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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How My Children's Allergies Have Made Me a Better Mom

I had NO food allergies growing up. My spouse had a few. Sure, I suffered from occasional seasonal allergies. My greatest challenge was remembering that the shiny, green leaves were poison ivy NOT a pretty decorative addition for my flower display. Yes, this was my biggest seasonal obstacle as a child.

Up until 8 years ago, I didn’t know the difference between being lactose intolerant and milk allergic. Sugars versus proteins? I had NO clue. Gluten versus wheat? I couldn’t tell you anything about it.

Food Allergy Kids LOVING life

Then came along children. My six month old infant’s first real food was dairy based yogurt. She enjoyed this new delight by gobbling it up and smearing it all over her face. And then we wiped it off. Hives everywhere. Our parenthood journey was instantly transformed. Turns out our children would have more of their dad’s genes than mine.

Our pediatricians have always been empathetic to the fact of us having to deal with food allergies. Our allergists have been compassionate as she/he confirmed each allergy as it came along, and what our plan of action needed to be. Our nutritionist gave us a list of nutritional alternatives and books that may be helpful. Then, we were on our own.

I have had a few struggles to navigate along the way.

Frustration and a bit of anger. I have needed to rely more on my abilities and knowledge as a cook and label reader. My cooking skills already needed improvement and I wasn’t sure I could rise to the occasion. The list of ingredients to avoid has at times changed and seemed unmanageable. Milk, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, avocados, bananas, kiwi, mango. Then add in the medicinal and seasonal additions – can’t these kids get a break? Eating out? Buying pre-packaged goods? Travel? Never again, was my original reaction.

Fear. Where do I begin with that one? Fear that I would make a mistake and give them something they shouldn’t have and make them sick. Fear that my children would do the same thing. Fear of letting them go off to school and trusting others to care for them. Fear that their peers would taunt or tempt them because their dietary needs were different. And the greatest fear: that someone wouldn’t be there who knew what to do with that epi-pen in an emergency situation.

Information. I needed more and didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t know where to shop, what to shop for, what my resources were and where to go for support. It was the need to better protect my children that drove my passion to learn more. I have embraced the challenges thrown our way and turned them into incredible learning and teaching tools for all of our family.

EDUCATION. Be pro-active in educating yourself, your children, your family and anyone or group in your community who is willing to listen. Being knowledgeable, approachable and non-threatening will open up many opportunities. Go to FAAN, local allergy support groups, or web based resources for help and ideas.

There have been some wonderful discoveries. I am a decent cook and baker. Turns out others will even pay me to bake for them. We CAN eat out. We DO HAVE a list of favorite pre-packaged foods that make having lunch and dinner easier. And OTHERS CAN BE TRUSTED to help keep my children safe. My nicest surprise? Turns out my children’s classmates are their strongest advocates. Due to yearly Allergy Awareness classes I have presented, their peers are often more aware of my children’s allergies than are their teachers.

I am a more compassionate person and very engaged mother because of my children. Their challenges have provided me with a focus and passion in life which I never imagined existed.

I challenge you to go out and make a difference for your children, even if it’s only one person at a time!

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