It Will Be Okay
Advice for a parent of a child with newly diagnosed food allergies, from a mom who's been there.
A friend referred a mom of a child newly diagnosed with food allergies to me. The mom was understandably scared and confused with the news of her child's diagnosis, and my friend thought I might be able to answer some questions about how to cope.
My heart went out to this woman, as I so clearly remember being in her shoes almost six years ago. Sitting numb in the allergist's exam room with my 12-month-old son, as the nurse propped open a portable DVD player and played an instructional video on the proper use of an epi-pen, I longed to go back just one hour when, as far as I knew, my son had no food allergies.
I wanted to hug this woman. I told her that the overwhelming fear that everything in your pantry and fridge holds the potential for sudden death for your child does pass. That it does become second nature, dealing with food allergies. You become accustomed to never taking a short trip to the grocery store because reading all the labels takes time.
I told her that she would be equally stunned by the complete disregard some people show for her child, and by the lengths that some people will go to be certain your child is safe. For every parent who tells you that it's their child's civil right to eat a peanut butter cup every day for snack, or asks what you did to give your child food allergies, or tells their child to lie about bringing a banned nut product to school or flat out doesn't believe that your child can not eat certain things and suggests you should just try and feed it to them without them knowing- for every one of these parents there are many more who will call you before their childs' birthday party because they want to be sure your child will be safe with their food choices. They will educate their own children so that at a school event your heart will swell with gratitude when a chorus of young kids sounds the alarm, "____ can't have that!" or when kindergarteners of their own volition will ask to be moved to a different table because they brought peanut butter that day. There will be parents who will make special trips to get snacks safe for your kid so that he doesn't go hungry on play dates, or so you don't have to send extra snacks with him.
You will feel more comfortable with the idea of playdates and will even get to a point where you can imagine sleepovers and sleepaway camp in your child's future. Not right away, but it will come.
I explained that educating herself and her child as well as those around her will be paramount to her child's safety and to her peace of mind. There are those living in denial of the seriousness of food allergies who refuse to carry an epi-pen, which in my opinion is one of the most dangerous and potentially deadly decisions some people make. I explained that my son is very careful because he knows what agony it is to go into anaphylaxsis and is not eager to repeat the experience.
I told her to get used to people asking why your child has food allergies, and they will ask. It's human nature to want to know the cause of disease, to avoid it themselves. I told her to get used to well meaning people offering 'cures' they read about, but to please check with her child's allergist before starting any alternative treatments.
I told her that if her child is young, as mine was at diagnosis, that they will grow up not knowing a time before their diagnosis, which is good. But, eventually, they will realize that they are different from their friends and she will have to explain that they are unique and wonderful and nothing is broken or wrong with them. I explained to her as I do to my son that kids with food allergies are for the most part, perfectly healthy kids. They just have a life-threatening, but managable, condition.