Here’s What Parents of Young Kids with Food Allergies Don’t Need: More Guilt
By Anne Radcliffe
Photo by @cburtonsiller via Twenty20
Apr 6, 2018
It's true what they say about hindsight being 20/20. But in the sleep deprivation that can happen when your infant is not well, nothing is very clear. I was still trying to nurse, and he woke up, every hour on the hour, all night long. Not uncommon when you have a newborn. But my son was well beyond that phase.
Mostly, I remember the crying. His and my own. Listening to a baby cry is torture, or so I have been told. It’s a bit of an exaggeration. But when you have it coupled with acute sleep deprivation due to about six weeks of hourly feedings, you’ve got a situation that is probably closer to torture than anybody would care to endure.
At our six-month doctor appointment, my son was diagnosed as failing to thrive. A whirlwind of tests later, and we had an answer as to why: an IgE-mediated response to certain foods. An allergic reaction. So I weaned my son and put him on formula shortly after.
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I feel guilt about many things from that time, but using formula is not one of them. I feel guilt that I didn’t notice something being wrong sooner. I feel guilt that my patience with his cries was so short when in retrospect he was crying because he was unwell. I feel guilt that, somehow, I failed my son. Today, my son is nine. Food allergies are still a fact of our daily existence.
I know, logically, that feeling guilty is irrational. I have no more answers about why he has these food allergies now than I did almost a decade ago. There are just so very many questions. Why, exactly, did my son get food allergies? I don’t know. His doctors don’t know. An average person on the street (who is a stranger to my family, no less) cannot possibly begin to guess.
Parenting a young child with life-threatening food allergies is hours of tedious drudgery [and] moments of sheer terror.
I don’t want to hear someone tell me my son’s allergies are because I didn’t breastfeed or because my house was too clean (yes, these accusations did happen). I shouldn’t have to defend myself or take the time to explain my home and medical history to you — let alone correct your misassumptions about our lifestyle. The other food allergy parents? They also don’t want your accusations.
The rising cause of — and solution to — food allergies is elusive. And the speculations and accusations from well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) adults who believe I had something to do with my son’s allergies are not helpful. He was a very young, exclusively-nursing infant who was being raised no differently than thousands of others in North America when he got his diagnosis.
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Please do not add to the burdens of an allergy parent like myself by telling them this is their fault. Food allergies are not something we could ever have possibly anticipated or prevented.
Parenting a young child with life-threatening food allergies is hours of tedious drudgery while reading labels in grocery store aisles and filling out piles of health forms and paperwork for every school and camp. It’s telling your child not to let himself be kissed on the face or mouth and wracking your brain trying to anticipate how to deal with every possible food scenario. It’s melodrama over attending holiday meals prepared by extended family members; stressful vacation planning; and moments of sheer terror when you need to use the Epi-pen. It's dying a little inside when I see his sadness because he can’t participate in school parties or feels left out on holidays.
Why would I have chosen this life if it could have been prevented?
Let’s be positive and focus on finding a cure for food allergies — and on the happiness of the child — instead.