My son Luca was just 6 months old when he was diagnosed with food allergies and had an anaphylactic reaction. My husband and I had no experience with food allergies at the time and it has been a rollercoaster ride ever since.
Luca has been through multiple rounds of blood work, skin prick testing, and oral challenges to test for food allergies. He has confirmed allergies to peanuts, milk, eggs, and soy. We are still determining if he has others. There is a chance he will outgrow some of these allergies, but right now there is no way to tell if or when that will happen. Food allergies can cause anywhere from a mild reaction to anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening.
Being a food allergy mama is a 24/7 job.
The fear and anxiety of Luca having a reaction is always there in the back of my mind. I get nervous anytime we introduce a new food, not knowing how Luca will react. I try to be so careful with what we give him to eat, but I often worry I’ll make a mistake. Truth is, I struggle with the anxiety that comes with being a food allergy mama.
I have to always be sure to carry Luca’s Epi-pens with me. Any time he vomits or gets a rash I wonder if he’s having a reaction to something he ate, or if he’s just getting sick. Being a food allergy mama means packing lots of safe food for Luca wherever we go. We cannot rely on restaurants or a fast food drive-thru to feed him safely. We have to make sure whoever watches our son knows what he can and can’t have to eat. They need to be able to recognize an allergic reaction and be comfortable knowing how and when to use his Epi-pen.
Having a child with food allergies requires grocery trips that never seem to end. I have to read the nutrition label on the back of every single item. It means ordering different products online and visiting several specialty grocery stores to find all of Luca’s “safe” foods. We spend a lot of money on groceries and I make most of our food from scratch, which can be time-consuming.
All of Luca’s allergies are included in the Top 8 Allergens, which are mandated to be listed on nutrition labels.
What they do not have to label for, however, is cross-contamination. It is completely voluntary for companies to label whether or not their products could contain “traces” of other food due to the way they process their products.
These loose labeling requirements make it difficult to feel 100% safe about giving my son any sort of packaged food. A lot of times I end up calling or emailing companies to inquire about their products, facility, and cleaning procedures. This has made me all the more grateful to our go-to brands and the companies that put in extra time and money to ensure that the allergy community has safe foods to eat.
Nobody tells you how having a child with food allergies will affect your relationship with food.
I used to love trying new foods when traveling, eating out on the weekends, and entertaining friends and family at our house. All of this becomes harder when you have a child with food allergies. I often feel guilty eating foods Luca cannot have. I wonder how I will ever feel comfortable with him eating food at a restaurant, prepared by someone I don’t know or trust. I feel anxious going to parties where food is served, afraid that Luca will get into something that will send us to the emergency room.
It hurts my heart when I think of some of the challenges my son may have to face as he gets older, due to his food allergies.
We will have to learn how to navigate school lunches, field trips, and birthday parties. Will Luca feel left out of school parties because he can’t eat the treats his classmates bring in? Will I ever get to take him out for ice cream after a baseball game? I worry often about the possibility of Luca not outgrowing his allergies and how it will affect his future.
On my worst days, I want to hole up in my bed and have a good cry about how unfair this all is. I dread taking Luca for allergy testing, terrified that he will have a severe reaction. There are days when I’m just plain sick and tired of having to cook all the time and read nutrition labels and worry about every little bite of food. I worry about how we will handle all of this as Luca gets older. Right now he’s still little. He doesn’t realize he can’t eat what everyone else is eating. But when he’s older, how will I explain this to him? How can I protect him from feeling excluded?
On my worst days, it’s hard. It’s hard being a food allergy mama. But on my best days? On my best days, I feel proud.
I’m proud of how far my family and myself have come in a year. I have learned so much about food allergies and how to navigate this allergy world. I’ve spent many hours researching safe products that Luca can eat. And when I can’t find a food I feel comfortable giving him, I find a way to make it myself. I have had to learn how to keep my son safe in a world that revolves around food that could make him very sick.
This experience has made me a stronger mother and a better advocate for my son.
I am starting to understand how important inclusivity is. I hope to raise my son to be empathetic and kind to everyone. Even with the challenges we have encountered due to Luca’s allergies, we are so lucky. Our family members and friends that have taken an interest in Luca’s allergies, asking questions, and making accommodations for our son, means more than I can say.
Luca is happy, healthy, silly, and sweet. He has the BEST laugh I’ve ever heard. The world instantly became a brighter place when he entered it one and a half years ago. His food allergies are only one tiny part of him… just one tiny part of an amazing little human.
There seems to be a lot of promising research on the horizon. I’m hopeful that one day this will be something that no parent or child has to go through. But until that day, I will push myself to be the best advocate and food allergy mama I can be. I will continue making the homemade banana pancakes and the watermelon popsicles. I will continue to research different products to find us more safe snacks. I will continue keeping track of allergist appointments and Epi-pen expirations. I will teach my son that everyone goes through hard things, and right now this is our hard thing. I will continue to figure out how to live this food allergy mama life, one day at a time.