Life as a Food Allergy Mom

nut-free

When my son was two years old, he wanted a bite of my peanut butter & jelly sandwich. He’d had peanut butter before so I didn’t think anything of sharing it with him. Minutes later he broke out into hives and a rash all around his mouth. I made an appointment at the allergist, but I didn’t need a test to confirm what I already knew: he had a peanut allergy. It was something I worried about even when my kids were in utero. When I was pregnant with my first, I asked my OBGYN if I could eat peanut butter. I love it and it was a diet staple, but I worried about exposing the baby to it given the high prevalence of food allergies. He assured me it was safe, so I ate it during both pregnancies. My daughter was fine, but my son didn’t have the same luck.

Once my son was tested I discovered that he was allergic to eggs too. That came as a surprise to me but wasn’t as life-changing. We don’t eat a lot of eggs in my house and because baked goods are out due to peanuts, it was easy to avoid eggs or use a substitute. So we adjusted.

When I went to have him retested the following year, I just had this feeling he’d outgrown his allergy. I saw a hive form from the skin test, so I knew it was wishful thinking. But then the nurse informed me it was the control he reacted to. He had a small reaction to egg and none to peanut. We had to have bloodwork taken to confirm, but both scored low so we were eligible for a food challenge. This involves being exposed to the food in controlled conditions at the allergist’s office. I couldn’t believe my luck. To be honest, I got a bit cocky about it and posted on Facebook how he’d outgrown the allergy and I was off to celebrate with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, my favorite indulgence. But even so he couldn’t eat either food until he passed the challenge, so that was a bit premature.

Egg was up first and he passed with flying colors. As I said, that didn’t make much difference to me as he really doesn’t eat much egg anyway. And it’s not often a kid comes to school with an egg sandwich. Finally the day of the peanut challenge arrived. All was fine but after being exposed to his second helping he became congested. He’d had a cold a week or so prior so it was difficult to say if that was a factor. We decided to reschedule to be sure. Each time we were supposed to come in, he got sick. I finally moved the appointment to the summer, thinking he’d be healthy. July came, along with a case of croup. It was getting ridiculous. I pushed the test once more and the appointment was this week. Once again, he was getting over a cold, but I figured at this rate it was now or never. We started the test and after just one lick he said his ears itched. The doctor said this is a common reaction to an allergy and recommended we stop unless I felt strongly about continuing. I didn’t protest – why would I want to push it? So attempt number two was a no go and it’s back to our routine as usual. I’m okay with it but I’ve been managing his allergy under relatively controlled circumstances. His day care is nut free and we don’t eat out often. I really worry about once he gets to school. Yes, there are nut free tables, but let’s say a friend eats a PB&J sandwich and gets it on his hands. Then he touches common areas, contaminating them. So I don’t see how that is a good solution.

I’ve heard a lot of comments lately about how people are inconvenienced by food allergies. Why should their kid have to suffer and not be able to eat what they want? I get it.

Before this happened to my son I didn’t understand what it was like.

But I would find it inconvenient if my son, say, stopped breathing. So I have a challenge of my own to people who are inconvenienced by food allergies. I challenge you to walk in my shoes for a day. And that day is Halloween. I challenge you to start your morning at the grocery store and read every single food label. Anything that contains peanuts, may contain traces of peanuts, or is made on shared equipment with peanuts is out. Then I challenge you to take your child out for lunch. You must inform the server about his/her allergy and make sure nothing is cooked in peanut oil and find out what else they serve with peanuts so you can avoid cross-contamination. Then I challenge you to attend a party and make sure your child does not eat any treats unless you know for certain they are peanut free. Anything from a bakery is out and if it’s not in a package with the ingredient label, forget it. I challenge you to have your own baked goods on hand and deal with the fallout when he/she can’t have the same cupcake as everyone else. Then I challenge you to go trick or treating and inspect every single piece of candy. Eighty-five to ninety percent will have to be thrown out or traded. This is just a glimpse of what it’s like. My son goes back to be tested next year and we’ll try again. Even if he passes I will still always fear what could happen. Every reaction is different and could grow more severe with each exposure. It’s scary to know that food, which is supposed to nourish us, could also be fatal. Call me, for lack of a better term, nuts, but regardless of the results I will never stop worrying and will always see myself as a food allergy mom.

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