Something happens to you as a mom, when you see your child’s body shutting down right before your eyes. Something happens to you. A switch is flipped. You see your child getting pale and weak, swelling up, vomiting. You see all of the different systems in his little body freaking out, and giving up.
All of this, because he drank from the same straw as someone else. As you sit there, holding him after injecting him with epinephrine and waiting for the ambulance you just called, you pray he will pull through this one. You pray he does not become the next devastating case of a young life lost to food allergies. And you wonder how such a small detail, like drinking after someone else, can have such dire consequences.
As you wait, you are reminded again that the chances of your child outliving you have gone down significantly. You no longer have the luxury of not thinking about the mortality of your own children because every day is survival.
I am a food allergy mom.
The reality that I might someday bury my children because they had the wrong thing to eat, is a nightmare that many food allergy parents are living through as we speak. It’s my worst nightmare, and it could happen.
My seven year old lives with a myriad of life threatening food allergies. 1 in 13 kids live with food allergies today (and I have 3 of them). When I mention food allergies, most people’s first reaction is, “oh he must be allergic to peanuts.” Yes, peanut allergy is the allergy most covered in the media, but peanuts is only one of many we manage.
Egg, peanuts, tree-nuts, fish (airborne), shellfish (airborne), bean sprouts and pitted fruit have all caused my son to experience anaphylactic shock – a life threatening response to what his body has labeled as an allergen.
Managing food allergies requires incredible attention to detail, which is something that does not come naturally to me. There are so many times I have asked God WHY he gave me this to carry. Needing to be so detail oriented, with the stakes so high if (when) I mess up.
There are times when it feels like our entire life is consumed with keeping my kids safe. For example, when I take my kids anywhere public I automatically scan the crowd for sandwich bags, snacks and juice boxes. If there are too many around, we relocate. Now that my son is getting older, I occasionally point them out so he knows which spots to avoid. Honestly though, we usually wait until way after lunch to frequent the playgrounds. The anxiety of seeing most of the kids eating lunch (peanut butter, sandwiches with mayo, etc) while they play on shared equipment is too high for me to handle.
We have to check the ingredients of everything that goes in to their mouths. Everything. We have a saying, “if you can’t read it, you can’t eat it!” But not only that, we have to know manufacturing information of those items as well because if they are manufactured on shared equipment, a reaction will occur. It has happened before. I’m not talking about ‘just being itchy’. We have had an anaphylactic reaction to chicken nuggets (labeled as safe) made on shared equipment as chicken tenders that contained egg.
The fact that it was made on shared equipment was not disclosed on the packaging and by law, it does not have to be. BUT the consequences of making things on shared equipment is huge to someone with food allergies. This is why I call to check. This is why even if someone reads the ingredients on the back of the box and it “looks ok” it still may not be ok to give my children. If I don’t know the manufacturing practices of the company, and I don’t feel like calling them then and there, then the answer is no.
This is not me being overprotective. This is the normal everyday life of those who manage life-threatening food allergies. It is the same decision that hundreds of thousands of people managing food allergies would make given the same circumstance. A piece of chicken or pizza or whatever it is, is not worth the risk.
I wish people truly understood this, but it’s not something I can force anyone to see. Those who want to view me as overprotective, irritating and hovering without reason, will see me that way no matter what I say on the subject. I can’t help that and I will not compromise the safety of my children to redeem my reputation in anyone’s eyes.
I wrote this to give anyone who is interested, a glimpse in to the life of a food allergy family. I wrote this so other food allergy families may read and know that they aren’t alone. I will certainly write more on the subject, as I said before: it feels like it consumes our whole life sometimes.
Also I want to say, that God graciously answered my prayer by showing me why we have to carry this. He showed me that being constantly aware of our own mortality is a blessing, not a curse, and it enables us to remember to rely on Him and Him alone for strength to walk through this life both physically and spiritually. For that I am thankful.