The journey of an allergy mum is an emotional roller coaster as much as it is a steep learning curve.
When my son Johnny repeatedly broke out in rashes and hives as a small baby, I didn’t think he had allergies. Through bad advice and my own ignorance, I thought he was just suffering from heat rash or intolerance to chlorine at swim lessons or even just that I needed to simply switch my washing powder. When he broke out in severe eczema, I still didn’t put it together that he had food allergies. It was always someone else’s kid that had food allergies, it was always someone else’s life, until it suddenly became mine.
Since my wonderful general practitioner suggested I follow an elimination diet to ease the eczema whilst breastfeeding, my role as a mother to a child with food allergies has really changed who I am. My son is allergic to egg and dairy and also anaphylactic to nuts. I take this seriously as food is life and death to my child, but to others without allergies, food is simply a normal part of their day. Until he is able to make his own decisions, I am his biggest advocate and I have learned that I am responsible for managing his allergies, even when he is away at Grandpa’s house, even when he is at playgroup, even when I am not there. I take the precautions needed to ensure his safety and never blame anyone else for slip-ups, as I must stay humble in the fact that I was incredibly ignorant myself not that long ago.
Babies under one can give false negatives when being tested for allergies and because breastmilk is best for babies’ immune systems and gut flora, it is ideal to breastfeed an allergy baby. Unfortunately that meant playing a guessing game trying to pinpoint which allergies Johnny actually had.
That’s where the elimination diet was really eye-opening. It excluded wheat, gluten, dairy, egg, nut, soy, corn and fish. This really opened up a whole new world to me of finding a new, real food focused way of eating. I completed a certificate in nutrition theory and the Ascia certificate in anaphylaxis training as my interest took off. Eventually, by eliminating foods and then reintroducing them, I uncovered his multiple allergies through painful trial and error.
Naturally, going down this path teaches you about the importance of good gut health. We are made up of trillions of bacteria, some good and some bad, and when we have a lack of diversity in gut flora (candida, I’m looking at you!), it can cause leaky gut. I consulted with a leading naturopath/nutritionist for guidance on achieving gut health to heal eczema. She suggested supplementing specific micronutrients in his diet and eliminating chemical toxins, such as bath products and cleaning products, in order to heal the gut and clear Johnny’s eczema. He is now eczema free.
But I’ll never forget the first time Johnny had a huge reaction at around 22 months old. He had been tolerating almonds and peanuts without an issue, so I assumed there was no nut allergy. He happily munched away on a bag of cashew nuts, even saying, “Yum, this is yummy,” and innocently asking for more. He immediately started scratching his neck after eating them but due to his eczema background scratching wasn’t out of the ordinary. One hour later, I saw huge welt-like hives spreading up from the top of his favourite dinosaur t-shirt. I gasped and lifted his shirt to find him absolutely covered in these giant hives. As he had had hives from dairy and eggs before, I gave him his prescribed antihistamine and waited for the hives to subside. Except, they didn’t go away. This time, they got worse, angrier, red and rapidly covered his body. He started wheezing, which is when all the alarm bells started ringing in my head. Anaphylaxis affects the respiratory and/or cardiovascular systems.
My husband arrived home from work at this very moment to find our second child, Daisy, alone screaming in her bassinet, our toddler arching his back, twisting and crying in my arms and me on the phone asking for an ambulance. As we live on a main road in New Zealand’s largest city, I was not going to battle rush hour traffic to get to the hospital. The ambulance took what felt like forever, I requested they drive on the footpath but they laughed and thought I was joking. During this time, I thought of all the articles I’d read about the kids who didn’t make it. I kissed my son and told him I loved him just in case it was the last time. We finally arrived at the hospital and Johnny was given a shot and some steroids. We needed more and more steroids in the emergency room to keep the reaction at bay. I learned that a person experiencing anaphylaxis can react again after the initial adrenaline shot wears off, so although we now have an epipen, we’ll need to call the ambulance any time Johnny ingests cashew nuts and potentially other foods which are related to the cashew, such as pistachio nuts and possibly even mango or lychee.
So much of having allergies and being an allergy mum is an emotional experience. I realize that I model everything to my child so how I handle his allergies is how he’ll handle his allergies. I am scared but I don’t show him that. I think it sucks and it’s not fair but I try to model being strong about it and getting on with life. I want him to take his allergies in his stride and to do that he needs to be educated so he can make the right decisions and be organized whenever food is around.
What I’ve learned from Johnny is to live in the present moment. When I think about the suffering, the multiple ambulance trips, the physical pain that my little boy has gone through in his two years of life I get really down. I clench my teeth, hold my breath and fight back tears. But when I look at Johnny following a reaction, he doesn’t care about what happened yesterday or a month ago. His actions say, “That’s old news, let’s enjoy right now. Where are the bubbles at?!” When I focus too much on the future I feel anxious, and I imagine all of these awful scenarios in my head and then worry about them. Johnny lives in the present, and all that matters is chasing fun and happiness right now, so I live there with him too.
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Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.