Allergist Mom: What My Food Allergic Kids Taught Me
I provided her with a detailed history of my son’s reactions that was, of course, muddled with facts and feelings. His skin-prick test and his blood test to cow’s milk were both positive and the allergist told my husband and me that our son was allergic to cow’s milk.
As this diagnosis fell from her lips, the same diagnosis that so often fell from mine, I experienced how it felt on the other side. It was a powerful blow. I was on the wrong side of this appointment, a side I never dreamed I’d be on. I was not the allergist that day, instead, I became the mother of a child with food allergy.
After we reviewed the perfunctory literature, I got my one-year send-off and then, I panicked. I wanted our allergist to come back in the room. I had so many questions left to ask. But I was an allergist, so how could I have so many questions? I only knew one thing – that I needed more time with her. I felt alone and anxious.
As a fellow, I’d never quite understood it when parents cried at the end of our appointments. The diagnosis and treatment was a matter of fact. You avoid the food and you avoid the reaction. But now, on the other side, I understood. It was about: how in the world you were going to avoid the food and what on Earth would happen if you didn’t.
I walked out of the office saddened that, previous to this appointment, I had not really known what food allergy families go through and devastated that I had to learn it like this. It felt like I was like starting over, both personally and professionally.
The Kitchen and Grocery Store
When I walked into my house after the appointment, I went directly to the kitchen. I have always believed that our home should be a safe haven for my children, so I began my quest to rid the house of milk. I started reading labels. As I read every label on every box of food in my kitchen, I turned numb. I threw away pudding, cheese, sticks of butter, bags of chips and boxes of cookies until my cabinets and refrigerator were nearly bare. No one warned me how hard it would be to go back into my kitchen for the first time.
After putting the boys to sleep, I went to the grocery store. As I wandered the aisles trying to find food without any milk ingredients, I noticed that my usually overflowing cart was sparse. I knelt on the ground to read the ingredients of a rice drink and caught a glimpse of a pint of ice cream in another mother’s cart. A feeling that I rarely had felt in my life overwhelmed me.
As I fought back tears, I realized what it was. Jealousy. I was truly jealous, deep to my core and then, immediately, ashamed. I wanted her cart. I wanted her convenience. I wanted pizza and ice cream, cheese sticks and yogurt. And I was ashamed that my desire for her food made me feel disdain toward her. No one told me that the grocery store could be this painful.
When my head rested on my pillow that night, I remember a long pause in my breathing during which all of the costs of this diagnosis hit me. I could not believe this was happening. And for the first time that day, I actually let myself think about the unthinkable: my beautiful, sweet child could actually die from eating the wrong food. A wave of anguish swept over me. No one told me about this moment, either.
Next page: Gino’s serious reaction