A few months ago, my little boy went for his very first oral challenge at Sick Kids Hospital. If all went well, we would be crossing soy off of the long list of allergies he had accumulated in his short life. (Woo hoo!) Yet in the weeks leading up to his appointment, I was a nervous wreck. I had to talk myself out of cancelling as the big day approached. It can be hard to wrap your head around willingly feeding your child a food that you’ve been warned could literally kill him.
But our allergist had assured us his numbers for soy were low enough, and we knew we couldn’t have asked to be doing it at a better place.
I’m happy to report that, after spending several (very long hours) in the hospital, he passed! This meant we could now incorporate tofu and edamame into our diets, and we no longer had to worry about the many, many products with a may contain soy warning. (You don’t realize it until your child has an allergy to soy, but it’s in practically everything.)
As thrilled as we were that day, we knew our allergy journey was far from over. Having said good riddance to soy, we still had 5 allergens to worry about: peanuts, (some) tree nuts, egg, sesame and sunflower.
After we got the good news, I remember thinking: “If he grows out of his sunflower allergy next, life will be SO easy.” That’s because sunflower is in the majority of products that are labelled as healthy, organic, or allergen-free. Having a sunflower allergy is a major bummer in the food allergy world.
As the universe would have it, we’ll be challenging—you guessed it—sunflower next. And our next oral challenge just so happens to be tomorrow. (Fingers crossed all goes well!)
If we are able to cross sunflower off the list, we’ll be down to 4. And I’d be seriously ecstatic. That’s a long way off from the person I was when my son reacted to his first lick of peanut butter.
When my son had one confirmed allergy—let me repeat—one, I was absolutely devastated. A life without peanut butter (once a staple breakfast food) seemed like the worst thing ever. Not to mention impossible. All of our favourite bakeries and restaurants, Asian foods and sweet treats, cereals and snacks, all of them contained peanuts or, at the very least, came with a may contain warning. On a bad day, it felt like my life was over. (Dramatic? Yes. But I was an adventurous foodie and a life with limitations on what I could eat felt ridiculously unfair.)
But what I didn’t realize about life with a peanut allergy is this: While there are most definitely limitations, there are also a ton of accommodations. Most licensed daycares and pre-schools in Toronto are peanut-free. A good number of schools in the GTA don’t allow peanut products to come through their door. And in order for a product to be labelled “school safe,” it must be free of… peanuts!
And while many airlines don’t like to make things easy for people with food allergies, you’ve got a good chance of flying peanut-free (or at least being granted a buffer zone) if you’ve got a peanut allergy.
Amazing, right? Right, but…
Consider this: My family and I were recently on a flight to the US, and we were kindly granted a buffer zone—for my son’s peanut allergy. But since he’s also allergic to sesame, the crackers & hummus on the menu made me break out in a cold sweat. Along these same lines, I know of a fellow allergy mom whose dairy-allergic daughter had an airborne reaction on an airplane simply because someone nearby had ordered a cheese pizza. Yup, things start to get a little more complicated when you’re dealing with allergens the non-allergy world has yet to acknowledge.
Sometimes I’d like to go back in time and shake that earlier version of me—you know, the one who thought her son’s peanut allergy was the end of the world. Because oddly enough, the (sometimes paralyzing) challenges that go along with parenting a child with multiple allergies has changed me in surprising ways. Ways that I’m kinda, sorta proud of.
If my son hadn’t continued to develop new allergies as we introduced new foods, I’m pretty sure I’d still be full of resentment at the cards we’d been dealt. (That’s not to say there aren’t days when I feel overwhelmed or sad or angry. Or that I don’t wish he would outgrow every single one of his allergies. Because I really, really do!) But if we get good news tomorrow… if our list of allergies is truly down to 4… I’ll be so relieved (and so freaking grateful!) that I’m quite certain I’ll be happier now than I was when we were only dealing with one.
Ironic? Maybe. But in hindsight, it’s all about perspective.
UPDATE: Sadly, we did not pass the sunflower challenge, but as of August 2018, we’ve crossed tree nuts off our list of allergies! *happy dance*
This post was written by AllergyBites founder, Kathleen O’Hagan. Kathleen is a writer, a foodie, and the mom of a toddler with multiple food allergies. She loves seeking out accommodating eating spots and sharing them with the food allergy community. Want to help make a difference? Sign Kathleen’s petition urging WestJet to revert to its more allergy-friendly menu.
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