Any mom who has children with a food allergy can relate to the terror that comes when your child is having an allergic reaction. The only way to describe it is complete and absolute panic.
Last summer, my family and I were enjoying a summer evening boat ride with family friends to celebrate the last day of school. While we were on the boat, my two year old son had accidentally consumed dairy, which he is allergic too. It was the scariest moments of my life. His lip began swelling and we raced to get off the water. I had forgotten to bring his epi pen along, and we had no idea how much time we had before anaphylactic shock set in.
We rushed to the emergency room, where the doctor said he was in early stages of anaphylactic shock. The hospital staff responded quickly, administering the medication he needed to stop it from getting worse. It was the scariest few hours of my life.
A public arrive announcement to all parents, grandparents, caregivers: allergies are no joke. It is a serious health condition that should not be taken lightly. And while it is not something as horrific as cancer or some other life-crippling disease, the same fate, death, is still a real and scary possibility.
If you are a mom with a child who has food allergies, your life probably looks very much like mine…
It’s explaining his restrictions to someone, who then looks at you in disbelief that a bowl of ice cream could, in fact, kill him.
It’s a constant thought on your mind for every meal of every day.
It’s continual planning of meals and snacks to make sure there is a safe option for your child at meal times. Sometimes it means cooking two different meals for dinner because one child cannot have the macaroni and cheese or egg sandwiches the other children are begging to eat.
It’s checking menus and ingredient lists and calling ahead to restaurants before you eat there to determine if there are safe options for your child.
It’s being protective of who is allowed to watch or babysit your child because you have to be absolutely certain that they understand his food allergies, can remember he has them, can be trusted to not to give him certain foods, and can administer the epi pen in the event he has a reaction.
It’s a feeling of pure terror when you receive a recall notice for your son’s epi pen, with the reason cited as “failing to inject.” and your mind wanders to the unthinkable worst case scenario.
It’s making two types of chocolate chip cookies for your large family because the dairy-free chocolate chips are twice the cost as the regular type.
It’s going to a grocery store an hour away to buy dairy-free ice cream because that is the only store where it is sold.
It’s making a dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free birthday cake twice because the first time it crumbled in your hands. And he absolutely needs a cake to celebrate turning three.
It’s bringing allergy safe snacks to Sunday school because the goldfish are not safe for him. It’s reminding the Sunday school volunteers every week that he has his own snack, and walking away praying they remember amid the craziness of a room full of toddlers.
It’s checking food labels all. the. time. Your first trip to the store after he’s been diagnosed is discouraging beyond words because you realize dairy and eggs are literally in EVERYTHING. As you wipe tears away while standing in the grocery store aisle, you wonder what can I feed him and how can I do this every day?
It’s trying to always be one step ahead in all situations by bringing extra treats and snacks in your purse so he is not without. But then there are they times when you cannot predict- like going to story time at the library, only to find out a mom brought in cupcakes to share to celebrate a birthday, which your child cannot enjoy.
It’s being so overcome with gratitude when your close friend makes an allergy safe cupcake for your child to eat at her daughter’s birthday party. You want to hug her and cry at the same time because it was so incredibly thoughtful.
It’s keeping an extra-large supply of Allegra on hand in the event he touches eggs, dairy, peanuts, or tree nuts. Because a rash will appear in less than five minutes.
It’s almost crying when you randomly meet another mom at your daughter’s ballet class, who has a child with the exact same food allergies. Because finally- someone who understands every part of your struggle.
It’s requesting your extended family not put chocolate in eggs for the annual Easter egg hunt because one of your children cannot eat it. It’s picking out the Halloween candy after trick-or-treating that is not safe.
It’s being paranoid about encountering anyone with Influenza A because your child’s egg allergy prevents him getting the flu shot.
It’s teaching him at a young age of two that certain foods “make me itchy,” in an effort to teach him to protect himself if mom and dad are not right there.
It’s wishing moms of preschool and elementary aged children would ask about food allergies in a classroom before bringing in special treats.
Everywhere you turn these days, it seems someone knows someone with a food allergy, and yet, as a mom with a food allergy child, it still feels so isolating. No matter how hard I try, there will still be scenarios where he is left out, excluded, made to feel different. And I cannot shield him from all of that, but oh, how I want to. Isn’t that instinctive to us, mama bears? To rescue, protect, and fight for our little cubs.
So whether my son outgrows these allergies or lives with them forever, I will always advocate for him and other food allergy kids. And don’t loose hope fellow food allergy mamas. I know, first hand, the challenges, the emotions, the loneliness that comes with this life. You are not alone. And mamas who don’t have these challenges or fully understand the struggles–one word–Oreos! They are dairy-free, egg-free and nut free, who knew? Keep in stock for your next play date, birthday or school function and we might just cry at your kindness.