A lifelong resident of Toronto, Shannan lives with her husband of 10 years, her (almost) 3-year-old daughter, and an aquarium full of fish named after characters from John Hughes movies. Having had no experience with food allergies, Shannan never anticipated that she’d be an allergy mom one day. Here’s her story…
AllergyBites: What foods is your daughter allergic to?
Shannan Davis: 1. Peanuts 2. Tree nuts (Specifically Brazil nuts, but for simplicity’s sake, we say all tree nuts. Although she has tested negative for them, we have not yet given her ALL tree nuts, mostly out of fear.) 3. Sesame—darn sesame. This is the hardest one for us in many ways.
AB: Can you describe the first time you realized (or suspected) she had a food allergy?
SD: She always had eczema, but we never made the connection or even had food allergies on our radar. We gave her peanut butter when she was about 5 months old, and looking back on it now, she got a few teeny spots around her mouth. At the time, we thought that it was just irritation since she was chewing on everything in sight. At 7 months, I gave her peanut butter again, and there was no denying it this time…
AB: Has your child ever experienced an anaphylactic reaction? If yes, what happened?
SD: When she had peanut butter at 7 months, she immediately got hives around her mouth. I called my husband at work, and told him to come home right away… over the few minutes I was talking to him, the hives spread and basically covered her body. My husband came right home and my in-laws (who lived up the street) came right over. Her breathing was fine, but she got very quiet and seemed to internalize everything. For a normally chatty baby, she was definitely out of sorts, but we thought she was just itchy. We didn’t think it was progressing any further and her breathing still seemed fine, so we thought everything was going to be okay. The hives started to go down and I made a doctor’s appointment for her that same day and we all just tried to breathe a little.
Shortly after that, the hives were totally gone and my mother-in-law was holding her, rocking her, trying to get her to go to sleep. We thought everything was fine. My husband was checking something on his phone, my father-in-law was in the washroom, and I thank my stars that I was still on high alert because I looked up at her face resting on my mother-in-law’s shoulder and saw that her lips were starting to turn blue. I grabbed her and my husband called 911. Having to try and keep my baby conscious while we waited for the ambulance were the longest, and the scariest, minutes of my life. She came out of it and regained consciousness just before the paramedics arrived. They stuck around and monitored her vitals, and since we had an appointment already booked with her doctor that afternoon, they advised that we just go to the doctor and save ourselves the hours in emergency. That was the day we got our first set of EpiPens.
AB: After the diagnosis, what did your grieving process look like? Do you feel that you’re in the “acceptance” phase now?
SD: I was really stuck on ice cream for some reason. I spent a lot of nights crying over the fact that we wouldn’t be able to take her for ice cream on a hot day, or see her excitement at the ice cream truck. I went through a time where it felt like she wouldn’t ever have a “normal” childhood… Would we ever be able to camp? To travel? What was life going to be like? It’s been a long road, but every time we check an activity or an event off of our list, we get stronger. Our friends that go that extra mile to make sure that my daughter can eat everything at a birthday party, or that ask me “What can we do to make sure it’s safe for you to visit?” are more incredible than they will ever know. I am so thankful to have them. I wouldn’t quite call my current phase “acceptance,” but maybe more like “confidentially coping.”
AB: What are your biggest challenges as the mom of a food-allergic kid?
SD: My personal challenge is my anxiety. I have always struggled with anxiety, and the reaction at 7 months just blew my anxiety level up times 10. I want my daughter to do all of the things that all the other kids do, and to be able to advocate for herself and be strong, and so I have to work very hard to ensure that I don’t transfer my anxiety on to her. I also worry that we’re not teaching her enough, or giving her enough tools to navigate this on her own.
AB: How has your little one dealt with her food allergies?
SD: She’s starting to figure it out and has started to ask if things are safe for her. She recognizes the peanut-free logo. She pretends to read labels and proudly proclaims: “No peanuts! No tree nuts! No Sesame!” And it’s just about the cutest thing ever. We point at and talk about her allergens in the grocery store so she knows what they look like, and we involve her in label reading and choosing products. She knows that if she eats her allergens, she will get very sick and throw up (which she hates more than anything, so we use that as a cautionary tool).
AB: How often did you eat out before the food allergy diagnosis? How often have you eaten out since?
SD: We would eat out, or get take out, a couple of times a week maybe. These days we get pizza about once every couple of weeks, and I will occasionally bring home Chipotle or Hype if I am in the east end. The three of us have only eaten out at a restaurant once since diagnosis 2 years ago. The food allergies have been good for forcing more home cooking and whole ingredients.
AB: Where are your go-to SAFE eating spots in Toronto?
SD: 1. Hype Food Co. — of course! 2. Sorelle & Co., where my daughter ate at a restaurant for the very first time while I wept. 3. Chipotle. 4. Sea Witch Fish and Chips on St Clair (free from peanuts/tree nuts and sesame, but we’re vegetarian so have only eaten fries/onion rings). 5. Pizza Del Arte — a great local pizza place at Bathurst & St Clair that was the very first outside food my daughter has eaten 6. Frank’s Pizza at St Clair & Lansdowne — the BEST panzos in the city, and the owner gets it… He has 5 children and understands how important things like allergies are and will take the time to answer all the questions you have
AB: Can you tell me why Hype Food Co. makes you feel safe?
SD: Hype is a no-brainer. The owner (and allergy mom) gets it better than anyone else would, and it’s an amazing thing to be able to have complete confidence in a restaurant and all of their staff.
AB: What are some fun facts about your food-allergic kiddo?
SD: She is fiercely independent and outspoken. She’s ALWAYS singing and dancing and making up songs about everything you can think of. She loves gymnastics and swinging on the uneven bars, and she has the amazing ability to spot teeny tiny “treasures” (beads or interesting rocks, etc) from about a mile away. My pockets are basically always full of “treasures.”
AB: Tell me about the paintings you have on display at Dave’s.
SD: I work in corporate but come from an arts background, and painting is my stress reliever. I currently have a number of paintings hanging at Dave’s, a great local restaurant & bar at St. Clair West and Christie. They will be up throughout August and September, and 10% of all my sale proceeds will be donated to The Walk for Andrea. For sales from October onwards, 10% of sale proceeds will be donated to the Top 10 Challenge.
AB: You’re volunteering for the Top 10 Challenge as a committee member. What makes this initiative something you wanted to have an active role in?
SD: Through my daughter’s allergies, I have found an incredibly supportive community that is so full of kind and giving parents, and strong, resilient kids. Some folks are doing really amazing things and if I am able to give some of my time or skills to help the fight, I want to do it. I am very excited to be a part of the planning committee for the upcoming Top 10 Challenge. I’ll be working alongside some amazing women to raise some much needed money for allergy research and to help people understand what living with food allergies is like!
Friendly. Supportive. Encouraging.
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