“Lauren, worry comes with the territory.”
I had heard this probably a thousand times before I became a parent. In my twenties, I worked with teens and their parents. Often times, the parents would say something to me along these lines in a light-hearted tone.
It was almost as if they were saying, “You just wait.”
Now that I’m in my thirties and have two kids of my own, I am only beginning to understand what they were talking about. At least my kids can’t get in a car and drive away yet!
I remember my first experiences worrying about my son when he was a newborn. The barrage of information on SIDS, weight gain, nursing vs formula, vaccines, doctors appointments, weird baby skin, etc. all of it gave me a crash course introduction into what it means to worry as a parent.
It’s overwhelming for any new parent!
Then the food allergies came. And this took the worry to a whole new level.
The obvious fear is something happening to my child. Learning about the reality of food allergies, the very real danger of anaphylaxis, the constant presence of food in social settings, cross-contact, label reading, EpiPen management, and new food introduction is overwhelming for any new food allergy parent.
And if that’s where you are, we have some resources to help!
Here’s more info on:
Anaphylaxis – FARE is the trusted source of information on food allergies and they have a wonderful Emergency Care Plan you can follow.
However, a new fear that I didn’t expect began to grow.
It was a fear that I had never truly experienced before. And I didn’t talk about it for two years.
It truly was a secret fear.
A quiet voice would whisper, “What would happen to them if something happens to you?”
“If I’m not here, will my children be okay?”
And I would internally break down.
My stomach would go into knots. Tears would flood my eyes. I tried to shove it down and ignore it. Distract yourself and try to move on, I told myself.
I exhausted myself on logic and reason trying to push past it practically.
It wasn’t until my husband asked me a simple question, “What is wrong? I can read your face, Lauren. What is it?”
I lost it.
With tears streaming down my face, I tried to get the words out. It was then I knew I needed to face this fear, and dig down to the root of it. Clearly my other attempts weren’t working.
Why This Fear?
At first, I spent so much time consumed by this fear that I paid no attention to why I was feeling this in the first place.
I had never spoken it out loud to anyone. That moment with my husband when I actually put words to what was floating around in my head was a significant step for me in beginning to manage this.
But Why Was it There?
It was Unspoken
Well, the fact that it was unspoken and only bouncing around in my head did not help. Bringing our fears into the light by sharing them with someone else can be a relief. Sometimes the fear seems less frightening when you actually have to say it to someone else.
Sometimes just having a safe person to hear it eases the stress of feeling alone.
The Mental Load Was Taking a Toll
Food allergies are a life changing diagnosis for the individual, but also for the family and caregivers. Anaphylaxis is a very real and life-threatening medical risk that food allergies bring.
And new food allergy moms quickly realize how food is everywhere. Food is social, so wherever there are people there is usually food. This means not only are you learning the medical information that you need to navigate raising a child with food allergies, you also need to relearn most social functions.
Birthday parties, sports to school, church, holidays, family gatherings, playgrounds, playdates, the list goes on.
It’s a lot to learn, and it can really feel overwhelming at times. I had never considered the impact on me before I began to fear something happening to me.
Feeling Like It Was All On Me
Katie and I have talked about how we had a “triple whammy” when we each became moms. Normally, when you have a child, there is a natural withdrawing into the family unit to focus on the family, you can’t maintain as many friendships as you did before, you’re spending more time at home, etc.
Less than a year into becoming a mom, both of our oldest kiddos were diagnosed with food allergies. The combination of being a new mom, then learning how to manage food allergies, is a lot.
I felt every instinct to continue to cocoon our family until we felt we could figure out what we needed to do to keep our son safe. This meant declining more social events than we normally would have.
Then the third “whammy” hit us.
Two years into mom-hood, the COVID pandemic hit, further isolating everyone. For me, my daughter was born 8 weeks before everything shut down in March of 2020.
So now there I am, a mom with a newborn and a two year old, trying to figure out motherhood, food allergies, and a global pandemic.
I really felt alone.
I wasn’t alone though. My husband is an incredible support and has been my best friend since we were teenagers. I am so lucky.
But these circumstances compounded what I believe is a natural feeling of loneliness that many new moms feel.
Finding support from people is key to navigating life with food allergies. And this fear demonstrated that I had more work to do in this area.
The High Stakes Pressure
When I first learned about anaphylaxis and my son’s diagnosis, I think I cried for 3 days. I was absolutely terrified.
I will never forget the day the EpiPens showed up at our house and I’m looking at my sweet 8 month old baby wondering how I would ever manage this.
The one thing that helped ease this pressure was to educate myself and build confidence.
We highly recommend the above emergency care plan from FARE as it lays out the symptoms of anaphylaxis and when to administer the epinephrine.
For you moms with young ones, we also love the Recognizing Anaphylaxis in Infants and Toddlers guide from kidswithfoodallergies.org.
We also would encourage you to check out our post, 6 Things No One Told Us About EpiPens.
As scared as I was in the beginning, learning the symptoms and what to do in an emergency has increased my confidence and lessened my stress.
The Mental Load is Real
I had never worried about this before. Even when I became a new mom, this wasn’t what I worried about. It wasn’t until our kids were diagnosed with food allergies that this fear reared it’s ugly head.
Why, I wondered. What was it about navigating food allergies that produced this very real fear?
The first reason that became incredibly obvious was the mental load involved with navigating food allergies.
Motherhood in general carries with it a mental load. Food allergies add a whole new element.
There is so much to remember. Everything from always carrying the EpiPen, understanding the nuances of food labels and relationships of proteins in food families. For example, my son cannot have pink peppercorns because they are closely related to his cashew allergy.
Then there’s the allergy appointments, the skin issues, potential environmental allergies, the always a joy game of “is this a stomach bug or food allergies?”
There’s the pressure of trusting yourself to correctly respond in an emergency should your child need you to do so.
Advocacy, constant awareness, navigating social settings, exhaustion, and managing people who aren’t supportive.
And the realty is, in many families, it is the mom who carries this weight.
You may feel like other people don’t take it as seriously as you do, which is a legitimate and valid feeling.
However, there is probably a lot more to this fear than you realize.
There might be a vast amount of questions, or a primal need for action, that is lying under the surface of what you are afraid of if something were to happen to you.
The Things We Cannot Control
I think as parents, one of our deepest desires is to keep our children safe. It is instinctual, at a primal level, to shield them, and to protect them.
As their parents, we see their fragility upclose. Those wobbly legs, their sweet faces, those little hands. It’s part of why we burst with pride as we see them grow.
We live to take care of them. And when food allergies are added to the mix, suddenly a fear that we didn’t think we had to worry about, something as benign as food, is now a threat.
Food’s constant presence brings with it a new set of worries and what ifs and I know for me, I just want to control that my kids are safe.
I also know that deep down, I’m also trying to protect myself because I know that if something happened to my kids, I would shatter.
So much of me wants to control all of this and I am an enneagram 8, which just elevates this to a new level. If you know, you know.
There is a humility and fear that comes with me facing the truth that I just cannot control everything.
My instinct to protect is strong and I have no problem being Mama Bear day in and day out. But I have to accept the fact that some things are out of my control.
I am a person who reads the Bible and one of the most well known verses is from Luke 12:25 which says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”
These wise words point to our fragility as humans and bring both comfort and unease. There is a part of me that wants to control it all, but the reality is I cannot.
What helps me is recognizing that within my fear of something happening to me, there are things I can do, like taking care of myself physically and maybe postponing my skydiving dreams for a bit.
I also rest in knowing my kids are loved by many people.
The Things We CAN Control
Hey everyone! Katie here. I’m going to jump in on the next few points to give my perspective on this topic too. And wowzers. This is an emotionally raw subject for me as well.
I was actually never really concerned about my own health until autumn of last year. There were many situations where I was suddenly struggling with horrible chest pains. My heart would be pounding and I had to work hard to catch my breath.
Consequently, many doctor appointments followed. I had blood work, a heart and lung examination, and then an in-depth mammogram to rule out breast cancer. By the time it was all said and done, it was determined that I was experiencing anxiety attacks.
It was a huge relief that nothing was medically wrong. But while I was in that season, it was absolutely terrifying. I had no idea what I was going to do if I had a life-threatening health issue that could potentially take me away from kids.
It caused a lot of heartache and multiple nightmares.
Eventually though, it spurred me to take action. I knew that the only way I would start to feel better was if I acted on the things that I COULD actually control.
A Last Will & Testament
It was not a fun or easy task, but writing out my life’s will was incredibly comforting for me. I wanted to know that there was a plan in place to protect my children.
My husband and I sat down together and discussed what we would like to see happen if one of us, or both of us, passed away unexpectedly.
We were able to choose a legal guardian for our children that we knew would take their food allergies and safety seriously. Additionally, explicit examples for how to care for our children were also included in the will. We made our expectations clear on how our kids’ medical needs would need to be addressed.
Taking the time to do this was not easy, but it was a necessary step in providing myself comfort in the face of an unknown future.
Taking Care of Myself
Furthermore, taking care of myself is also within my control. Living the food allergy life is really anxiety producing for me, so I’ve made a conscious effort to exercise more, eat healthier, take personal time, and set up annual doctor appointments.
Teaching My Children Allergy Safety
I work my tail off to keep my kids safe. So does my husband. But we know in our hearts that there is always the potential for mistakes and accidental exposures, especially if we are not present.
We simply cannot control that.
BUT we can control how we prepare, teach, and empower our children. Lauren and I role play, read stories, watch shows, read ingredient labels, and cook with our children. My daughter has actually started showing interest in wanting to make calls to food companies as well.
This teaching is done within the safety of our own home, in a gentle manner, so that we can empower our children to not be afraid, but always aware.
These experiences are so valuable for our children. It will teach them how to care for themselves as they grow older, especially since we know there will come a time that we are not always present with them.
Find Your People
For me, another important factor in dealing with the fear of something happening is simply to find like minded people.
It look years for Lauren and I to find each other.
Eventually, I got fed up with trying to explain our experience to people who were not living with food allergies in hopes of finding solidarity.
I realized that I needed an actual food allergy mom friend.
Within less than 5 minutes of that realization, I hopped on Facebook and asked in a food allergy mom group if there was anyone living in my city. Lauren saw my post and immediately responded.
The rest is just beautiful history.
Honestly, I simply adore her. She listens to my fears, validates me, and comforts me.
AND she still chooses to talk to me despite the fact that I act like a complete weirdo and have had multiple emotional breakdowns.
Did you catch that last part? I get to be ME. I can be real and not constantly project that I am okay or perfect. Friends like that are priceless.
Sweet momma, what people do you have in your life that could be that person for you? What people in your circle would step up to help your family is something ever happened to you?
If you’re struggling to produce a name, then I lovingly want to encourage you to start reaching out.
Check your online support groups and see if anyone lives in your city. If not, is there anyone that would be willing to chat with you over the phone? Are there local support groups that you could get plugged into?
FARE is the trusted source of information on food allergies and they have a link to search for local support groups. Check it out HERE.
Find your people, momma. Don’t stop until you do.
Advocate and Educate
There are so many things I never would have thought of before my kids had food allergies. I never once glanced at food on the ground at the park or what other people were eating prior to our diagnosis.
The truth is, you just don’t know what you don’t know. This is why education and advocacy are so important. If people aren’t aware of the issue, they can’t help.
Most of the people I have shared about our allergies with have been willing to learn and help. Of course, we all run into the occasional person who is strangely hostile to this issue. And that is alwasy difficult.
However, more people than not want to help. Recently, my neighbor texted if I could send a list of safe snacks for a party so that we didn’t have to worry about the food. She did this because I’ve shared with her about our family’s journey with food allergies.
Another friend was sure to have her son’s birthday party be peanut and tree nut free because it was important to her we didn’t have the risk at the party. The kids are all really young and still in the messy eater stage and the putting hands in the eyes and mouth phase. She wanted it to be where the kids could just eat and play.
Again, this is because we’ve educated and shared.
All of this, however small it may seem, makes the world safer for our kids.
The more people that understand, the more people that can advocate and move towards changes.
Be Open to Counseling
Anxiety and Depression are basically twin sisters. They feed off of each other and can keep you submerged in a vicious cycle of fear.
We have been there many times ourselves.
This secret fear helped me to see what was lying underneath, anxiety.
If this is where you are right now, we don’t want to see you continue to struggle alone in your pain. There is no shame in reaching out for professional help.
If you are ready, a licensed counselor might be the next best step for you or your family.
Food Allergy Counselor is a wonderful resource. These are counselors who specialize in working with families experiencing food allergies and all the emotions associated with major life changes. Check them out here.
If finances are a barrier for you to access counseling, maybe consider a few of these options:
- using your HSA or FSA card to pay for counseling
- your health insurance might actually cover the cost
- EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) might offer free or affordable counseling – reach out to your Human Resource Department
- some counseling offices offer a rate on a sliding scale based on your income (ask about this when you call)
Katie and I are not above this. In fact, we’ve both had to humble ourselves and seek counseling. I think we would both say it was one of our better decisions and the care we each received was so incredibly valuable.
We Care About You
I was really hesitant to write this post. I felt embarrassed that I had this fear and that by sharing about it, you would think less of me.
When I shared about it with Katie at one of our hangouts, she in turn told me about her experience with anxiety and the medical testing she had to go through as a result.
Turns out, the same fear had crossed her mind as well. After making a pact to take care of each other’s kids no matter what, I realized that if we had both independently felt this fear, there are probably many more food allergy moms with similar thoughts and worries.
I hope this post brings you some comfort. You are not alone. Your fear is a part of processing a life-changing diagnosis while also learning how to be a mom.
Be patient with yourself. Consider sharing with someone that you know is safe and validating. You’re welcome to message us as well. We hope we leave you with some practical steps to help.
Keep on keeping on.
Lauren and Katie