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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Confidence Building for My Food Allergic Child

My middle child was diagnosed with food allergies when she was almost 4 months old. She was tested for many things because of this unbelievable rash that literally covered her from head to toe. It was the rash on her head that was particularly gruesome--her scalp was just a yellow oozing mess. Turns out after many painful tests--physical for my little one and emotional for me--we found out not only did my daughter have this infantile immune deficiency, which was causing the infection on her head to spread, but she was also allergic to peanuts, dairy and dairy proteins, egg protein and shellfish. And she never ate any of these things. I did. Oh yes, my precious little one who caused people to quickly avert their eyes in horror because of the viscous mass of yellow on her sweet head, was allergic to the very food I ate, which showed up in the breastmilk. How's that for cross contamination?

At four months old, middle child was treated with a daily dose of antibiotics for a year to improve her the immune system. Her scalp healed in a few months and her hair slowly started to grow. Every year, middle child gets these dreaded blood tests to check on her immune system and food allergies. Her immune system is steadily improving but we still need to start aggressive treatment whenever she is getting a cold. For some reason, her delicate skin starts flaring up and her small lungs get globs of junk in them, making her struggle for every precious breath. It's funny, as difficult as this is, sometimes it's not as hard as dealing with the food allergies. Because with every cold that turns into bronchiolitis or pneumonia, I know things will soon pass within a week or two. With the food allergies, there is no break. Not one.

You'd think after six years, I'd have this food allergy thing down pat. And for the most part I have. I've found ways to manage food in the household, go to grocery stores and restaurants, deal with parents and schools, survive kid's birthday parties and find support from family. And make it a point to stay extra vigilant. For me, the thing that is sometimes hard to deal with is the emotional aspect of the food allergies and the overwhelming isolation that comes from helplessness and solitary confinement.

This feeling immobilizes me at times, so over the past few years, it was incredibly important for me to make sure my daughter has plenty of self-esteem, confidence and strength to deal with food allergies before she started school. All. Because. I don't want her to be the kid who is taunted and perhaps even threatened with some food allergic item. I don't want her to be a kid who will eat whatever someone gives her because she doesn't want to say no to an adult or is afraid of being teased. Or be labelled as "because of that food allergic kid we can't..." Or act like a victim and whine about why she can't eat something. And I certainly don't want my daughter to feel bad about herself because she is different.

I want my child to know and understand her food allergies, food choices and reactions. I want her to know she is powerful and accountable for her body and health. My child needs to know that sometimes despite the best of intentions, people don't always have her best interest at heart. And know how to deal with friends and adults when they ask or complain about food allergies. Because of this, she needs to be confident enough to say no and to question an adult.

I want my child to experience wonderful friendships free from the clutter of food allergies. I want my daughter to have the confidence and self-esteem to know that food allergies do not define her and limit her. And celebrate her uniqueness and strength within her to fluff off whatever is thrown her way.

She needs this incredible confidence, this heady self-esteem, this glowing sense of empowerment, because I won't be with her all the time. It was so easy when she was little. So, so easy. I was her advocate and able to either prevent or deal with allergic reactions. Now it's another story. Middle child is in school and I now have to trust others will cooperate to keep my child safe. To ensure this, I have an extra special secret weapon. My delightful child. With her sassy can do attitude, her quick charming wit, fierce stare down, and uncanny ability to grill an adult about food ingredients until he/she sweats, I know my child is well prepared to take charge of her food allergies with agility and style. Now that's what I'm talking about.


Callipygia said...

It sounds like both you and she are living your lives with as much wide open interest, voice and vulnerability as possible & that sounds like a hard balance to find. Knowing that plucky little girl, I suspect she is impacting "it" more than "it" is controlling her.

HipWriterMama said...

You're absolutely right Callipygia. She's not gonna let anything get in her way. And that's the way it should be.

Allergic Girl said...

awesome, inspiring post!

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

My daughter has reactions to citrus and apple-juice, but it's nothing compared with her good friend's reactions to peanuts. The first time he was exposed to peanuts it was when his mother ate a pbj sandwich and kissed him on the cheek. He broke out in hives. The second time, he accidentally ingested some peanuts in a snack bar, and the parents had to call 9-1-1. I got a bit grouchy when I read someone's blog rant recently about children being "overprotected" by signs in schools proclaiming peanut-free zones. I guess it's hard to take something seriously when you've not had personal experience with it, but still... the adage "One person's meat is another person's poison" can be quite literal.

HipWriterMama said...

Allergic Girl,
Thanks for stopping by. Great blog!

Alkelda the Gleeful,
Oh I love your name...it just makes me smile! It is hard to find balance to keep a loved one safe when you know other people get mad about having to adjust their food choices. These food allergies are scary. Thanks for understanding.

acscoggins said...

Someone just sent me the link to your blog, and I love this post. My son is severely allergic to dairy, eggs and peanuts. He is 5 years old and will be going to kindergarten next year. I agree with you that it's important to arm our children with the strength and ability to question others and to not be ashamed about their allergies. My son is very vigilant about what he eats. He has had a few incidents that required the epipen and a call to 911. He does not want that to happen again. I just hope he outgrows these allergies someday. Good luck to you and your daughter. Let's hope our kids can eat whatever they want someday. Until then, let's help them have happy, fulfilling lives despite the challenges of food allergies.

Anonymous said...

My dd has multiple life threatening food allergies all top 8 + more.

She's completing her first week of Middle School.

It's amazing how we've come this far. She is let out for lunch and can walk around the nabe - which she does. She gets a safe popcicle from the ice cream truck.

She takes the city bus to school. She's loving it.

Now that she's older is much easier to safeguard her privacy. She's learned not to share too much about her FAs with people; and only her BFFs know the extent of her FAs.

In other words - it's so possible to bring these children up in a way that empowers them.

Funny; for the first time this week I didn't worry about food - I worried more about how she would do crossing the street alone.

Thanks for this blog. And best of luck to all.

H.B. & P 9/97