What food will be there? Will they take the food allergies seriously? Does this have nuts in it? Wait, why is this label different than last time?
Is the staff at kids camp trained on epis? Will this restaurant be able to accommodate us?
Our neighbors invited us over for a BBQ, how can I figure out how to make this safe?
How do we travel with food allergies? What did we just step in? Did we just walk through pistachio shells? I hope no one is eating on the playground today.
Is this medicine safe? What about this toothpaste? Sunscreen? Seriously, I have to check the label for shampoo?
Did he throw up because of food allergies or a stomach bug? How am I going to do a birthday cake? Do I have the epis?
Shoot, are those hives? Are the hives from food allergies or something else?
I Didn’t Understand
If you’re like me, you’ve asked at least one, if not all, of these questions about the allergens you are managing for your sweet kiddo(s).
Before I was a food allergy mom, I didn’t know how much food allergies impact daily living. I had never paid attention to labels before, never thought twice about eating out, going to social gatherings, and had really never before asked any of the above questions.
I truly didn’t know.
And now, the answers to those questions can have life or death implications for the two people I love more than anything in this world. The two people that I love more than words can say.
It’s emotional, overwhelming, and at times down right terrifying.
This week, we had what our family calls a “food allergy scare.” My daughter woke up one morning and happily sat and played with her brother while I, barely awake, began to brew the coffee.
My eyes zeroed in on a red spot on my daughters arm. I went to check and saw that she had a few hives. I then saw her scratch her belly. When I lifted up her shirt, to my horror, I saw a band of hives around her tummy.
A quick check of her legs and I found a few more hives.
My stomach dropped.
What in the world was going on? We had both barely been awake for 15 minutes. She hadn’t even eaten anything since dinner the night before.
My daughter is okay. We managed to figure it out. But the stress was insane.
Per our allergist, we are, luckily, not concerned about a new food allergy at this time and the hives were likely environmental. My daughter has a few things that make her more susceptible to hives and I really appreciate our allergist understanding her whole medical profile.
However, the pressure to quickly evaluate a situation, like whether or not this is caused by a food allergy, and then determine the right course of medical action is something I have difficulty explaining to my friends whose children do not have food allergies.
Food allergies can be life-threatening, and anaphylaxis can progress quickly.
The stakes are so incredibly high.
Deep down, the fear of food allergies harming my children is terrifying. When I was a new food allergy mom, it was almost paralyzing.
The thought of me not responding correctly to an allergic reaction, resulting in harm, or death, is absolutely gutting.
The fear is that if something is happening to them, and if I didn’t respond well, the end result would somehow be my fault.
I could never forgive myself.
It is a pressure that I live with daily. This is what I mean when I say, “food allergy moms are always on.”
And there are certainly days where I feel it more than others. This week had a few of those days.
The Stress is Real
Before I had kids, I had zero concept of what it is to truly worry for someone else on a regular basis. I had heard parents make jokes about how they still worry even though their kids are full grown. But at this time in my life, everyone around me was pretty self-sufficient.
I do think worry comes with the territory of being a parent. What I think is more challenging about food allergies, and a few other medical conditions like our friends managing celiac or diabetes, is that the risk is always present. For example, my kids eat 5 times a day (3 meals and 2 snacks).
Ok, who am I kidding. They eat all day.
So there is the reality of needing to eat multiple times a day, and then there is the presence of food at virtually every social gathering or activity. Sports practice, sports events, places of worship, museums, zoos, movie theaters and shows, other people’s houses, eating out, birthday parties, playgrounds, amusement parks, festivals, school or daycare, and the list goes on.
In addition, some allergens are more common to be present in things like medication and non-food products.
Basically, when you become a food allergy mom, you begin to check everything, and you start to trust almost nothing.
You’re always on.
This Creates a Mental and Physical Load
The Mental Load
Katie asked me if it was okay to bring fruit bars as a snack for the kids’ playdate.
I said, “Sure, as long as it’s not the one with mango. The strawberry and blueberry kind are fine, but the mango one says there could be pit fragments and mango pit is related to his cashew allergy.
Katie replied, “Lauren, the fact that you have to know that is insane.”
I know that pink peppercorns are related to a cashew allergy. I know that my son reacts to apple skin, but not apple flesh because of protein similarities to his tree nut allergies.
I’ve learned that “may contains” and “free from” labels are voluntary and can mean different things to different companies. For more on this, check out our article, “Food Labels and Food Allergies.“
EpiPen management, the signs of an allergic reaction, the fact that hand sanitizer does not remove allergens and that soap and water are the most effective way, are just a few of the things I’ve learned along the way.
You have too.
And you carry all of that in your head. Thinking through all the birthday parties, social events, remembering the epi, and trying to figure out what to do when you step in the allergens, see people eating the allergens, etc. all takes a mental toll.
A Physical Toll
For me, the stress can also be physical. For example, every time my kids have experienced an allergic reaction or we’ve had a “food allergy scare,” once I know they are stable and safe, the adrenaline begins to release and the stress comes out through tears. My husband knows that I then need to leave and use the restroom because I typically have stomach issues for the rest of the day.
Going for a 15 minute walk, changing rooms of the house, jumping jacks, etc. all help me reset my brain from panic mode. It helps my brain and body come back to neutral.
I’ve also noticed that the day-to-day stressors have been catching up with me too. Seeing your child’s allergens on the playground, stepping in the food allergens, being surprised by the allergen at a social event, etc. or just trying to remember everything to leave the house, also contribute to stress. I’ve noticed more tension in my body that I know needs to be released.
In the last couple months, I started attending a martial arts class. I never thought I would enjoy something like that. I LOVE IT. And I’ve already noticed an improvement in my overall stress level by having that built-in exercise 2-3 times a week.
Ideas to Help
Acknowledge the Stress
First, allow yourself to recognize that managing food allergies can bring with it a lot of stress and take both a mental and physical toll.
You are not complaining or speaking ill of your child by admitting this. Food allergies are not your child’s fault and they certainly do not define your child. It’s the food allergies that create the stress, not the child.
How are you doing, really?
Second, ask yourself, how are you really doing with the stress? Katie has shared that she began having chest pains before she realized how the stress was impacting her.
Are you creating space to take mental breaks? Do you have a physical outlet? What could that look like for you?
My husband recently bought a back massager because he, as a food allergy dad, recognized that this would help release some stress. It is amazing!
What could this look like for you?
Make Space for a Break
Third, where can you make space for you to shut off mentally, even if it’s not for very long. A food allergy mom is always on, but we have to recharge somehow.
For me, this has been driving to and attending martial arts class alone twice a week. It is my time to not be “on.” I am blessed beyond measure to have married my best friend (we’re high school sweethearts and I can make you gag with our lovey-dovey-ness another day). I truly trust him with our kids.
Do you have one person. Just one person who could take the kids even for a little bit once a week? Who could that be in your life? If you aren’t sure, is there someone you could build up that trust with, who would be willing to enter in and learn your emergency care plan, come to your house to watch the kids, etc.
Katie goes and gets a massage once a month. It is her recharge. What could this look like for you? A class? Spa? A drive alone?
I also know how hard this is. It is so hard to leave your kids with someone and trust them with this. This isn’t to pressure you, but to gently remind you that it is important for you to have some space to recharge.
You Are Doing It
I had a moment after we had figured out what was going on with the hives and my daughter this week when I actually felt my confidence boost, just a little bit.
All of the questions the doctors asked me (and yes I was the mom on the phone with both the pediatrician and allergist for this) I had already considered and had answers for.
Every thing they told me to do, I had already done. I told Katie on the phone, “Maybe I do know what I’m doing sometimes?”
The pressure is real, the stress is real, and mistakes do happen, but all in all, you’re doing all the right things, momma. You’re figuring this out. And your child is blessed to call you “Mom” and to have you in his or her corner, advocating for and caring for whatever he or she needs.
You’re amazing. You’re a food allergy mom. Keep pressing on.
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