Then & Now: Life with a Food Allergy Child

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Then & Now: Life with a Food Allergy ChildI didn’t really understand the extent of food allergies until my baby was diagnosed with a life threatening food allergy. 

At one point, I was that mom who didn’t quite understand why peanut butter wasn’t allowed in my child’s class if no one in the class had food allergies. I didn’t think twice when we brought certain snacks to playdates, parks, or doctor offices. I didn’t even think twice when my child tried to share food with a new friend at a park; instead I registered it as a sweet moment between two kids. Eventually, I reached the point in parenthood where I didn’t feel as embarrassed if my toddler left a few crumbs behind because toddlers are messy, right?

If you are not affected by a food allergy, you may not see anything wrong with the paragraph above. But nowadays, as a food allergy mama, everything I previously thought raises my anxiety.

Everywhere I take my toddler, who has a peanut allergy, I have to be that helicopter parent. I have to watch diligently that he doesn’t share with random kids on the playground, scout what others are eating around us, read labels, and avoid certain restaurants. Everywhere I go with him, I carry a bookbag on my back; it contains his Epipen.

Following him around at Vandergriff Park.

It is exhausting to do all the extra steps needed to protect my food allergy child, but it has become second nature to us.

When he turned one, he had an allergy test and bloodwork completed to confirm his food allergy.

It hasn’t been an easy journey for anyone in our household as peanuts have always been a staple in our home. Before we knew about my then baby’s peanut allergy, we literally consumed peanut butter almost daily. It’s been an adjustment for all of us, but especially his big sister (she’s a toddler too). It’s been another parenting challenge to teach her about her brother’s allergy in a way that she can understand. I know it will be another challenge in teaching her brother, my food allergy child.

To hold him and feel the weight of having to protect him from food, especially a food found in so many products, is overwhelming at times. But just like every other parenting challenge thrown at us, we learn to adjust and navigate these seasons of life one step at a time. 

As a parent, I knew it was my job to protect my babies from unsafe surfaces and harmful substances, and to teach them basic concepts like stacking blocks and reading books, but to protect my baby from food itself — from other people wanting to kindly share snacks, from crumbs and sandwich crusts left behind at playgrounds — I wasn’t prepared for that. Then as my baby grows, to teach him how to read labels, say no to certain food and restaurants, understand the severity of his food allergy, and how to administer an Epipen and call 911…I wasn’t prepared for that either.

If you are a food allergy parent, I’m sure those thoughts have crossed your mind too. We spend countless hours researching, planning, and then scanning rooms to make sure our little ones will be okay. Like all other walks of parenting, we need support, respite, and encouragement when it comes to our child’s food allergies, so be sure to surround yourself with a strong village.

I believe this mama said it perfectly in her letter of gratitude to her own village. I am so thankful for mine — the ones who have encouraged us and gone out of their way to make life easier for us. Our friends and family make sure they don’t have peanut butter foods at get-togethers and choose not to bring pb sandwiches or crackers to park playdates. We are so grateful for you.

If you are a parent to a child with a food allergy, I encourage you to check out FARE’s website and join a Facebook food allergy support group. The Facebook support group is a place to cheer each other on and lean on each other. It’s been incredibly encouraging to see how other parents navigate their child’s food allergy in different situations, as well as to listen to other parents’ worries, share food allergy recipes and substitutes, and celebrate the day their child tests out of his/her food allergies. 

If you need help finding an allergist, check out our Guide to Chattanooga’s Allergists.