I can count on one hand the moments in life where I thought, “My life will never be the same.” Many of these moments were celebrations: marrying my best friend, giving birth to each of my two little men. Two other moments were not worthy of celebration, but they definitely changed my life forever. Both of those involved my little men and their food allergies.
Our food allergy journey first began one October morning in 2010. My oldest, 17 months old, tried scrambled eggs for the first time. He loved dipping everything in ketchup – lots of ketchup – and the eggs were no exception. But only moments after he began eating the ketchup-soaked eggs, I noticed that his face looked puffy and had large, red welts on it. By the time I cleaned the ketchup off his face, everything that came into contact with the egg – his hands, cheeks, lips – was swollen with hives.
It was apparent he was having an allergic reaction, but I knew very little about food allergies at the time and had no idea how to help him or what to do. I rushed him to the sink, cleaned him up with soap and water, and called my pediatrician’s office. They told me to give him Benadryl and watch him for the next two hours. Thankfully, the Benadryl worked, his reaction never progressed to something life-threatening, and he seemed much less traumatized than I was by the whole experience. A few weeks later, we visited a pediatric allergist and confirmed his allergy to eggs.
The allergist sent us home with a two-pack of EpiPen Juniors, a list of signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis to watch for, and a strict diet of NO EGGS! Although I felt a bit overwhelmed, I convinced myself that it wasn’t so bad. We could avoid eggs. After all, outside of breakfast it’s really only in baked goods. I do a lot of baking and so I figured I’d learn to bake without eggs and that would be that.
Just one month later, my youngest, only 3 months old at the time, had his first allergic reaction to dairy when we tried to supplement his nighttime feedings with a dairy-based formula. He downed four ounces in no time at all. As we put the bottle down, we noticed that –like my other son’s reaction to eggs – everything the formula touched was swollen and covered in hives. He recovered with a dose of Benadryl, but it was becoming clear that our battle with food allergies was going to be more significant than I ever imagined.
I was adamant about continuing to nurse my youngest, so I began to remove allergens from my diet. First dairy, then soy, then eggs and gluten. It wasn’t easy and I dreaded the day when we’d begin to introduce him to solid foods. What would he eat? What would he drink for milk? But even through all of that, I had this “I will survive” mentality and I wasn’t going to let it bring me down. After all, at least my little men weren’t anaphylactic. Or so I thought...
In April of 2011, my youngest just eight months old, had his first anaphylactic reaction to peanuts. I had peanut butter for lunch, didn’t wash my hands, and proceeded to nurse him. Within minutes his face grew puffy and the hives began to climb down his neck, covering his torso and back. But this time, it wasn’t only hives and swelling; he began to struggle to breathe as well.
I called 9-1-1 and frantically tried to give him an oral dose of Benadryl as he began to turn blue. Our panic and horror began to subside as the Benadryl took effect and stopped the reaction. By the time the paramedics arrived, his breathing was stable and his color had returned. The paramedics still recommended we go to the emergency room for treatment and to be monitored. That reaction wasn’t our only anaphylactic reaction – there were others that were ever scarier – but it was that point in time when everything changed. You can read more about my youngest’s most recent reaction here.
After that reaction, I had to let go of my hopes that my little men’s allergies were more like intolerances and would not rise to the level of life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. When the reality of anaphylaxis set in, so did a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety. I spent many sleepless nights frantically searching the Internet for a support group or another mom that I could relate to. I had so many fears and I felt incredibly alone. I was afraid to cook, grocery shop, take my little men out in public, and even attend family gatherings.
Over time, these things got better. I found moms (and dads) who had children with anaphylactic food allergies like mine. But mostly I educated myself and through practice became comfortable in my new role as food allergy mom. It’s still not easy and there are moments when I want to scream and cry, but in the end my precious little men were given to me for a reason, food allergies and all. What has helped you through your food allergy diagnosis? If you are new to the world of food allergies, what are you struggling with the most?