Allergy mom

As a parent, my main mission in life is to keep my children safe. 

I buckle them in their car seats, look both ways before we cross the street and cut their food into choke-free bites. I do what I can to protect them.

Even with all my efforts, they still get injured, they bleed and even get burned. No one can protect their children from everything.

My children happen to need an extra layer of protection; from their food.

Both children have food allergies. 

There is no known cause of food allergies, no cure and they affect 1 in 13 children. In my PEPS group with Hunter 4 of the 9 children had SERIOUS food allergies.

How are they all getting these allergies? Is it our food?  Our environment? 

Hunter is seriously allergic to dairy, eggs and peanuts, 3 of the 8 most reactive foods.  And when I say seriously allergic, I mean, potentially life threatening.

Carter has only reacted to dairy through my breastmilk so far, but we are slowly introducing foods now- so who knows what else he could be allergic to.

Food allergies are no joke.

They are a whole lot more serious and scary than most people think. We try not to come from a place of fear, but dealing with a food allergy with a small child is absolutely terrifying. Until they are fully verbal, they can't communicate their symptoms or explain their allergies.

Honestly, I had never really even thought about food allergies before Hunter had a reaction. I didn't know anyone with food allergies and I certainly didn't think twice about the impact of my food on other people.

That has all changed. 

I'm THAT mom now.  I'm the one who asks hundreds of questions to any childcare provider, leaves lists and allergy action plans on the counter for babysitters, trains others on how to use an epi-pen, explains and reexplains the importance that my children NEVER share food and that optimally other children are not allowed to eat allergen-filled food around them.

Yes, I am the reason your kids can't bring PB&J to preschool and someday I will be the reason your kid doesn't get to dye Easter eggs in class.  I apologize in advance.

Allergies are a tricky thing.  They morph and change and each exposure to the allergen could make the allergy worse- so you never know when an anaphylactic reaction could happen. 

On the flip side, they can also completely disappear.  There is some hope that the kids could both completely grow out of their allergies. One our our PEPS friends recently found out that her son has outgrown most of his allergies, which gives me hope.

Until then, we carry an epi-pen with us at all times, and we have since Hunter was just over a year old.

We first learned of Hunter's allergies when he was just 8 months old. After some success with "first foods" he was ready for something more exciting than purees. We offered him some scrambled eggs one Saturday morning.

Within minutes he was covered in red blotches. The blotches turned into hives and he was crying. We had never experienced any food allergies before and had no idea what to do.

We gave him some Benadryl to treat the hives and he seemed to get a bit better and the hives faded. Within 20 minutes he was vommiting and his skin reacted again to the vommit.  He had hives all over his body for the second time in an hour. After fully bathing him and dosing him again with benedryl, his symptons started to subside. 

We had no idea what we were doing, how to navigate the situation and didn't know anything about anaphylaxis. 

On the scale of inconvenient to life threatening, that reaction falls somewhere in the middle. Had I known better, and had an epi-pen in the house, I probably should have given him a dose and then gone straight to the hospital (better safe than sorry is our new motto). The epi-pen wouldn't have hurt him and it could have saved his life had his reaction gotten worse.

At the time, I didn't know to check for shallow breathing, color change in fingers or lips, scratching at the mouth, throat or ears, runny nose, or a myriad of other symptoms that could easily be misinterpreted in a small child who can't communicate what they are feeling.  

My only understanding of an allergic reaction was from the movie Hitch, when his whole face swelled up and he treated it with nothing more than liquid Benadryl. #HollywoodFail

After the scrambled egg debacle, we observed him with every food (new and old). Our nanny at the time, my cousin Stephani, was incredibly diligent in helping us control and monitor what he ate.

She actually was the one to catch the dairy allergy only a few days later. She gave him his first bite of baby-yogurt and he reacted immediately.  She had been on high alert since the eggs, so she discontinued feeding him the yogurt, bathed him to get all traces of the food off him, dosed him with Benadryl and called me immediately.

Unfortunately, children under 1 year old can't reliably be tested for allergies. The best line of defense is to use caution when introducing new foods and completely cut out all foods that have proven to be reactive until they are old enough for an allergist to test them and get them on a reintroduction plan.  

We went to the allergist to confirm Hunter's allergies shortly after his first birthday.

That is when we got our first epi-pen; we were officially in the club.

I've got to tell you, that thing still terrifies me.

The idea of having to jam a needle into Hunter's leg is nearly as scary as the thought of watching his throat close up as he gasps for air, but I would do it in a second. 

We consider ourselves lucky with our kids'  food allergies; they are manageable  Although Hunter is seriously allergic, we have been able to live normal lives.  We still eat out a restaurants, go to friend's houses and enjoy food in many of the ways we always have- there are tons of people who aren't that lucky.

We do not have to be "facility safe" which means as long as there is no dairy, eggs or peanuts  explicitly listed in the ingredients, Hunter is generally fine to eat it.  That also goes for processed foods and eating out at restaurants. We are able to get a plain hamburgers for him and he's generally ok even if it was cooked right along side a cheeseburger (as long as the cheese never came in contact with his burger). In general, he has very few mild reactions (red ring around his mouth), and hasn't had a serious reaction since his first ones.

Sometimes his lack of allergic reactions make me think he has outgrown the allergies.  I get lulled into submission thinking that he is able to better tolerate his allergens, but the truth is that we are so insanely diligent about controlling his food that he has almost no chance to get exposed to an allergen.

We recently went to the allergist for his 6 month check in.  They have to do a prick test on his back and then measure the hive to see if his reaction has increased or decreased from the previous 6 months. Needless to say, he doesn't enjoy these appointments but he is a tough little guy. 
His hives have had no change in size since he was 14 months old.

Baby Carter on the other hand is too young to be tested. 

Luckily, now having gone through it with Hunter, we knew what to look for.  So when Carter started getting read blotches all over his face, head and chest after feeding I knew he had allergies too.

I immediately cut out dairy (I had to do it with Hunter while I was nursing, so I figured it was an easy one to "try").  Within a few days he was getting no blotches.

Within a few weeks, he had stopped scratching his face, so I knew I was on the right track.  I still haven't solved all of his skin reactions though. We've been battling a rash on both cheeks since December.  Right now, it's a lot of trial and error of food elimination to find out what is causing it.

Going off dairy isn't exactly fun for me. I have dreams about cheese and milkshakes, but even one bite could effect Carter for days (dairy stays in your system for a long time). This is a small sacrifice that I can make to ensure my kids are as healthy as possible. Most formulas are dairy based and we are unsure if he can tolerate a large amount of soy, so there  aren't really any formula options for us.  I plan on simply transitioning him to almond milk at 1 year old, just like I did with Hunter....and then eating fondue and ice cream cake.

The worst part of confirming his allergy was that I had stored up a ton of breastmilk for when I returned to work (we noticed his allergy the week I went back).

360 ounces to be exact.

That's roughly 3 GALLONS of milk.

It all had to go.  I couldn't know which milk had dairy in it, so I couldn't take the chance of feeding any of it to him.

Through the miracle of the internet I found a gay couple who were expecting their second child via surrogate who were looking for milk donations.  It made it a lot easier to let go of all that milk knowing that another baby was going to gobble it up and that they had no other means of feeding their child breastmilk.  They have since sent me pictures of their beautiful baby boy, so it was really a happy ending for all of us.

We won't know the extent of Carter's allergies until after his 1st birthday when we can get him tested. We are just starting to introduce him to foods and I can honestly say, I'm dragging my feet out of fear. I don't want to find more allergies.

When it comes down to it, we actually have it pretty good.  We have been able to integrate these allergies into our lives and they don't hold us back from doing anything. Our friends and family have totally gotten on the allergy train, ensuring their snacks and food are Hunter safe and we have some pretty accomplished ingredient label readers among us.

We are lucky to live in a time and place that has so many alternatives and options for food allergies.  Most restaurants don't bat an eye when we ask for special dietary accommodations and we can get dairy, egg and peanut substitutes at almost every store in our neighborhood.

Right now, we have built a community around Hunter that can support him and watch out for him. I do fear him growing up, going to school and getting lax about his allergies. I'm sure carrying an epi-pen in his backpack isn't going to be high on his things-that-are-cool list.

Hopefully by then, food allergies are more understood and accepted. They are becoming more mainstream every year- with the teal pumpkin project gaining steam (for allergy friendly trick-or-treating), these cool allergy tee-shirts that help communicate allergies for small kiddos and Food Allergy Awareness Week.

Meanwhile, we have started a new diet craze around these parts.  I'm calling us Me-gans... meat eating Vegans.  I realize this is pretty much the anti-vegan, but when we look for allergy safe foods, we generally purchase vegan products because then we know there is no dairy or egg product (check a few labels in your pantry, trust me there is probably dairy hidden in 90% of your stuff but labeled as casein or whey). So, we simply find vegan food, then throw a slab of meat on top. Yum.

So all of this was to say, that if you come across a family that is dealing with a food allergy, please be kind.  We don't want to prohibit your child from enjoying a PB&J, especially if it is the only thing he will eat, but we also don't want our child to end up in the hospital because the kids decided to share lunches.

Maybe even go above and beyond the call of duty- make a note in your contacts on your phone about the allergy.  That way, when you text that mom to make a playdate, you can make sure to tell her that you remember her child has an allergy and you will take every precaution to ensure a safe play environment.

Trust me, that mom will be forever grateful that you have her kids' back, and she will in turn have yours.