Dear New Allergy Parent,
I was once in your shoes; what seems like a lifetime ago now.
I’ll never forget my son’s first reaction, or subsequent accidental exposures. I’ve often thought, “if only I knew then what I know now.” In fact, there are a lot of things I wish I could share with my former, blissfully ignorant self. But since that whole space-time continuum thing hasn’t quite been worked out yet, would you indulge me by letting me share with you instead?
It gets easier. When we first started down this road, my son was just shy of his first birthday, which means he was mouthing everything, he understood little, he had limited ways to communicate with me what was bothering him, and I was often left scratching my head frustrated and confused as to where the mystery hives came from this time. If you’re starting down this road with a young one, I promise it does get easier. You will make it through. This is tough, but you’re tougher.
You’ll make mistakes; forgive yourself. I’ll never forget the time about three years in to this food allergy journey, when I bought the Breyer’s French Vanilla Ice Cream, which looked to me identical to the Breyer’s Natural Vanilla Ice Cream. I had gotten comfortable (read: a little label reading lazy) and I didn’t double-check the label. Zachary ate his full scoop of ice cream and promptly told me his throat tasted funny. As his body began to react, I ran to the freezer to see eggs in the ingredient list. I kicked myself for weeks, how in the world could I feed him something without double-checking the label? It didn’t help that he was at that stage in his little life where he questioned everything. So, for months I heard, “Mom, why did you get the ice cream that had eggs in it?” Kick me while I’m down, kid. The point is: you will make mistakes. You have to be able and willing to give yourself some grace and forgive yourself, otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy.
Labeling in the U.S. stinks. Here, I’d like you to refer back to my first point, “It gets easier.” The labeling law for food allergens in the U.S. leaves a lot to be desired. There is definitely a learning curve in what the label law requires, allows, and does (or does not) cover. As you make your way through this learning curve, trust me when I tell you that you will find your safe foods. Grocery shopping won’t always take you hours upon hours for the rest of your life. I pinky promise.
Your friends will astound you at how accommodating they are. You know that saying, “It takes a village”? It is so true. You’ll find your tribe and, for the most part, as you share your journey, your tribe will be amazingly supportive. As an example, I’ve had friends text me photos of foods and labels from the grocery store to make sure it was safe for my son to eat. While none of us expect this kind of accommodation, those that care for your kids as their own will step up to the plate and bring you to tears as they show their desire to protect your child.
You’ll be told you’re overreacting. Outside of the tribe mentioned above, there will be some who just don’t get it. Be assured: we know better. We know you’re trying to protect your child from a trip to the emergency room. Go ahead; be careful, stand firm, and don’t let the naysayers get to you. We’ve got your back.
You’ll amaze yourself. The research you do, the things you learn, all in effort to educate yourself, your child, and other caregivers–you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish. You will put in valuable time and huge effort, and your child will thrive because of your work. You will learn to navigate birthday parties family events, school, and and eating out. Yes, you will eat out again. That’s a lot of learning, but I know you can do it. Because I was once you.
New Allergy Parent, welcome to a world that not one of us would wish on another. That said, as you dig deep, chances are good you will find a resilience you weren’t aware of before. You may even have a new understanding of how to look beyond first impressions to see what wasn’t seen at first glance. Beyond the struggle of being new to a foreign way of living, you’ll find a deeper, softer side to yourself. One that offers a little more grace and understanding to those that maybe you didn’t understand before. You’ll benefit from learning more about yourself, your tribe, and the way our society rushes to judgment too quickly on so many levels. There’s a deeper side to being an Allergy Parent, and it’s not all that bad.