“Have you thought about giving up dairy?” the pediatrician asked, taking my daughter’s dirty diaper from me and passing it off to an assistant.
“No,” I said, politely, and in my head I followed it with “I don’t really believe in the whole ‘elimination diet’ bullshit.”
“Well, a fair amount of breastfed babies have trouble with digesting dairy. We’ll test her poop, and if it’s got blood in it, that’ll tell us what we need to know.”
“Okay,” I said, lilting up the “ay” in the way you do when you’re trying to humor somebody but you know it’s ridiculous. My first baby breastfed basically until she was a teenager with no trouble, my newborn was putting on weight like a champ (a heavyweight champ), and, most importantly, I really love cheese. Like, really love cheese.
Welp, there was blood in her poop and in that instant, my life went from “pretty crappy because I have a newborn” to “really, really fucking crappy because I have a newborn.”
When I look back at those first days, I can’t believe how stupid I was. I ate two entire bags of Nacho Cheese Doritos because that’s how I roll, without even considering that it has cheese right in the name. I bought chocolate milk for my older daughter in the store and took a swig out of the top to help mitigate spillage potential. I put cream in my coffee out of habit and because I am a human being, not some sort of animal.
I had to go back to the doctor a few days later for the millionth ear infection of my older daughter, and I asked them to check the newborn’s poop again. I was shocked, shocked! that it wasn’t better.
Turns out that if your baby is intolerant to milk proteins, you have to completely clear your diet of those proteins and even then, she may not heal for a month (a literal lifetime for bebeh). Turns out there’s a pretty good chance she’s also intolerant to soy. Turns out there’s soy in everything – everything – that you didn’t pull directly out of the ground.
I ended up giving up milk, butter, soy, wheat, and eggs, because once you can’t have cheese and soy, you might as well just commit yourself to eating raw vegetables and cardboard and be done with it. It takes so long for the sores to clear up in the baby’s stomach that it felt barbaric to do a trial and error thing.
To say it was an adjustment is to call the sinking of the Titanic a mishap. Before all of this, my diet mostly consisted of milk, cheese, yogurt, more cheese, pasta with cheese, bread with cheese, and vegetables fried in butter. With cheese on top. After I finally figured out what to avoid, my diet was peanut butter with Rice Krispies mixed in.
I wanted to know options for eating outside of the house, so I looked up allergen menus, and chain restaurants are actually pretty good about having them online. At Applebee’s, my diet would allow me to have crispy red potatoes with black bean salsa. At Red Lobster, crispy red potatoes with ketchup. At Olive Garden: red sauce. It’s a good thing we’re too poor to go to restaurants much, because what once was fun and lighthearted became an exercise in awkward pity, both self and focused-on-me-by-others.
I could have switched to super hypo-allergenic formula, and maybe should have. On the surface, I chose not to because my doctor said she thought it was better for me to keep on keeping on, if I was okay with it. In reality, I think I chose not to because it felt like a challenge that I could meet, damnit. Also, I was afraid that someday, twenty years down the line, my older daughter would tell my younger daughter that I loved her more because I breastfed her until she was two. I realize this is ridiculous. Also, did I mention that we’re poor? We’re poor. Super hypoallergenic formula is something like $1000 a can, I’ve heard.
It’s been nearly six months. We’ve had the baby’s diaper checked twice since this started – once she was totally clear, the other time she was not, because I had presumably eaten something banned without even knowing it. I can’t tell you how pissed this makes me. If I’m going to cause distress in my daughter anyway, I want it to be because I ate a goddamned cheesecake, not because somebody slipped some soybean oil into my lentils.
I’ve gotten much better at this game – my cabinet is stocked with vegan/soy free alternatives to normal food, I know which prepackaged foods are safe (Tostito brand corn chips) and which are not (everything else), and I’ve managed to build up a repertoire of recipes that are decent. Babies with these intolerances tend to grow out of them, and I realized the other day that we’re actually pretty lucky. My 4-year-old accidentally gave some yogurt to the baby, which resulted in diarrhea and crankiness all around (the crankiness was all around. The diarrhea was just in the baby). Were this a peanut allergy, the consequences would be much more dire, and almost certainly much less grow-out-of-able. In the grand scheme of things, this really isn’t that much trouble.
In the small scheme of things, though, this sucks (hehe, get it? Sucks? Like a breastfed baby? I’ll be here all night, folks). As such, you can find me over in a corner, glaring at everybody and eating peanut butter with Rice Krispies mixed in, dreaming of cheese.