My middle child was diagnosed with food allergies when she was almost 4 months old. She had this unbelievable rash that literally covered her from head to toe. The worst was on her scalp. A reddish rash that oozed yellow despite antibiotics.
Turns out after many painful blood tests--physical for my little one and emotional for me--we found out not only did my daughter have this infantile immune deficiency, which was causing the infection on her head to spread, but she was also allergic to peanuts, dairy/dairy proteins, egg protein and shellfish. And she never ate any of these things.
But, I did.
Turns out my precious little one, who caused people to quickly avert their eyes in horror because of the viscous mass of yellow on her sweet head, was allergic to the very food I ate, which showed up in the breastmilk. How's that for cross contamination?
At four months old, Middle Child was treated with a daily dose of antibiotics for a year to improve her the immune system. Her scalp healed in a few months and her hair slowly started to grow. She gets these dreaded blood tests on an annual basis to check on her immune system and food allergies. Her immune system is steadily improving but we still need to start aggressive treatment whenever she is getting a cold. For some reason, her delicate skin starts flaring up and her small lungs get globs of junk in them, making her struggle for every precious breath.
It's funny, as difficult as this is, sometimes it's not as hard as dealing with the food allergies. Because with every cold that turns into bronchiolitis or pneumonia, I know things will soon pass within a week or two. With the food allergies, there is no break. Not one.
You'd think after seven years, I'd have this food allergy thing down pat. And for the most part I have. I've found ways to manage food in the household, go to grocery stores and restaurants, deal with parents and schools, survive kid's birthday parties and find support from family. It's part of day-to-day living, and I've got to make it work. I have to. For my child.
The thing that I find difficult is the emotional backlash from food allergies. Sometimes, there is an overwhelming isolation that comes from helplessness. And a wish for normalcy. For my child.
This feeling immobilizes me at times. I hate to say it, but it does. Because who knew food could cause so much grief?
Over the past few years, I worked really hard to ensure my daughter developed plenty of self-esteem, confidence and strength to deal with food allergies before she started school. All. Because. I don't want her to be the kid who is taunted and perhaps even threatened with some food allergic item. I don't want her to be a kid who will eat whatever someone gives her because she doesn't want to say no to an adult or is afraid of being teased. Or be labelled as "because of that food allergic kid we can't..." Or act like a victim and whine about why she can't eat something. And I certainly don't want my daughter to feel bad about herself because she is different.
I want my child to know and understand her food allergies, food choices and reactions. I want my child to know she is powerful and accountable for her body and health. She needs to be prepared, because, sometimes, despite the best of intentions, people won't always have her best interest at heart. How will she be able to deal with friends and adults when they ask or complain about food allergies, if she doesn't have self-esteem and confidence?
I want my child to experience wonderful friendships free from the clutter of food allergies and to have the confidence and self-esteem to know that food allergies do not define and limit her. I want her to be confident enough to say no or even question a friend or adult on foods that are offered and perhaps, pressured on her. And if she's able to celebrate her uniqueness and find the strength within her to shrug off whatever is thrown her way, I know she'll be able to handle anything.
My daughter needs this incredible confidence, this heady self-esteem, this glowing sense of empowerment, because I won't be with her all the time. It was so easy when she was little. So, so easy. I was her advocate and able to either prevent or deal with allergic reactions.
Now, it's another story.
Middle Child is in school and I now have to trust others will cooperate to keep my child safe. It helps our school is super diligent about food allergies. It's such a relief when I know others aren't so fortunate.
But. It's still not enough.
I need to know there won't be any careless errors. Sure, accidents happen, but not on my watch. And, I'll tell you a secret. I have an extra special weapon. My delightful child. With her sassy can do attitude, her quick charming wit, fierce stare down, and uncanny ability to grill an adult about food ingredients until he/she sweats, I know my child is well prepared to take charge of her food allergies with agility and style.