Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The lighter side of being an allergy mum: 10 things I now know


 I've been an 'allergy mum' for a little over 2 years, and in that time we've dealt with what feels like so much. However - and no one prepares you for this - it just keeps coming. Things to learn, to teach Harry to manage himself (and that's a whole post in itself), new allergens, attitudes of others - be they people who mean well, or people who just don't get it. And I don't think at that appointment on the 25th November 2014 I really understood that. It was such a relief to have a diagnosis that didn't involve me being a rubbish mum that it didn't cross my mind that this was something that was going to continue growing far, far beyond excluding dairy and soya from my diet. That sounds terrible doesn't it? But aside from supporting Guides with food allergies (which I always took seriously - but, as we oh so often joke, I get to give them back at 8.30pm) I had really had no idea of the road we were heading down.

Anyway, I thought today I'd post a slightly tongue in cheek view of what we've encountered and learned thus far...

1. Cutlery, crockery, glassware, sippy cups - HOW many do you go through? I've always been hot on food hygiene, but me and potential cross contamination are not friends. Everything gets washed in the dishwasher on the hot setting. Chopping boards, knives, wooden spoons and spatulas all head that way if I'm in the least bit unsure. Whilst most of what we have in the house is safe - M and I do have dairy ourselves, more often than not, when Harry's not around. With the exception of milk in tea that is, no alternative milk has ever managed to make a proper cuppa.

2. There is nothing more likely to have me demonstrate my (non existent) athleticism, hurdling chairs and toys at playgroup in a bid to remove a stray biscuit from Harry's line of sight. Not a drop of grace is present in any of my limbs as I fling myself between Harry and the offending objects. And while we're talking about that...

3. Food in soft play, playgrounds etc. How often I want to be wildly unreasonable, and remove biscuits, chocolate, pretty much anything gripped in another toddler's sweaty paws before they're allowed to smear or spread said item around the play area. I know it's unreasonable, I do, I really do. But sometimes it would be nice to just be able to relax a bit.

4. It's not just nut allergies! From our standpoint - schools, nurseries, playgroups etc... all 'get' nut allergies. Which is awesome. If you have a nut allergy. We don't. Add to which a non-instant, reaction and I feel a bit like my explanations are falling on deaf ears.

5. People don't always have just one one food allergy. Lady in the cafe it's great that you can cater for someone who has either a dairy, egg, soya, strawberry or sesame allergy. But we have them all, and you can't do that. Which is fine, but then let me give my son his packed lunch.

6. And while we're at it a gluten free option is fabulous - it's not the same as a dairy free one! Which is also not the same as a lactose free one, although I'll let you have that as they're so similar.

 7. There are some fabulous sources of calcium that aren't dairy based - but sardines and kale aren't up on Harry's favourite food lists - of course they aren't, why would they be?! So I spend hours on the internet, with recipe books, and pottering around in the kitchen trying to find palatable ways of hiding foods that will help him. It's not that he's a particularly fussy eater - he's just a toddler and if the day has a y in it, he'll find something different that's not being eaten today, despite being last week's food of choice. Peas, I'm looking at you.

8. The trials of allergy testing - in our PCT, until the age of 3, allergies are tested via so called 'Challenges' - you either try your child on something with a small amount of said allergen in, and build up to foods with greater quantities of that allergen. Basically, as a mother, I get to potentially give my child a food I spend most of the rest of my time avoiding for him, in order to challenge his allergy. There is little I enjoy less.

9. And I know I'm going to alienate a HUGE amount of people here, but some of those food writers- you know the ones, heavy on the use of buzzwords like wellness, clean eating, healthful and nourishing - who talk about intolerances because dairy makes them a bit bloated, or gluten is acidic, or sugar the devil... whatever the current default is. Those people make life SO hard for anyone with an actual food allergy by making them seem faddy and in turn making others take them less seriously. As soon as you see the heavenwards glance, the unsubtle eye roll, the sigh of despair when asking if there's soya in bread, it's time to leave. Because whilst you know it'll give your toddler eczema that bleeds through his pyjamas, projectile vomiting and nappies like something out of The Exorcist - that's not what people think of any more. And I know that some people have found a more balanced lifestyle following that kind of eating, but for us and so many families like us food allergies aren't about posting heavily edited photos of us doing headstands in the golden morning light. It's so that we don't see our child writhing in pain, we don't watch them come up in the hives that we're told can precede anaphylaxis, we don't want to have to prop their cot up so that the burning acid reflux stays in their tummy.

Well that one wasn't so lighthearted was it. Oops.

10. And the combination of pride, sadness and confidence when your toddler can say no to a biscuit because it might make him "poorly" or tells a friend he can't have "sova, mik, 'trawberries,egg" For me, that moment was at once heartbreaking and reassuring. And he can also now tell you that if Mummy gets bitten by a bee she needs her epi-pen.

And much like my post on 10 things I've learned in 21 months of breastfeeding, I couldn't just leave this at 10...

11. Having said all of the above - the utter joy at an evening on Pinterest discovering wonderful recipes (that you may or may not ever make) that are safe for your child is wonderful. The moments when you can tell that the allergen has finally left their system and finally breathe a sigh of relief. The weigh ins at the baby clinic when you're told that your tot has finally put on weight, or is finally tracking a centile line. The joy of finding a safe food or recipe that your child inhales. The relief when a mum from NCT or a playgroup leader goes out of their way to be inclusive and ensure there's a safe alternative to whatever food the other children are eating. There is a litany of small moments that as an allergy mum bring me joy, restore my faith in other people and make this whole journey we're on seem manageable, feel less isolating, and give me the confidence to keep on keeping on.

I'm adding this post to Free From Fridays this week, over at Le Coin de Mel

Le Coin de Mel


36 comments:

theurbanrealist said...

I have a few food allergies myself (ginger, almonds, and dairy), so I can somewhat relate to how exhausting it can be. It is always comforting to know you're not alone and that there are people and recipes that offer different alternatives.

Jodie Whitham said...

Lucky that i'm not allergic to anything, but have very sensitive skin x

Sarah-Louise Bailey said...

The sheer amount of work and research you must do in order to make sure that your child is safe from his allergens is exhausting. It's good that you can see some of the lighter side, but I really do commend you for all that you have done and continue to do for your son x

Hannah Latoya Bond said...

I don't really have any allergies, it must be quite exhausting to try and find products that are suitable x

ana de jesus said...

I don't have allergies per say food wise but too much dairy/ spice/ oil/fat/ cream ect really irritates my stomach and makes my acid reflux play up. That being said I am allergic to caffeine but being allergic to dairy/gluten and more must be difficult!

Candice Nikeia said...

I have nannied for children with extreme allergies and it isn't easy keeping track so I commend you!

Jemma @ Celery and Cupcakes said...

I can't imagine what it's like having a child with severe allergies. You handle it so well.

Stephanie Merry said...

I can't imagine how tough it can be trying to find healthy foods for your child - but it sounds like you're doing a fab job! x

Agata Pokutycka said...

I don't have any food allergies myself so I can only try to imagine how hard this must be at times :-(

Lianne Thebrunettesays said...

It must be very difficult! I guess we take for granted being able to eat what we want!

Melanies Fab Finds said...

I am lucky as I don't have any allergies but I still wash everything I can in the dishwasher. It must be a bit of a nightmare if they have that many allergies but as parents we find ways of coping and finding alternatives they can eat..

Tanya Brannan said...

I don't suffer with food allergies and I can honestly say I had never thought about what it must be like with a small child with one. I am totally awed by your commitment and dedication, clearly your little one is thriving under your loving care x

Rachel Simpson said...

I don't have any food allergies but i can imagine it's very difficult. xo

Caffeinated Reactions said...

I can imagine how infuriating having to explain 'allergies' to people all the time. There needs to be more awareness about more than just nuts

Penelope's Pantry said...

Absolutely, support and information are the key to coping. Once you find your feet it's easier, aside from the constant vigilance!

Penelope's Pantry said...

Sensitive skin does have its own challenges though.

Penelope's Pantry said...

Thank you, I think it was hardest when breastfeeding and we both had to be free of his allergens. But each day brings its own challenge and you have to face it head on!

Penelope's Pantry said...

It is, to a certain extent it's easier for us because we don't really that heavily on processed foods, but then any safe product can change their ingredients to include an allergen at a moment's notice. So you're always in the watch

Penelope's Pantry said...

Oddly enough, reflux was the first of Harry's reactions - I know how much pain it caused him so you have my sympathy. Caffeine as an allergen must be terrifically hard to avoid

Penelope's Pantry said...

Thank you, it's hard work but seeing him grow and develop is reward in itself

Penelope's Pantry said...

Thanks Jemma, I have my days, but much of the time the focus is on keeping going.

Penelope's Pantry said...

Thanks Stephanie, healthy foods are tricky because lots of substitutes are packed with salt!

Penelope's Pantry said...

It is, but ultimately it's something you learn to live with.

Penelope's Pantry said...

We do! It was only when I was allergen free because of breastfeeding that I got a true picture off just how hard it really was

Laura Ferry said...

My friend is mother to a little girl who has severe lactose, dairy, gluten, wheat and yeast allergies and its awful as her little girl cant join in as much with the other kids and shes always on tenter hooks worrying what other people may give her daughter xxx

Penelope's Pantry said...

That's it, you have to find ways around it, ways of normalising their life (whilst running everything through the dishwasher at 75*C!

Penelope's Pantry said...

Thanks Tanya, that's really kind. To be honest I'd never thought about it myself prior to Harry's diagnosis.

Penelope's Pantry said...

It really is Rachel, thanks

Penelope's Pantry said...

Exactly this, I think it's great people are aware of and sensitive to nut allergies, but there are many, many more to be both aware and supportive of

Penelope's Pantry said...

It's exactly that Laura, the permanent tenterhooks feeling and not ever just stepping back. Two year olds don't understand that someone else's snack could be different from theirs, and it's stressful.

Baby Isabella said...

We don't have any food allergies so can't imagine how hard this must be for you guys x it must be exhausting having to proof items and locations x

The London Mum said...

It would drive me mad if I went somewhere with my child and they said I couldn't give him a pack lunch. The hassle you as a parent and the worry you must go through. It's not even about whether they can supply him the food or not, it's taking the risk of your child starving because if the place didn't supply the food what are you meant to do?!

Rhian Westbury said...

It must be so hard trying to explain to people what your little one can and can't eat. x

rachael phillips said...

its not easy having allergies, especially as a child but looks like you've got it sussed!! oxoxo

Le Coin de Mel said...

This is such a brilliant post, Penny. I can relate to absolutely everything you've written here... The relief at getting a diagnosis, with hindsight, is quite laughable, isn't it? It's like taking a quick breath and going back in apnea as you try to make sense of it all. I also put everything in the dishwasher and playdates are quite something because everyone has to eat AT THE TABLE and not drop crumbs, just in case (yes, the handheld hoover does come out every time). At playgroup, they just don't get it and all the kids walking around with a biscuit at "biscuit time" used to drive me insane when Jumpy was just crawling. She's now 4 so no problems at all, although the old ladies running the playgroup still offer her a biscuit ("No thank you!") every week. They have known her since she was 1 week old and have seen us go through the whole palaver of severe eczema, reactions, projectile vomiting and diagnosis... oh well. Anyhoo... Loved your post and thanks for joining in with #FreeFromFridays. xxx

Angie said...

Hi Penelope. I could have written absolutely everything in your post. My little guy has 10+ food allergies, 17 in total. It’s good to know that there is someone in exactly the same boat as it makes our allergy journey less lonely. Not many people get it. We have a mutual friend, by the way. The lovely Shauna :-) xx

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