking into things that don’t obviously contain them are still problematic. CC is scary for me because I can’t physically see it. A nut free muffin could have flour or the baking pan contaminated with nuts.
Social settings. I felt and still feel like a helicopter mom who has to constantly watch her kid and analyze anything she randomly puts in her mouth. The challenges of food allergies for me are almost all to do with: how can I be a mom who keeps her daughter safe, but without compromising her quality of life and on some level- even mine. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve gone in and out of because my attention was constantly on S to make sure she wasn’t going to eat that random cracker sitting on the table or the cute kid near her was going to pop an unknown snack item in S’ mouth (this has happened). I have a feeling, handling this scenario, will be a constant learning process for me.
Forcing myself to be forceful. I’ve always hated putting people out to accommodate me or to give off a vibe of entitlement. But I HAVE to be that mom who requests her friends/family that we pick a safe restaurant for our dinner outing, the mom who bugs the waiter to double check with the chef that the food I order for S is 100% safe for her, or the mom who tells people not to bring foods containing nuts (dessert is pretty much a no go right now) to our house at this time because S still cannot fully communicate to me if she’s having symptoms of a serious reaction and our home is her only true safe space. My rules with these things will likely change over time because with every outing, every social gathering we get more confident about the way we handle her allergies.
S has done magnificently so far and most reactions were to foods we willingly gave her and not because she ate something I was unaware of. We also want to empower her and educate her to be her own advocate as she grows up. To live fearlessly but cautiously. Also as I wrote this post I was realizing that it has ONLY been a year since we’ve had to make some major adjustments to how we deal with protecting our kiddo. That’s not a long time. I need to remind myself and others to be patient with me while I navigate this new world.
I also want to add that we recognize that we are incredibly blessed that she isn’t allergic to some of the even more difficult allergens like dairy or wheat which is in EVERYTHING. My heart goes out to all the FA families who deal with the allergens that are a million times harder to avoid. My heart also just goes out to all families who have to deal with health issues in general. It’s heart-wrenching when it’s your child, there’s no way around that.
I’ve contemplated chronicling our journey going forward, but I also know realistically blogging just requires a lot of time. Between work and life… it’s difficult 🙂 But I’d like to continue if I can! I would always love to hear from other FA families so feel free to drop a line in the comments section anytime!
P.S. Friends, if you’d like to comment I have chosen to keep her name private and refer to her as S 🙂