Belonging...it's a basic human need. But sometimes, being a part of a group can be lonely.
Six years ago my daughter was drafted into one I had no intention of her joining -- nobody does.
The group I'm referring to is comprised of more than six million kids in the U.S. and is growing at an alarming rate...
Natalie's entry into it began innocent enough. As a newborn she was plagued with reflux and eczema, but by the time she was eight months old, her skin condition only worsened. I left her first visit to the dermatologist armed with prescriptions for an epi-pen, three different skin creams, an oral medication and the knowledge that there are three types of eczema and my poor baby had features of all of them! We were counseled by our pediatrician to have her tested for food allergies because although at this point she was strictly breastfed, soon she would be introduced to solid foods and based on her skin sensitivities, was probably affected. Unfortunately, testing on infants can be unreliable which is why both blood and skin testing is recommended to rule out false positives. Eight foods account for 90% of all food reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish -- with peanut allergies ranking #1.
With the blood test, she showed to be allergic to wheat, egg, peanut and tree nut.
What the heck would I feed her?
What the heck would I feed Noah? That kid was already such a picky eater, but there were two foods I could always count on him to eat...peanut butter sandwiches and cheesy eggs.
Was this a joke?
With the skin test, she was negative for wheat, but her reactions for eggs, peanuts and tree nuts remained high. I breathed a sigh of gratitude for not having a wheat allergy and we rid our home of nuts. Noah transitioned pretty easily to sunflower butter with the understanding that peanuts were dangerous for his baby sister. In fact, from that day forward, he made sure that anyone with food in their hands, knew of his sisters' allergies.
He has always taken his role as big brother seriously...and for that I am grateful.
But, knowing what your child is allergic to is only the beginning...the real struggle lies in educating others outside your group to not only understand the necessity of reading food labels, but to have empathy and compassion. Kids don't ask to be set apart, but oftentimes they are forced to be left out of celebrations because the foods being served are not safe for them to eat.
For instance, holidays like Halloween, Valentine's Day and Easter are often centered around candy and sweet treats. This can be a nightmare for kids with food allergies. If you are a school room parent, may I suggest a "no food just fun" event centered around games, stories and crafts. Or, if you must have sweets, check out these lists of allergy free candies. I know it's a pain and an added step - just do it and count yourself lucky that you don't have to carry an epi-pen or worry about things like "cross contamination".
I have a friend whose daughter's food allergies are so severe that she often has to leave her classroom when a birthday is being celebrated because the party fare is unsafe for her to be near.
Besides being scary...having a food allergy can wreck havoc on your wallet. Oftentimes "allergy free" or "allergy safe" products cost more. Imagine the money you would spend trying to provide your child with an "allergy safe" cupcake that looked similar to the ones being served at a classroom holiday party? I have a friend who does just that. Prior to each and every school party, she contacts the room parent in charge of treats to find out the type of cupcake being ordered then she calls up an allergy free bakery and places an order for three (that's the minimum) similar-looking treats.
Talk about a pain in your pocket-book.
The other day Natalie and I spent five hours in the allergist's office to find out once and for all if she had truly outgrown her allergies. While her blood work came up negative for all three allergens, when it comes to peanuts, an oral challenge is still required. We were told that although her chances were very good, some kids who show to be negative with the blood test, still require an epi during the oral challenge. Every 15 minutes Natalie was given a slightly larger amount of peanut butter. She hated the taste, but in the end we learned definitively that she no longer has an allergy to peanuts.
I left the office feeling happy for her and for me...we were finally able to get out of our "contract", but I couldn't help feeling a little sad for those who will always hold a lifetime membership.