Did I eat enough peanut butter when I was pregnant? How many pb&j sandwiches did I eat? On the other hand, did I actually eat too much peanut butter?
Should I have eaten a lot more organic food? Did it happen because I ate at McDonalds those few times? Is it because I vaccinated her?
Did I not wash my hands enough? Did I keep my home too clean? Is it the area that I live in or the tap water that I’m drinking? Could God be mad at me? Will my child be punished for something I did?
Perhaps I should have made more of an effort to get a specialized breastfeeding therapist? Was her brand of formula full of too many chemicals? Should I have taken higher quality vitamins? I forgot to take my prenatal pill a few times, could that have been it?
How many GMOs did I eat? Did I drink too much alcohol in my twenties? What if it was her NICU stay that caused her allergy? Moreover, what if it was because I had gestational diabetes and I missed something important that the doctor told me to do?
Did I introduce the allergen too late? Did I introduce it too soon?
WHAT?! My second child also has a food allergy?! Without a doubt, now I know that this is my fault! What did I do wrong? What in the world caused this?
Do you feel dizzy after reading that?
I sure do.
Nevertheless, those were the thoughts that ran through my head after my baby’s food allergy diagnosis.
At night, I’d stare at the ceiling and listen to my husband snore softly next to me. I would wonder if I should get up for the hundredth time to make sure my daughter was still breathing.
I was terrified that somehow she had come into contact with her allergen after I had put her to bed and I would find her unresponsive. Eventually, I would fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning. I would wake up with dark circles under my eyes and added concerns to fuel my never-ending fears.
I just couldn’t shut down the shame spiral going on inside my brain. It HAD to be my fault. I NEEDED it to be my fault. If it was my fault, then it would be easier to deal with it (which was a lie, but I thought it was truth at the time).
How else was I going to move forward with what our lives now looked like if I couldn’t punish myself? It would be an easier pill to swallow if I knew that my child developed food allergies because of my screwup.
And I repeated that vicious cycle for years.
Now, it wasn’t that intense as time went on because we learned to live our new “normal.” I started sleeping better and I stopped checking on my daughter a million times as she slept. However, every now and then, on a particularly difficult day of managing food, that voice in the back of my head would whisper, “See? It’s all because of you.”
Additionally, when a well meaning (or sometimes just completely thoughtless) friend or family member would insinuate that something I did could have caused the allergy, again, I would hear, “Yeah, this wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for what you did or didn’t do.”
And, eventually, I knew I needed to shut that voice down.
It’s Not Your Fault
Maybe you have experienced this internal shame conflict. Or worse, maybe you’re experiencing it right now and feeling the dark tendrils of despair tightening around you.
How I wish I could reach through this screen and hug you! I wish I could hear your voice. Your story. I would run and grab a bottle of wine, or coffee, or your favorite treat before sitting you down in a comfortable spot to spend time listening to what you’re most upset about in this process.
Clearly, that heartfelt wish is limited by time and space. Even so, I want you to know that you are not abandoned, nor forgotten. Not only that, but I want you to hear me when I strongly and adamantly declare that your child’s food allergy is not your fault.
Of course, hearing it and believing it are two different things.
So, here we go, pretty momma. I have some hard, but loving, advice for you that I hope will help pull you out of the shame spiral.
1. Confront that Inner Voice
Let’s be honest. How many people have a gentle and understanding inner voice? Clearly, not me! And I bet most of us don’t. It’s usually our deepest fears and most critical thoughts surfacing when we are triggered by something. And it is time to shut that sucker down.
So, sweet momma, I have a few questions for you that I want you to dwell over. How long will you keep blaming yourself? If you beat yourself up mentally, verbally, and emotionally for a few weeks, or months, or years, will you ultimately feel any better? Will questioning yourself on what you might have done wrong ever land you on an actual answer?
Doctors and scientists don’t even know for certain what causes food allergies! If they don’t know, how are you supposed to figure it out? Truthfully, I don’t think we will have answers from the medical community on what actually causes food allergies for a long time.
Until that time, there just is no point in you worrying about what you could have done differently.
Ripping yourself to shreds only robs you of your peace and joy while living day-to-day with your growing baby.
Therefore, the next time that voice pops up and you are tempted to visit put-down town, do this instead. Set a 10 minute timer and allow yourself that time to think about how your guilt does not benefit you or your child in that moment.
Additionally, tell that annoying little voice, “Nope, not today. Today I am going to move forward. Today I’m giving my family all my love and strength, and you are not welcome here.”
Keep setting that timer for less and less time as the days pass.
At some point, you’ll get down to only one minute or less of having to confront that inner voice that wants to steal your peace.
2. Create and Repeat a Mantra
I’ve been a victim of toxic positivity many times in my life, so I’m not too keen on telling myself, “It’ll be okay” or “Just think positively.” Indeed, if I could do that, then I would. Yet, in my experience, it just isn’t that simple.
However, I CAN tell myself the truth about who I am and the reality of what I’m living. I created a mantra that I repeat over and over when confronted with guilt or fear over my child’s food allergy.
- I am loved. My child is loved.
- I am safe right now. My child is safe right now.
- I am resilient. My child is resilient.
- I am learning to live with this. My child is learning to live with this.
- I am doing the best I can and my child is doing their best.
- This is so hard right now, but we will keep moving forward.
Consequently, I tell myself those things many times a day. You can use them too, or create your own. Just remember to stay away from the pull of toxic positivity. Don’t word your mantras like, “I’ll do better” or “I’ll suck it up.” That only denies your emotions and covers up the actual truth of what you are facing.
3. Find Your People
Of course, this might be a simple step, or an incredibly difficult one. You either have emotionally and mentally healthy people in your life that can support you through this life-changing diagnosis, or you just don’t.
If you do have those people, yay! I’m so grateful for that and I want you to be vulnerable with those safe people. They can gently confront you if you find yourself spiraling in a shame cycle and bring you lovingly back to reality. Besides that, having the freedom to put words to your struggles, fears, and grief will keep you moving in a stable direction.
As revealed by many experiences Lauren and I have had, there will be some of you that do not have people that can build you up and listen without judgement or saucy opinions. Thus, it is time for you to seek out better people.
Unfortunately, this step takes a lot more time. Finding a trustworthy friend doesn’t just happen overnight. First, try asking your allergist if there are local support groups.
Another great resource is Facebook. There are many food allergy groups and you could try connecting with one of the moms (that’s how Lauren and I found each other).
Ask your coworkers/friends/family if they know anyone walking a similar journey. Moreover, if you go to church, reach out to their director of family connections and see if there is someone they can put you in touch with.
Keep searching for someone that you feel comfortable with and don’t stop until you find them. Undeniably, you need safe and considerate support.
4. Seek Counseling
Even if you have a circle of great people around you, sometimes it just is not enough to cut through all the yuck you are experiencing. As for me, I knew I needed assistance on more than just food allergy anxiety.
Finances have always been tight for my family, which was just one more problem for me to deal with. However, I’m blessed with an incredibly supportive husband, and he sat down with me to help me figure out how we could financially make counseling a reality.
And boy, oh boy. Counseling made a HUGE difference. I honestly have no words that fully describe how invaluable counseling has been for my mental health and my life. If you are willing, I highly encourage you to reach out to a well trained therapist that wants to guide you in a journey of healing.
Food Allergy Counselor is an additional fantastic resource. These are counselors who specialize in working with families experiencing food allergies. Check them out here.
If finances are a barrier for you to access counseling, there are many other avenues to help get you there.
Here are a few places that might offer free counseling:
- local churches
- local universities or colleges
- Bliss – a free online counseling program
If you are employed, try 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)
I hope that this post proves helpful in your fight against the shame and guilt you might be feeling about food allergies concerning your child(ren). My prayer is that you will be blessed as you dig into your soul to confront all the hurtful thoughts, words, and mental lies that weigh you down.
It is okay if you are not okay right now. I understand why you feel that way. Remember: you are good, you are loved, and you are doing your best.
So, starting today, confront that inner voice, create your mantra, find your people, and reach out for help, beloved momma.