Before our daughter was born, my husband and I thought we knew what would happen; a planned Caesarean section meant we knew the date she would be born, our bags were packed, and our birth-announcement e-mail was already saved as a draft.
The only hitch was the food. We asked one of our childbirth preparation teachers about making sure my meals would be gluten-free during our three-day hospital stay. “Oh, that’s going to be impossible,” she told us. “I’ve worked with a lot of patients through this process, and none of them has been able to eat gluten-free safely.” Dumbfounded, we stared at her. No gluten-free food at a hospital?
We packed a cooler full of our favorite food and asked friends to bring us meals. We all agreed that we were going to eat better than anyone else in the hospital, but by the time friends arrived with a platter of sashimi following the birth, we had realized that the best-laid plans often shatter.
Our daughter was born healthy and squalling. Nine hours after she emerged into this world, she stopped breathing. In the middle of the night, my husband and I learned a new definition for terror as we watched our newborn daughter being rushed to the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) to the deafening sound of code blue alarms.
Food became the farthest thought from our minds. But as we hovered over her incubator, the kind nurses reminded us to eat, to take care of ourselves. I waved away the menu, telling them there was nothing safe for me. The last thing I needed as I willed my daughter to breathe was a gluten reaction.
And then a nurse slipped me a different-colored menu, upon which was written in bold letters: Gluten-Free Menu. I swear, that was one of the first moments in which I started to let myself hope that everything was going to be OK.
The hospital had made a huge effort in the previous six months to understand gluten and where it hides, and especially the dangers of cross-contamination. Two pages of options – including hash browns with eggs, sandwiches on gluten-free bread, and chef salads – were guaranteed to feed me and keep me strong.
For the next 10 days, we ate cafeteria food delivered to our daughter’s NICU room that had been prepared in an industrial kitchen, and I never once grew sick.
By the time we came home with our daughter, who was finally healthy and breathing sweetly, I once again lived in hope. Hope not only for my daughter’s long and vivid life, but also hope for the world in which she will live. If the hospital in which she was born had a gluten-free menu, maybe one day she will say, “You mean people didn’t know what it meant to live gluten-free? Wow, how everything has changed.”
For Shauna’s “Potato & Leek Soup” recipe – see Allergic Living magazine’s Winter 2009 issue.
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Shauna James Ahern’s and Daniel Ahern’s first cookbook is Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, published by John Wiley & Sons. Their blog is Glutenfreegirl.com