I have found it helpful and useful to connect with other parents of food allergic children by hearing their stories first. Everyone wants to know how you found out about your child's allergy and what the story is. We, as parents to food allergic children, are already incredibly closely knit to one another, and hearing and sharing our stories strengthens our bonds and support groups. It is amazing how much support I have gotten (and how much I have learned!) from other parents. So here is our story. I am sure it will be familiar to many of you.
As I mentioned in my first post on this blog, food allergies, life-threatening food allergies, run in my husband's family. His uncle is allergic to fish, and my sister-in-law is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. Our oldest daughter, now just over two years old, was a preemie, horribly colicky as an infant, and battled eczema for the first year of her life.
As we started introducing solid foods, of course we had the food allergy conversation with her pediatrician, who advised us on the signs of an allergic reaction. To be honest, I knew nothing about the common eight allergens at this point! I just knew that I was worried about nuts because of my sister-in-law. Our pediatrician advised us to wait until our daughter turned two to introduce nuts for the first time. Nuts were always the enemy to me. So I had a very basic level of knowledge about food allergies. I would say I knew more than a parent who knew nothing and had no experience with them, but I can tell you I wasn't even thinking about the possibility of an anaphylactic response the first time I gave her eggs. Insert the old saying - "if I had known then what I know now..."
So a few weeks after she turned two, I braced myself for her first bite of peanut butter. I introduced it first thing in the morning, when I knew she hadn't eaten anything else that I could question and made sure it was before my husband went to work for the day so I wasn't by myself. I also checked her out and let her play a while before breakfast so I knew she wasn't sick or anything. I wanted to know that if something went wrong, it was clearly the peanut butter and not the flu, or something else she ate, etc.
I made myself a piece of peanut butter toast for breakfast and cut her off a piece of it to try. She took one bite and I watched her nervously. Within 30 seconds she started scratching the side of her face, tugging her ear, and pushed the piece of peanut butter toast away. Within 30 more seconds, she started fussing and scratching her eyes. The ear she was tugging on became bright red and started swelling. At that point, I knew something was not right and flew up the stairs with her to get my husband who was getting ready for work. He called 911 while I held her and by the time the ambulance got to our house she had hives all over her body, was wheezing, coughing and had started vomiting. It was terrifying. Thank God we didn't hesitate to seek emergency treatment immediately. She was discharged from the hospital the same day with a prescription for steroids to prevent a rebound reaction later, and I immediately set up follow appointments with our pediatrician and an allergist. She also tested positive for tree nuts and shellfish. Needless to say, we carry epinephrine injectors and Benadryl with us at all times.
I knew within a minute of her first bite that our lives would be forever changed. Yes, it is easy to get down about food allergies but I also felt this overwhelming sense of thankfulness that day. I was thankful I knew what to look for, that we sought treatment immediately, and that she recovered just fine. I was thankful that we did have some experience with food allergies before she had her reaction. I was thankful that I knew without a doubt that both my husband's family and mine would be 100% supportive in ensuring her safety and making changes in their households and habits. I was thankful that both my husband and I are well educated and have the ability and capacity to continually educate ourselves through various channels and resources about her food allergies in order to ensure her protection. I was thankful that I knew we were well equipped and ready to manage food allergies in our family. I was thankful that I also felt this would not run our lives, that while we would make her safety a priority, we would also focus on what she could do and could eat. I was thankful that my husband and I had the same approach to this - food allergies would not define our daughter - her allergies are such a small part of what an amazing, wonderful, smart, ambitious, creative, and brave little girl she is.
I can honestly say that on most days, I feel more thankful than I do scared or worried. I also feel empowered by the fact that I am involved in the food allergy community. The support I have received has helped me feel this blessed and that is something I hope to give back and provide to my daughter as she grows up in this community as well.