Saturday, April 3, 2010

You've come a long way, Baby!

For me, a huge piece of managing food allergies has been about managing anxiety. If I had the food allergies, my anxiety level would have been much lower; I am me, and I can trust myself to not eat something if I don't know what's in it. This is simply not the case with kids; when Sophie was really small I wasn't sure if she understood her allergies well enough to protect her if I wasn't around for some reason. Now that she's older, well, I still wonder about that.

When Sophie was first diagnosed, my food allergy anxiety (shall we just call it FAA for short?) was all based on three possible enemies:
1. Sophie
2. Other People
3. Me.
My FAA that Sophie would accidentally feed herself something that would hurt her led me to do a few really drastic things. When she was crawling, I swept or vacuumed the floor at least 12 times every day. I remember at one point my husband called from work at about 10:00am. When he asked me how I was doing I started crying and said, "I've already swept the kitchen floor 6 times!" During those early years, we completely eliminated a number of foods from our home, such as peanut butter, crackers, and most breads. As she's grown older (she is now 8 years old) some of these foods have made their way back into our lives, with no detrimental effects. We've come a long way, Baby!

I found the Epi-Pen to be my greatest ally in resolving my FAA that Other People (grandparents, siblings, friends, aunts, uncles, etc.) would feed Sophie something harmful. Whenever I absolutely had to leave Sophie with someone other than my dear husband, I taught the babysitter how to use the Epi-Pen. After doing this a few times, I realized that people were terrified of it! Teaching someone to use the Epi-Pen practically ensured that they would take no risks, since they didn't want to have to use it! Pretty soon, I started showing it to anyone who was even around Sophie, because something about needles really brings home the severity of food allergies.

Alas, I was most anxious about myself. With all of the terms to learn and information to assimilate in a critically brief period of time, how could I be sure that I wouldn't miss some ingredient on a label? Indeed, I did miss ingredients a few times--only to catch my error seconds before Sophie ingested the offending food. In one instance, I didn't catch it in time, and poor Sophie paid the price in vomiting. But it's been a long time--maybe even years--since I have made such an error. And as I have been more accurate, my FAA has decreased. I no longer wake up in a cold sweat from the nightmare in which I have temporarily forgotten Sophie's allergy to eggs and witnessed her poor body swollen and sick. I have a new nightmare: Sophie is now reading her own labels. She still lets me double-check her work, but for how long? When the time comes, will I be prepared to hand over the responsibility of keeping her safe? Will I be able to trust my precious child with her own safety? Will I be able to say, Sophie, you've come a long way, Baby!"