Food for ThoughtJune/July 2008 Issue

The Silver Lining

Babies With Multiple Food Allergies

I am not unhappy that my son, Kellen, has multiple food allergies. In fact, in many ways I'm grateful.

I haven’t always felt this way. When Kellen was first diagnosed at 9 months old with what would eventually become a lengthy list of food allergies (dairy, wheat, gluten, eggs, certain nuts, to name a few), I was completely overwhelmed. A first-time mom, my only experience with food allergies was an uncle with peanut allergy and a grandfather with gluten intolerance. It wasn’t long before I developed tension headaches, induced, no doubt, by the stress of Kellen’s disturbing symptoms (hives, wheezing, vomiting and digestive problems) and the enormous responsibility of his care. What would I feed him? How would I keep him safe in everyday situations (playgroups, birthday parties, restaurant meals, holiday gatherings, school) where his risk of exposure was heightened? And there were desperate days when all hopes were dashed, as tests continued to reveal that he hadn’t outgrown any of his allergies, as doctors had suggested he might. Clearly, not the best of times.

Today, Kellen’s long list of allergies is the same but my attitude isn’t. I feel bolstered, not beaten. Looking back, I can see how his condition has inspired personal growth and brought benefits to my family and me.

My husband, Shawn, and I now have three additional children, none with any allergies (so far). Because of Kellen’s condition, we’re all much healthier. We eat well as a result of the nutritional research and the cooking from scratch I’ve done to ensure that Kellen is properly nourished. That means that we’ve not only cut back on our own consumption of the things that he can’t have, but we’ve also eliminated most junk food containing hydrogenated fats and refined sugar. In short, we make every calorie count.

But it’s not all about the food. We’ve also become adventurous in other areas, exploring medical alternatives such as homeopathy, herbal medicine and chiropractic care. We’ve learned to enjoy a healthier lifestyle and to take better care of our bodies.

Another result of Kellen’s condition is our decision to home school. We went this route primarily to limit Kellen’s exposure to allergens, especially dairy, which he can’t even touch without a reaction and which would be challenging to avoid at public school. Not everyone would—or could—choose this option (it’s a ton of work), but it’s been an amazing experience. It’s strengthened family bonds and made learning a way of life for us. I consider it a huge privilege (and—gulp!—a gigantic responsibility) to have this influence on the development of my children’s abilities and character qualities—something I likely would have missed if it hadn’t been for Kellen’s food allergies.

Then there’s the community. We’ve come to know a number of people who are wrestling with similar issues and we’ve benefited from their friendship, support and collective wisdom. In turn, we’ve been able to pass along ideas and information to friends who are newly diagnosed and struggling. In particular, we’ve developed a close connection with another family in our area whose members share many of the same allergies as Kellen. We spend time with them every week—moms cooking together while the kids study Spanish, science and history.  

At this point, the memory of what life was like when I was the new mother of a baby with troubling and mysterious symptoms is just a faint glimmer. All of which brings to mind a sign I saw several months ago which read, “God doesn’t give us what we can handle. He helps us handle what we are given.” I’ve decided to make it my new motto. You’re welcome to use it, too. LW

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