After months of trying to comfort a very unhappy baby covered head-to-toe in red raw eczema we finally had an answer. Our little boy Felix who was 4.5 months old had multiple food and environmental allergies.
After visiting many doctors and specialists searching for help we were eventually tested for allergies and emailed a copy of the blood test results! No discussion around it, just a cold hard email with a rating of 'very high' next to each allergen. I read the email with mixed feelings - relieved that we finally knew what was impacting the health of our little cherub, but I was also in shock thinking "what does this mean now"??? What's next?
He was allergic to - dairy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, cats and dogs. Later to develop beef, lamb, fish, seafood, grass and perfume.
So the days, weeks, months and years to follow have been filled with so much energy around dealing with the changes required to our life, preventing cross-contamination of allergens, keeping Felix safe and the fear involved with anaphylaxis. The thought that my child could go into cardiac arrest through simply eating food has been very hard to absorb.
I think I actually went through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's grieving process as I said good-bye to our old life. (The five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).
Initially we took this new allergy diagnosis in our our stride without thinking of the long-term implications. Felix was exclusively breastfed at the time so I had to stop eating all the things he was allergic to and we quarantined our two treasured cats into one section of the house. It couldn't be that bad right? I just wont have any milk in my tea, stop eating eggs for breakfast, no fish for dinner and no more soy milk... How wrong was I! We were in denial.
It took a visit to an allergist to get the full story. I needed to check the ingredient list on every label, of EVERYTHING I ate to make sure there was nothing Felix was allergic to included in the food I was eating. I soon found my regular diet was no longer regular. The options were so limited. We also needed to put our cats outside of the house or re-home them. We had to carry epipens in case Felix ingested an allergen and went into anaphylaxis. We needed a special formula only prescribed by doctors as my milk supply had slowed down and my poor baby was starving. This is when the enormity of the situation really hit us - and it was time to introduce solids.
This when the anger set-in. I couldn't be the mum I thought I was going to be. I couldn't breeze into play dates and let my child join. At this stage we were having play dates with my mothers group and all the babies were the same age. I would come home from every play date in tears because Felix would break out in welts and his face would swell from touching a toy that another baby had touched, because they were on formula or breast milk that contained his allergens. It was heartbreaking to see his red itchy face but I was also petrified he was going to go into anaphylaxis. So I became a helicopter parent hovering over Felix with face washers, antihistamine and epipens on stand-by to make sure he was safe.
Play dates were only the start of it! Cooking regular meals, eating out at restaurants, going to a cafe for a coffee, going to the park, holidays, social gatherings, children's parties - it all had to change. I needed strategies to deal with all of these life events, it was so overwhelming. Our life as a family was not what I had in mind at all.
So this anger lasted quite some time before the bargaining started. I would have given anything for us to live a normal life and lose the fear that surrounded our new day-to-day requirements.
I wanted to take my little man to a restaurant and sample new foods like all the other kids did. I wanted to go to the supermarket without a cooler bag of snacks and just buy food on the fly. I was continually swallowing back tears. I couldn't be like everyone else and neither could Felix for the rest of his life. I was exhausted by how much it was consuming me and I just wanted to relax and be spontaneous. But I was depressed.
It wasn't until Felix was well into the regular routine of pre-school that I started to accept our new allergy-aware lifestyle. We could do this. He was out in the real world without me protecting him and he was OK. We went along to Birthday parties with our own party food and a packet of baby wipes and it wasn't too bad. We went on holidays and stayed in apartments with fully equipped kitchens and still had a good time. I started to spend more time in the kitchen cooking again and I enjoyed coming up with new recipes we could all enjoy as a family. We could manage and we could enjoy life.
We also have another little boy now Spencer. Spencer has food allergies too, although he has different allergens to Felix. Both boys have experienced an anaphylactic reaction (see my allergy plate wholefood e-cookbook for the full story) and it is very scary. Speed to react is the key.
The journey has been a rough ride but I feel like each day gets easier now that I have accepted and embraced allergies in our life. The grieving process took approximately three years for me to come out the other side and at the time I didn't know that's what I was going through - but in hindsight now it's so clear.
As a result of food allergies we are now eating organic wholefood and living a healthier lifestyle than before.
Felix has since outgrown wheat, soy, tree nut, beef, lamb and fish allergies and is eczema free. Yay!!! He is a happy, confident little boy who is thriving at school. Spencer is following in his footsteps and loves pre-school and playing with his friends.
I cook organic wholefoods for my family now to ensure snacks and meals are allergen free and nutrient-dense. I enjoy cooking again and have come up with recipes to share with other families who may be experiencing a similar ride. My mindset has changed too, I'm actually happy I know exactly what goes into my boys mouth now instead of the mystery of numbers and additives found on the labels of processed food.