I've felt it coming. I've felt the year marker of Bowan's food allergy diagnosis closing in on me. The peanut allergy diagnosis changed my motherhood experience. It really changed my life. With this reflection on the last year has come a weight of emotions.
A year ago today, I remember sitting in our living room in the comfy chair with the afternoon light pouring in while I was reading a Hello Dearest MOPS magazine. I was taking a little time for myself. To think, recharge, to just be still. I rarely got this kind of time, so it sure was a treat. At the time my boys were one and three. Naps had always been a bit of a struggle. Especially with the two kids. I could get them to sleep at the same time, but only for twenty minutes or less. On the day that I got the important call with the peanut allergy diagnosis, they took the best brother nap ever. They'd been sleeping long enough that I could clear my head + relax a little. Then, the phone rang. I was able to answer it because the house was calm. It was our pediatrician's office calling with Bowan's allergy blood work results.
Hello? Lindsey, I am calling with Bowan's allergy blood work results. He has a high allergy to peanuts + eggs. According to his blood work numbers, he's likely to have anaphylaxis to any amount of ingested peanut or egg. His results also include some high allergies to animal dander. You need to make an appointment with an allergist as soon as possible. Because of his weight, we can only run a few foods on the panel, he needs to be skin tested for a larger range of allergens. Please also get an EpiPen as soon as possible.
It was like a dream. A terrible dream. I asked her to repeat the numbers + confirm she was calling from our doctor's office. It did't feel real, but I knew it was. It was in these moments that my journey with allergies truly began.
Here are 7 Things About Our Peanut Allergy Diagnosis:
1. I was scared.
I was so scared. I was scared as I watched my son react to peanut butter. I tried to be strong as I held my 17 pound, 14 month old as they drew his blood for his allergy test. I started wrapping my head around the fact that common things in our environment could kill my son. It was scary to know that food that is intended to nourish the typical child, could kill my child. It was frightening to learn that life threatening allergies to peanut are often life-long. It was scary to accept that this was my new reality.
2. I felt alone.
I was alone when I fed Bowan peanut butter for the first time. I was alone when he had a systemic reaction + his eye swelled + hives popped up on his face + trunk. I was alone when I hoped + prayed that my baby would continue to breathe after his first experience with peanut butter. I was alone when he'd throw the peas + other allergenic foods clear across the kitchen. I was alone when I was crying on our kitchen floor cleaning up these foods thinking something was wrong. But, what? Why is feeding my youngest child such a challenge? I've done this before, something is clearly wrong + different, but what? I was alone when I found vomit in the corner of his crib, which I linked back to the foods. I was alone when I begged our pediatrician to test Bowan for a peanut allergy. It was so lonely processing the weight of life threatening food allergies.
3. I felt responsible.
Naturally, as all moms do at some point, I wanted to lay the mom guilt heavily on myself. Did I cause his allergies? How could I have caused his allergies? A year later, I have read so much research on the various causes + links to food allergies, but at the time I was lost. Subconsciously, I felt like if I knew the cause of his allergies, then that could help me to find a cure or fix for the allergies. Then, we could escape this nightmare. But, more than the mom guilt, I felt responsible for learning all I'd need to know about allergies + managing life threatening food allergies. This was my child I loved, but now I was responsible for caring for his special needs.
4. I was overwhelmed.
I was overwhelmed by the task ahead to learn about + research the safe + unsafe foods for my son + our family. I already knew that food labels don't tell us the whole story of our food, but cracking that code for our specific list of allergies would sure take a lot of time + energy on my part. Bowan's diagnosis came at the same time as the Cumin recall. It was so overwhelming to read of this massive recall with peanut contaminated cumin. Not only was virtually all cumin contaminated with peanut, but so were foods that contained cumin. When I ventured onto the list of recalled food due to undeclared allergens on FARE's website, my overwhelm grew.
5. Life did't stop for us.
Just as any diagnosis hits, life still goes on while you work through the pain, difficulties + unknowns of the new diagnosis. Our life had changed whether we liked it or not. Other's surely wouldn't truly be able to understand what life is like living with + managing the food allergies of a toddler. Life was now just different + I had to figure out a way to fit into our new life.
6. I wanted my family to be happy.
I wanted my family to be happy despite the food allergies. I immediately realized that Bowan didn't + wouldn't realize he had food allergies until he would grow much older. So, for now, it was my job to put him + my family in an environment that would allow him to be both safe + happy despite his restrictions. I've found it very difficult to find events food free, mainly food free, or allergy aware for little ones. Our culture is so focused on food + the abundance of food that for an allergic toddler, danger literally lives around every corner. He sure is an adventurous little guy + I decided that I wanted to do what I could to keep that alive in him, to not scare him of the foods that could cause anaphylaxis for him.
7. I was thankful.
At the time of our food allergy diagnosis, I had one close friend that I'd known for a couple years who also had a son with multiple life threatening food allergies. I was + have been so thankful for her every step of the way. As time went on, other allergy moms reached out, neighbors introduced me to new neighbors with children with food allergies, I met other allergy moms in the aisles of Sprout's reading the labels next to me + a little corner of the internet has brought me together with other allergy moms. The thing is, these allergy moms know my struggles, they live the hyper vigilance I was thrown into one sunny afternoon, they've emailed companies looking for a safe food for their child, they've said no to unsafe environments + yes to other opportunities they worked hard to create, they've witnessed the scary food allergy reactions just as I have, they encourage each other because they know it will go a long way for that weary mom. The thing is, it's really hard to understand what it's like to walk in an allergy mom's shoes until you're thrown right into them. The shoes of an allergy mom are a little to tight, they give you blisters at first, they even cause you to limp a little, but over time the shoes are able to be worn in. These allergy mom shoes can't help but stand out in a crowd a little. There are miles + miles logged in these shoes; the trips to the store + allergist, the play dates + events with mom close by, the meals cooked with the safe ingredients, the prayers said on our knees in these shoes. I am so thankful for these allergy moms that have shared their tips, their stories, their encouragement + hope. They sure have helped me to walk a little easier in my allergy mom shoes.
Here's some of the best advice that I once received from a group of experienced allergy moms, It really takes a year to grieve + feel comfortable with your child's food allergies. That was advice that I held onto. It helped me realize it was ok to be sad + grieve the complexities of food allergies, that I could take my time + not rush the process. That I could give myself grace as I learned how to manage the daily in's + out's of life with a toddler with food allergies. It helped me to know that they felt the exact same way I did + they were working their way out on the other side. Just as I was.