When asked what my favorite food was, my answer was a no-brainer: peanut butter. Peanut butter was delicious not only scooped and slathered in my mouth by a spoon, but in combination of what seemed like everything else: chocolate, bananas, pretzels, jelly, ice cream…need I even go on?
When my first son was born, the topic of “peanut allergies” started becoming popular in moms groups I belonged. I never participated in conversations because secretly I didn’t believe food allergies could possibly exist. I grew up in a considerably large community and I never knew a single person who had them. How could so many kids today possibly react to things everyone in my childhood ate and enjoyed? It was completely unfathomable to me.
I’ll admit one more thing. When my first son started preschool at two years old, we received a letter in the mail from the director. She was informing us that a child in his class had a peanut allergy, and we were prohibited from sending any peanut products to school. I was infuriated. She couldn’t have possibly eliminated the only food my child ate. I had secretly wished that the child somehow switched to another class because I was so concerned mine would starve from not eating lunch if it wasn’t a peanut butter sandwich.
Boy, did my world turn upside down… and quickly. At that young age of two, my first son became a big brother. Who would have predicted this new brother of his would teach us all—especially me—about food allergies, the gift of eating and thriving, and the value of life itself?
It started from infancy. Austin was born with dry, red patchy skin and severe cradle cap. Heading into the winter months, his eczema worsened, and more challenges developed. A bottle and formula-fed baby, Austin was barely eating anything, and when he did he was spitting up a great amount. I kept telling myself that all babies spit up a lot. And many babies spit up a lot and are still perfectly healthy.
Austin almost immediately fell off the growth charts and was labeled “failing to thrive.” This just meant he needed to be brought back to the pediatrician regularly to be weighed. Months went by still struggling to feed this baby, and it was time to introduce solid foods at six months old. As if his lips were stapled together, I couldn’t get even the tip of the spoon in his mouth. My pediatrician reassured me that all babies develop differently, and maybe he just wasn’t ready—to wait another month. And another month. And another. Until he was a year old, still underweight, still “spitting up,” and still not consuming a single solid food.
At his one year appointment, finally alarmed, my pediatrician tested him for food allergies and also sent us to a feeding specialist. After evaluating him, the specialist diagnosed him with texture and sensory sensitivity, but was confident she could help. She began introducing solid foods to him at the clinic: crushed cheerios and graham crackers in applesauce. Making minimal progress, she gave us “homework” to reinforce what she was doing there: to feed him a bite of scrambled egg in applesauce at home. And I did. Oh I did.
Shortly after eating his morsel of scrambled egg, Austin vomited excessively (I could finally confidently say it was vomit and not spit up).
“What did he eat today?” My pediatrician asked when I called. “A tiny bite of egg and applesauce,” I said. “Is he breathing?” he responded. “Is he breathing?!?! He’s napping!” I answered in a frenzy. He proceeded to give clear instruction to “go wake him, make sure he’s ok, and give him a dose of Benadryl.” I was panicking. What in the world was he talking about? Benadryl? Breathing?
It was quickly brought to my attention that Austin’s food allergy test results came back but were insufficient so my pediatrician never got record of them to see or call me. This was just the start of our journey with food allergies.
After more testing, Austin was diagnosed with food allergies to wheat, eggs, dairy, peanuts and tree nuts. This explained an awful lot. Of course he was refusing to eat. We were offering him food that make him sick. Of course he was throwing up. He was ingesting major allergens.
I couldn’t help but think that if only I was more educated, aware, and understanding of food allergies prior to Austin, I could have recognized the signs and symptoms much earlier. In essence, I could have prevented him from so much pain and discomfort.
Clearly, I, as a mother to a child with multiple life-threatening food allergies, had a lot to learn. There was no doubt this news was overwhelming and life-changing for myself, Austin, and our entire family. How would we explain this to his then three-year-old older brother so he understood the severity of it, but wasn’t paralyzed by fear? How would we communicate the intricacies of allergies to Austin? How would we manage them? How would our “new” life look?
And, Austin’s heartfelt, true story became my motivation to write a children’s book on food allergies called, Austin’s Allergies. My goal was to educate as many people as possible about food allergies in the most simplistic and understood way. Children’s books are often read to children by adults: parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, nurses, other educators, and more. Therefore, as parents read Austin’s Allergies aloud, my hope is they gain a new perspective and understanding of food allergies—one I wish I would’ve had much sooner.
I have committed to food allergy awareness and education through school assemblies premised on my book, Austin’s Allergies. My interactive and engaging presentation teaches students about food allergies, helps develop empathy toward their peers, and offers vocabulary that keep kids safe! I also love to share my experience at various events.
Austin’s Allergies illustrates how Austin’s food allergies were discovered, a few simple steps that can help keep him safe, and important concepts related to cross-contamination, epinephrine, and the physical signs of an allergic reaction.
Through a partnership with the Allergy & Asthma Network, a portion of each book sale is donated to this non-profit organization for research and education. This partnership will continue with her second book that is being published in 2020!
More information can be found at www.austinsallergies.com, where signed copies of the book can be purchased. Austin’s Allergies is also sold on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and major retailers. Feel free to reach out to Erin about allergies at [email protected].
This is a guest post written by Erin Mandras.
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