As mothers we’re often put into boxes based on our lifestyles and personalities – stay-at-home mum, working mum, sporty mum, crafty mum, helicopter mum, laid-back mum, I could go on. The other day I wondered which category I fit into and the answer is obvious. I would be placed in the small, but rapidly expanding category of ‘allergy mum’.
If you’d asked me about life with food allergies seven years ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue.
I lived a relatively carefree life. I knew peanuts could be dangerous for some people but that didn’t impact me directly. I had the freedom to eat any food I desired whenever I wanted. My biggest challenge was deciding whether I felt like Japanese or Vietnamese.
When Charlie was born, everything changed.
From as early as I can remember, Charlie’s beautiful skin was affected by eczema and he cried relentlessly. I was told it was normal for newborns and he’d grow out of it. I trusted the advice of the professionals and reminded myself that raising a baby was a big learning curve. I just had to solider on and trust that things would get better.
It started with just a spoonful of yoghurt.
Charlie loved food. From four months old, he enjoyed trying every new solid food we introduced. Then, at around six months old, I tried to give him a spoonful of yoghurt. Instead of opening his mouth wide like he usually did, he pressed his lips together and shook his head.
I tried a different fruit flavoured yoghurt and got the same response, so I dabbed a tiny amount of yoghurt on his lip thinking that once he tasted it, he’d change his mind.
Within minutes his little face broke out in hives.
I’m so thankful that my baby boy came with a sixth sense about which foods are dangerous for him. I hate to think what would’ve happened if he’d eaten a full spoon of yoghurt that day.
I was told that Charlie might be allergic to dairy, so I looked up ‘dairy allergy’ to understand what this meant. I was relieved to discover that dairy was a common food allergy in infants and most children outgrow the cow’s milk allergy by three to five years old.
Great! He’ll grow out of it, I thought. But I was wrong.
Three months after ‘Yoghurtgate’, we had an appointment with an allergist who performed a skin prick test on Charlie’s back. Not only did it confirm his dairy allergy, it showed probable allergies to egg, peanuts and tree nuts as well as borderline possible allergies to sesame and soy.
Suddenly, I was an allergy mum. And the burden was heavy.
No one wants to be an allergy mum. It’s a role we’re forced to take on with zero training, qualifications or prior experience. It’s also a role that doesn’t allow for any downtime – there’s no annual leave, sick days or weekend breaks. Most often this role is thrust upon us at a time when we are most vulnerable – caring for a new baby and navigating all the challenges that come with that (hello sleep deprivation, conflicting advice and poonamis).
While it’s hard, really hard, being an allergy mum has taught me a lot about myself.
I’ve discovered that my personality and my past experiences have made me more suited to this role than I first thought. Because as an allergy mum, you need to be:
- A fighter: You have to fight for your child’s safety every day and never give up. That includes fighting battles you wish you didn’t have to fight.
- An advocate: You have to tirelessly advocate for not only your family, but every family affected by food allergies.
- An educator: You have to continually educate those around you about food allergies when you’d much rather be talking about something else.
- A researcher: You have to stay on top of the latest research and keep talking to leaders in the field.
- An OH&S expert: You have to continually be on the lookout for hazards and risks on order to keep your child safe.
Most importantly you have to learn to forgive many people, including yourself, along the way.
I’ve accepted that being an allergy mum is a lifelong role for me.
Charlie is seven now. He’s still allergic to dairy, egg, peanuts, cashew, pistachio, walnut, pecan and hazelnut but he outgrew a new allergy to mustard seed a year ago. I hope one day Charlie either outgrows all his allergies or a cure is discovered. Until then, I’ll focus on making the world a safer place for Charlie and all the allergy kids out there. With the strength of the beautiful allergy community behind me, I’ll strive to be the best allergy mum I can be.
I’d love to hear about your experience as an allergy mum – When did you join the club? What have you learned from the experience? Please share your thoughts or reflections in the comments.