Sunday, November 18, 2007

5 ways to deal when you find out that your child has a major food allergy

Our world changed when Andrew was officially diagnosed with major food allergies, two years ago.

We already knew that he reacted to some foods with hives and vomiting, but we were able to sustain a certain amount of denial, and hope that he would outgrow the reactions — or that they weren't really reactions, that it was all in our minds. (He was 8 months old when he vomited and got hives from yogurt — he was our first kid, and we were able to continue in denial for quite a long time. I even kept on feeding him tastes of dairy every month, to see if he'd outgrown it yet. Yes, I was that stupid and uninformed.)

He was two when I finally got him to the allergist, and had the allergies we knew about (peanuts, dairy, cats) confirmed, and a few added (nuts, dustmites, mold, eggs). Even though the diagnosis only confirmed most of what we already knew, it was now official, and really hard to hear.

So, after a couple of years of living with Andrew's allergies, here are five tips for other parents who are dealing with this kind of news.

1. Go straight to acceptance
You will go through the stages of grief when your child gets diagnosed with a serious allergy. You can take the time to get through all the other ones, at a later date, but for the sake of your child's health, you need to go straight to acceptance, and process the rest of it later. You can't afford to hang out in denial any more. Rid your house of all of your child's allergens, and then add them in later when you start feeling more confident.

2. Get support
I've listed a lot of great allergy groups in the sidebar to this blog. Visit them all and find the ones that work for you. There are tons of amazing parents in all of the groups, but of course, each group has a slightly different dynamic. One of them will fit your parenting style the most. All of the groups are supportive, and encourage questions from new visitors. And all of the boards have extensive archives that you can look through if you're feeling too shy to post your question.

3. Get informed
I know more about allergies than my family doctor. And I know more about Andrew's allergic responses than his allergist does, since his allergist has only seen him once. I've done a ton of research, and read everything I could find. I know that egg hides in the oddest places, such as in vaccines (which is why he's not getting the flu vaccine). And I've learned the other names for his allergens — for example, "whey" and "casein" are alternate names for milk ingredients. But even I make mistakes and let him have things that make him vomit. And then I throw out that package and chalk it up as another lesson learned.

And part of getting informed is finding out what your child can safely eat. On the net, there are lots of lists like the one I made, of safe commercially-produced foods for Andrew. Make your own list of safe foods, so that you can give the list to family and friends who invite you over.

4. Learn to cook
It's healthier for you to cook your own food, so having an allergic child is almost a blessing in disguise. We've learned to make non-dairy versions of almost everything, and I know that what we eat has far fewer preservatives and chemicals than its storebought equivalent. Yes, it takes a lot longer to cook than to simply microwave or throw something in the oven, but it's better for my peace of mind.

5. Forgive yourself
You didn't give your child this allergy. It wasn't something you ate when you were pregnant, and it wasn't something you didn't eat or do when you were pregnant. Your child's allergy is not your fault. This was really hard for me. I did avoid peanuts when I was pregnant with Andrew, and he ended up with a huge peanut allergy. I also drank lots of milk, and he's allergic to that, too, so there's not much of a cause-effect pattern there. Someday, maybe he'll be the researcher who figures out why he was hit with so many allergies, but until then, all you can do is go easy on yourself, and deal with today.


Rational Jenn said...

What a great post! I, too, drove myself crazy with guilt about what I ate during pregnancy--I had major peanut butter cravings the whole time. It took a long time to get over and accept that this is what it is and it's nobody's fault.

purplemommy said...

Great advice. I could have used it when I found out about my own son's allergies.

allergicmom said...

Thanks, Jenn. I totally blamed myself, too, and now the research from the UK is saying that the advice to avoid peanuts in pregnancy may be linked to the increase in peanut allergies in British kids. Obviously, this is a complete no-win situation.

RighterLady said...

This is wonderful advice. Not just for parents either. Thanks!

All Adither said...

These are great tips. I too, was/am plagued with the guilt. I can't totally let it go. But it helps hearing that you avoided PB and your son still got the allergy. I ate a ton of it and Max got hit hard. His CAP RAST is over 100. I do think he has been allergy prone since conception anyway. But still...

Thanks for blogging about this.

Leslie Shelor said...

I don't think allergies are the fault of the parents, of course, but it does seem that more children are affected than used to be when I was a kid. Do we just know more now, or is our environment so messed up it's showing in children?

nomad mama said...

I am so happy that I stumbled upon your blog. As a mom of an 18 month old with allergies to eggs, peanuts, treenuts, fish, shellfish and soy, I am grateful for all the information you provide here. I'll be visiting back often. Take care :)

The Photographer's Wife said...

I'm working on a book on this topic. The first chapter is on acceptance. I'd love to talk to you, include some of your acquired wisdom!