It’s been more than just a struggle trying to manage the foods that my allergic son can eat. It’s been an entire lifestyle change which has been hard on the whole family. I try my best to stay strong and accommodate both my boys needs with as little disaster as possible, but sometimes it all just gets a bit too much and I make stupid mistakes.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve slowly been introducing allergenic foods like Cheerios, toast and biscuits into my allergy son’s diet. (He has a long list of non Ige mediated allergies and we are following the advice of specialists to introduce foods again.) I didn’t plan on giving him these particular foods but I just couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t handle my son screaming out for the foods in my hand, clawing at me, trying to climb my legs, pulling on my hair and crying real tears. I couldn’t handle the constant noise of him screaming in frustration and trying to take his brothers food off his plate. There was only so much I could take before I finally gave in and let him have some of the biscuit in my hand.
I knew it was going to make him unwell later and that he would probably suffer for at least a couple of days with a sore tummy, diarrhoea and eczema. So in that moment, when I lost my strength and gave in to his wants, I made a decision that I wouldn’t let his suffering be in vain.
We have already made huge progress in Kk’s ever expanding diet and he is now able to tolerate more allergenic foods through the slow process of introducing them in tiny quantities. Each time we introduce a new food we brace ourselves for the impending allergy symptoms but normally I’m much more prepared and have a good plan of action in my head. I choose a time that suits everyone in the family and a food that will be softer on his tummy and is just that, one food. Not one with a million other ingredients in which all play havoc on him…a biscuit?!?! What on Earth was I thinking?
So there we go, my preparation and plan of action out of the window and instead switched to running at full speed into a battle that felt out of my control. Luckily with Kk’s type of allergy, I know I have a few hours before the shit hits the fan, so in that time I managed to mentally prepare myself for what was about to come. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite physically prepared as I was utterly exhausted and knew that there wouldn’t be much sleep coming my way that night.
I was right of course and the reaction he had was the worst so far. Of course it was! I knew it would be. What the hell was I thinking?! I wasn’t thinking anything. That was the problem. I had stopped thinking about the right thing to do or ways to change the situation, I just stopped. I had a moment of weakness when all I wanted was for everything to be silenced – the crying, the fighting, the constant thinking, worrying, feeling of guilt – just everything needed to stop for a minute!
If only that moment could have been related to something more normal like letting him watch 5 episodes of Wiggles and their ridiculous prancing around or unraveling a roll of tissue paper and ripping it into tiny shreds. This is the crazy thing too because, in my world, giving my child a biscuit isn’t normal, it’s dangerous! It should be normal!! It kills me that it’s not!
I often carry around with me a serious amount of mum guilt about how I’m managing my kids allergies and food issues. It just sits there under the surface making itself known but not really doing much and then, every So often, it takes a dig. Deep enough to really wound. This was one of those times. It stung! I knew I had made a big mistake and that I would pay for my actions very soon…but so would he! I knew I needed to get my head straight if I was to survive the night without breaking down and so I started to tell myself that this was a step towards him getting better. That his body will start to recognise that this food isn’t a threat to him and it doesn’t need to fight. I began to rationalise the situation to get my head space back into a place that was strong enough for the both of us. We. Can. Do. This!
I started to think about it in the same way I did when I was sleep training Bay. Completely different situations, I know, and nothing alike apart from the emotions I felt. I remember feeling so guilty hearing and watching my first child crying because all he wanted was to have his mum close to him. However, I knew that if he had a better sleeping pattern it would be healthier for him and for us as a family. Life had become so difficult at the time with him being so moody throughout the day and me being so tired. We weren’t coping and night times were something we started to dread. Which is funny to think now as night times and evenings are something to forget about. No expectations means no disappointments. I’m just grateful for any amount of sleep!
So this was it, we were about to crash into a wall of allergy symptoms that would last a few days and disrupt the whole family. ‘Breathe, stay calm, stay grounded. Read the signs, listen to him, reassure, reassess, monitor, distract, comfort him, stay awake, stay strong. Continue, all night long taking it in turns, 40 minutes sleep then swap!’ Sometimes he manages to fall asleep lying on top of one of us – normally his dad, but it doesn’t last long as he wriggles and cries in discomfort and eventually pushes out a fart with a Yelp. Water often helps but I need to remember to keep one hand on the water bottle as he’s drinking as he’s likely to throw it at me or pour it on the bed when he’s finished. I need to be prepared to just let him be. Let him thrash about, bang his head on the headboard, push and kick, climb down onto the floor and roll around screaming. Paracetamol and colic drops may ease the discomfort but not much. I tell him he’s ok, that’s he’s a good boy and that mummy and daddy are with him. I try to rub his tummy to help release the trapped wind. I know it’s bad when he screeches even louder and hits me when I place my hand on his skin – he pushes me away. So I just sit with him and wait for him to settle.
The next day he moans constantly and won’t let me put him down. I hold him most of the day except when I need to prepare dinner or sort out his brother. I even manage to hold him whilst I go to the toilet; I’m now skilled at one handed dressing and undressing! He has diarrhoea and his face looks sore from eczema. He wants to breastfeed all day but I have things that need doing so I have to juggle the day around to make time for him to feel comforted. Bay starts to feel the strain and, before I know it, I end up with 2 moaning boys in my arms, telling them both that they are safe and everything is going to be ok. I keep telling myself that too so I sound more believable.
The diarrhoea wasn’t actually too bad. What I mean by that is, it wasn’t too bad by allergy standards – there was no mucous, surprisingly! So I weighed up the situation: he’s hardly slept; he has trapped wind; diarrhoea and eczema but there’s no mucous, blood or vomitting and he’s not scratching or rubbish the eczema on his face. Although it was bad what he was experiencing, there were no red flags and I so desperately wanted to gain some good out of this terrible situation. So I decided, since I had already started with the biscuit, that I was going to push wheat and baked goods (of which all ingredients were allergenic) and I broke off a tiny piece of bread from a slice and nervously gave it to him. The next night and the next day was the same and again I gave him the same amount of bread. The symptoms continued that night and in the morning my husband and I were ready to call it a day.
The lack of sleep and emotional turmoil we were going through meant we weren’t coping any more. We had a long chat about what the best thing to do was and decided, as the symptoms hadn’t got any worse over the course of the last few days, that we would continue for 2 more days before stopping. This was the first time since we started introducing foods with Kk that I really doubted myself and the guilt started to take a hold of me. I talked it through with Bay in the hope that he might understand better and then we just continued. The next night and day was just as awful but then on that second day, I woke up and realised I had slept! Kk was asleep and Mr G was asleep and I knew instantly that we had made the right decision. The eczema on his face had started to settle and during that day he went off to play, laughing with his brother. I sat on the beanbag with a cup of tea and just breathed. We had all survived!
That was just the initial response though – I now needed to build it up and offer more bread. So that’s what I did and the symptoms returned and then went before returning again as I added in more in his diet. His tolerance level was changing.
The biscuit incident happened 3.5 weeks ago and today, my allergy son ate 1 pikelet, an Oreo biscuit, a WHOLE slice of bread and had a taste of a brownie. It’s absolutely incredible! Normal, in fact. I always said I would throw a party the day he eats a slice of bread but, actually, what he had to go through, what we all had to experience to get there, isn’t something I feel like celebrating!
Now we continue and start it all again with a new allergenic food…