I love Someone with Food Allergies

In honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week I am going to share a bit about our allergy story. My oldest son Sawyer was born in September of 2011. He was 8 pounds of little boy perfection. 470898_10200215131564493_1991050783_oWe were exhausted but happy new parents, fumbling our way through diaper changes and bath times. When in doubt, though, we would turn to our parents and friends for advice. In particular, a couple who lived right next door to us who had 2 boys of their own. The youngest son was in my preschool class and he had food allergies. My husband was very good friends with them and spent a lot of time around the kids. We thought we understood food allergies but we never thought in a million years our son would have them. No one in our family had food allergies. We joked with our friends about their son’s allergies. We didn’t take them very seriously. We were clueless and confident that it could never affect our kid. Oh how wrong we were!

When Sawyer was 8 months old we moved from Texas to Florida in two vehicles packed to the brim with our most important belongings. We stopped for the night at my in-laws home in rural Alabama. We were exhausted. My husband, myself, Sawyer, and my mother had been on the road for nearly 10 hours. We all slept really well that night. I can’t tell you how grateful I was when I woke up the next morning to a big breakfast I didn’t have to cook! It was beautiful; from scratch biscuits to sausage, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Sawyer was being loved on by his grandparents and I was able to eat a meal while it was still hot! I thought I was in Mommy heaven. Sawyer had just started eating table food and we had introduced a few veggies and a couple of fruits. His grandmother asked if he had tried egg yet, and I answered that he had not. She proceeded to feed him a tiny bite of egg. No big deal, right?

The reaction was instantaneous! The hives started around his lips and within a minute or so he was covered head to toe in huge red welts. IMAG0015Then he started vomiting. As a new mom who had never experienced a severe allergic reaction I was panicking! I wanted to put him in the car and head for the nearest ER – which was 20 minutes away. However, my mother and my in-laws tried to calm me down and proposed giving him Benadryl. But there was none in the house. My father-in-law drove to a gas station and bought some Benadryl and returned with it some 20 minutes later. (We could have already been at the ER!) Sawyer was too young for the full dose so after discussing it we gave him a half dose. It made him tired and he fell asleep. I undressed him and let him rest on my chest. Forty-five minutes later he woke up itchy and screaming. At this point I put my foot down and acted on my initial gut reaction and started to put him in the car and head for the hospital. Our car was full of stuff and I just threw it on the ground so that I could make room for myself, my husband and my father-in-law. He insisted on driving since I didn’t know where I was going – smart right? Except he was not driving nearly as fast as I wanted him to go.

Once at the hospital they took Sawyer back right away and the doctor berated me for not bringing him in sooner. Luckily his airway was clear but the reaction was continuing to escalate. They had to X-ray his lungs and make sure they were clear and they had to give him 2 doses of Epinephrine. It was approximately 2 and half hours after ingestion that my son received the life saving epinephrine. Coming to the realization that my son could have died was earth shattering because I thought I understood food allergies. But I knew NOTHING! Absolutely nothing! We were so lucky that day!IMAG0016

We got Sawyer into an allergist as soon as possible and they ran blood work that revealed both an egg and peanut allergy. We had to change the way we ate, what foods we allowed to come into the house, and where we could go out to eat. We had to learn to read labels and memorize all of the different names given for his allergens. (Thankfully, they now they have the top 8 allergens in bold print on labels.) Grocery shopping took 3 times as long because I had to read every label, sometimes twice, just to make sure that I didn’t accidentally miss a deadly ingredient. We also had to carry an EPI Pen with us everywhere we went. He had to have one at his grandparents, in the diaper bag and one at home. Those things are expensive.

I think the hardest part of this process has been convincing family and friends that Sawyer has food allergies. Several of our own family members did not take his allergies seriously. It’s like they needed to physically witness a severe reaction before they could believe. I felt like I was in some twilight zone episode where I know that the food is deadly but everyone keeps trying to get me to feed it to my son! It has taken awhile but finally everyone seems to understand Sawyer’s allergies and is more cautious about giving him food I have not approved. It also helps that now he is able to talk and ask if an item contains egg or peanut, so in a way, now he can be his own advocate.

When we had our second son, Hudson, we had him tested for food allergies because of the family history. His blood work came back with only one food slightly elevated, almonds. The allergist felt pretty confident that Hudson would not have an allergic reaction to almonds. She asked if we wanted to do the skin test or just assume the food was probably safe. IMAG0168We decided to do the skin test; in which they prick the back with a solution of the allergen to see if the skin reacts. Sure enough, Hudson had a skin reaction to the almond, enough so that the allergist changed her tune. She told us to avoid almonds and that Hudson would need to carry an EPI Pen as well. So I now have two children that require an EPI Pen to be carried with them at all times and more allergens to be aware of.

Today is so much better than that fateful day nearly 5 years ago, but each day I have to be vigilant. Each day I have to check and recheck foods. Companies change their ingredients from time to time so brands that were once trusted can no longer be trusted. It is a tough job being a parent but it gets exponentially more difficult when your kid can die from a common snack food. Some day my sons will take over the management of their food allergies and maybe I will relax a bit but until then I am on high alert. And to our neighbors back in TX who we didn’t take your son’s allergies seriously enough – I am extremely sorry. We get it now!

And to anyone still reading this; If you are a new allergy parent please know that you are not alone. It all seems so overwhelming at first but it does get easier and you do find a new normal. There are many support groups on social media to help you navigate the questions and concerns that come with this diagnosis. I encourage you to reach out and become active in those communities. I swear every time I turn around someone from an allergy group has taught me something new and I am grateful for the knowledge. In fact, we will be exploring Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) for our sons this year. We are not sure if we will go through with the treatment as of yet. We are still gathering information, but we never would have known about it if I had not been active with a food allergy support group.

To those that read this till the end – Thank you for learning more about food allergies.

B.E. educated about allergies: 1 in 13 children suffer from food allergies so chances are you know a child / family that deals with these issues. Below is a link for more information.

https://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats

Lessons From My Mother

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Photo by Danielle Vennard Photography

 Mothers are interesting aren’t they? I mean no person in this world can comfort you like your mother, but on the other hand no one can irritate you quite like your mother. They have this way of nurturing us, keeping us safe while forcing us to try things on our own, pushing us to test our limits. My mother, Bonnie Elaine, was this and so much more. I loved her dearly, still do, but oh could we get on each other’s nerves. She was an incredible mother and I strive everyday to live up to her memory. She wasn’t perfect but she was pretty darn close (at least to me). Her life had so many ups, downs, and sideways paths that I find, even now, I am in awe of her. She wanted me to write about my life. (She thought my experiences would make a funny comic strip! HA!) She wanted me to push beyond my shyness and share what she felt was important; my self and point of view. So this blog is just that, me sharing my experiences, my point of view, my day to day comedic chaos as a mother.

First, a little about my Momma, Bonnie Elaine. She was born in 1948 and passed away just shy of her 65th birthday in June of 2013. She grew up in a suburb of Oklahoma City. Her father worked for the railroad and her mother was a seamstress. Her parents had 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls, my mother being the youngest.  She was married twice and, sadly, divorced twice. She had two children, my younger brother and I. She became a single mother back when it was taboo to be a single parent.

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Bonnie Elaine with myself at 6 weeks old

She put herself through night school and college by correspondence. She became a respected practitioner in her chosen field of Respiratory therapy. She made her dream of buying a home for us a reality after years of renting and low-income housing. She worked hard to make sure we had everything that we needed and most of what we wanted. She made things fun when she could but she never sugar coated the truth. She was an amazing person and she loved us fiercely. My momma taught me four important lessons; Generosity to others, strength of character, love for people, as well as faith in myself & God. I’d like to share the lessons I learned with you.

Generosity to others: When I was a kid my mom had a used, avocado green station wagon; you know the ones that had the faux paneling on the sides and no seat belts in the back. She lived in low income housing, was recently divorced, and was raising two young children on her own. She worked every shift she could get at the local hospital, and even took call. She wore the same dress to work every day and hand washed it every night. She did without so that she could earn enough money to get a better vehicle. She could have used that old beat up station wagon as a trade in but instead she gave it to another struggling mother. She took what little she had and met the need of someone else who needed help. I wish we could all be more like that.

Strength of character: Growing up in the 80’s in rural Oklahoma with a single mother wasn’t exactly easy. It wasn’t the accepted norm it has become today. Very few of my classmates came from single parent households. My mom faced the rumor mill of a small town and somehow came out with her reputation intact. Mostly, she kept to herself and definitely didn’t date. She was asked out a lot… I mean a lot. But she never dated. Later in life she shared with me how lonely it could be, carrying the weight of the world with no-one to share the load.

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High school graduation 2000

However, she was determined to raise her children and she wasn’t going to let anything get in the way. She had the courage to raise us on her own.The whole world said she couldn’t do it and that she definitely wouldn’t be able to do it with much success. I know I’m a bit biased, but I think she did a fantastic job! My younger brother is a doctor and I am a teacher by profession, we are both decent, hard-working people who serve in our communities, trying to make this world a better place. Really though, I have no earthly idea how she did it on her own! I have an amazing husband who helps me when the kids get sick, helps clean the house, do the laundry, fix the dinners, wash the dishes and put the kids down at night. My momma did all of that on her own and she got up at 3 am to be at work by 4:30am; all so that she could take her lunch break and drive my brother and I to school. I feel exhausted most days and I have it easy in comparison!

Love for people: My momma loved people. She wasn’t a social butterfly but she had a heart for people. It was a driving factor in her career. She loved to help others. She was the happiest when she had done something for someone else. Even after her stroke, she wanted to return to her job because she loved helping others. Her love for people spilled over to my brother and I. I believe this to be one of the reasons we both chose fields in which we are able to help others. What a wonderful legacy my mom left to us. I wish we all could love people and serve others more.

Faith in myself and God: My mom took night classes and went to college through correspondence classes – this is before the internet and online classes. She wanted to obtain her degree so that she could show it to her children. She wanted us to know how important education is to a successful and productive life. I remember her struggling through algebra so much that she even asked me to explain it to her. She overcame all of her struggles though and earned her Associate’s degree. So how does this correlate to faith in myself or in God? Well, I remember helping my mom study for her tests and her explaining to me why she was taking all these classes. She wanted me to go to college and dream big dreams. She wanted me to accomplish anything my heart desired and she truly believed in me. From that time on I never doubted that I would go to college. The only question was which one? She prayed with me and for me. She showed me her faith in me and in God. She was open and honest with me about her struggles and she shared with me how she coped with them. She prayed and had faith that God would make everything work out in the end, or as she liked to say “ it’ll all come out in the wash”. I wish my momma could be here to see what her faith and prayers have brought to my life.

She wasn’t the trendy mom, the social mom, or the cool mom but she was a strong, generous, courageous and loving mother. I miss her every day and I would give anything to spend just one more hour with her. This June will be 4 years that she has been gone. I’d like to say that with time the ache of grief gets better, but if you have ever lost a parent you know that time only dulls the pain… it never truly gets better. Someone once likened it to waves crashing over you. I think that truly fits. At first it comes in strong powerful waves that seem to beat at you and leave you gasping for breath. As time goes on the waves come less frequently, sometimes with less ferocity, but they still come. This is how it is for me. There are days when I am able to get through the day with just a few thoughts I wish I could share with her.

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Photo by Deborah Rodgers Photography

Then there are days when I cry in the shower from the ache of missing her. But my Momma didn’t raise a quitter. As much as I would like to wallow in my grief some days and cry “Woe is me”… I know my Momma would kick my butt if I did that! I have children to raise and I must keep putting one foot in front of the other. My momma taught me that no matter what life throws at you, you can not give up. You have to B.E. faithful, strong, loving and generous to have an amazing effect in this life.

Happy Mother’s Day in Heaven Momma. I sure do miss you!

~ Julia