Have you ever worried that something you fed your child might kill them? Do you ever lay in bed at night trying to figure out how to keep your child safe at a playdate/birthday party/family event? Are you exhausted from constantly having to pack safe foods and explain to people, especially family, that it’s not a diet or lifestyle choice, but a life or death choice?
The constant level of anxiety and stress parents with children living food allergies have, is something very few people talk or even think about. I have been living in this state of anxiety for almost seven years, since my first son was born and diagnosed at six months. As parents we all deal with issues, but most parents, unless you are part of the 1 in 13 people with food allergies, don’t have to worry about balancing a basic life need against staying alive.
Prior to becoming a parent, I dealt with food allergies through my job as an elementary school teacher. It was always on my radar, but I never really had to deal with packing lunches, worrying about birthday parties, celebrations, or special snacks. Yet, when my son began to exhibit signs of possible food allergies I was in denial. “It’s just eczema,” was what I kept telling people. When he was finally diagnosed with multiple food allergies, I went through the seven stages of grief: shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression and loneliness, adjusting to my new reality, working through the situation with realistic solutions, and finally acceptance and hope about what life would look like from this point forward.
One of the ways I’ve managed to move fluidly between the stages of grief is through support groups, like the one I started for local food allergy moms. These moms are always there for me to talk about possible new foods, doctor visits, and managing life in general. They are also some of the only people who know how hard it is to stay sane with the incredibly high level of stress we experience. There’s a certain level of loneliness that comes with having food allergies. It’s an isolation that’s difficult to imagine. At every event, we bring our own food, usually wipe down our seating area, which most likely is not near the main event, and typically have called the host and asked so many questions we worry our child might not be invited to the next event.
When my second son was born, I immediately was worried about possible food allergies. Would he have them? Would they be the same? With the same oven, but a different recipe, my husband and I created a child with no food allergies. I felt blessed and lucky…until I realized it actually made my life harder. Now that my younger son is 2.5 years old, he eats everything, and we are constantly running behind him to wipe him and any shared surfaces. Thankfully he’s in the stage where he also idolizes his older brother and wants to eat the same thing, most of the time.