Before I had kids, I always heard so many stories about mass hysteria drama that ensued at elementary schools surrounding kids and food allergies. I had seen terrible, heartbreaking headlines about children that randomly died from allergic reactions.
It made me sad, but I was also skeptical. I put food allergies in the "getting struck by lightning" category. It sucked, but it would never happen to me. I'd never had an allergic reaction to anything in my life. Why did an entire school have to revolve around one child? It just didn't make sense.
It's embarrassing to admit this, but I was also skeptical about the hype of food allergies in general. It seemed like the buzz about food allergies was growing, along with annoying gluten-free parents that picked apart everything their child ate. (As an aside, I understand that some children have celiac disease, but there are also many parents that "go gluten-free" as a personal, non-medical choice.)
So, I was a jerk. I realized that food allergies were a bad and even fatal issue, but they seemed overblown. Some schools and daycares that requested that children not even eat or touch peanut butter around school hours to protect a child from a life-threatening allergy were taking it a little far.
When my first son was born, I was completely taken aback when he had chronic eczema that we just couldn't shake. We tried a number of natural remedies, we did extensive research, and we ultimately found relief for him by visiting an allergist.
I had never even heard of eczema on a baby before, but his case was so bad that his skin broke and oozed in weeping patches. Fun—especially in the early stages when you hope to show your new baby off to all of your friends and family. To make matters worse, the eczema was hell for him and made him itchy and irritable whenever it flared up.
Our pediatrician decided to test him for food allergies using a blood test. They gave us the results over the phone and told us he had a somewhat bad peanut allergy. They prescribed an EpiPen that cost $400 and wasn't covered by insurance.
It would be an understatement to say that I freaked the fuck out. Since the results were given over the phone by a non-specialist pediatrician, the information wasn't as clear or as helpful as it could have been. I didn't want to jump on the food allergy train unless I needed to. I'd also like to add that my son had eaten tons of peanut butter before and had never had an allergic reaction.
Almost immediately, we scheduled an appointment with an allergist that confirmed egg and peanut allergies in my toddler. This allergist was warm and comforting, and she helped put everything in perspective. She explained that my son's allergies were directly related to his skin, and he wasn't in danger of any life-threatening anaphylactic shock. (The EpiPen was not needed.) He'd already eaten the foods that he was allergic to for months without any issues, save for severe eczema flare-ups.
I began to get a small dose of what it was like to be a food allergy mom when I had to take this information back to my son's daycare. The former skeptical douchebag mom had to come in with a doctor's note, print up an allergy sign to hang in the kitchen, and make sure that our daycare provider understood what foods my son could and could not have.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, another boy in my son's daycare is also allergic to eggs, so they can make special foods for both of them. I am also incredible thankful that none of my son's allergies are life-threatening. If he does accidentally eat any of his trigger foods, we notice an eczema flare-up, and that's it.
But now I kind of understand. And I almost feel like I should apologize to all of the food allergy moms that I secretly judged in my head, at least here in the virtual world. I'm sorry. You weren't overreacting. Having a kid with a life-threatening allergy is a total nightmare, one that I can only imagine in part. Trying to protect your kid from potential food dangers day in and day out is a stress that no mother should ever have to deal with. I'm not in your shoes completely, but I understand.
When my son starts school, I'm going to be much more respectful of food allergies. If his elementary school is peanut-free, that's fine by me. (Not to mention the fact that he won't be eating peanut butter at home anyway.) If I have to make gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, egg-free cookies for his class, it will be worth the extra effort.
(photo: Getty Images)