Dear Younger Me,
I see you and I know you. You feel alone and unprepared right now. Your helpless, precious child has been diagnosed with a severe food allergy. You’ve already seen the power this disease has when your sweet babe became swollen beyond recognition with hives, redness and itchiness. You’re told it could have been much worse and you’re thankful, but fearful of the next time. Your mama bear instincts are in overdrive. You don’t know exactly why your baby has food allergies, just that it’s more real and scary than you ever imagined. The doctor says to keep your LO away from one of your FAVOURITE foods, yet you have NO idea exactly how to do this, and feel resentful that you have to. The internet helps after hours of searching, yet the hope it gives you is nothing compared to the injustice you feel right now. You have so many questions, and I’m hoping to put your worries at ease, even for just a short while. So younger me; here’s my advice.
Get Help When You Need It
1. Learn about food allergies. I know you feel like you need to do it all on your own. But this is time consuming, stressful, and lonely. Find an AllerCoach or Food Allergy Consultant to guide you through everything you need to know. You’ll thank me for this.
2. Get an emergency plan. An emergency plan will tell you exactly what to watch for and help you know when to use epinephrine. You’ll find excellent templates at FARE or Food Allergy Canada. Take the template to your Doctor to confirm it’s right for your babe and then copy the plan and keep it everywhere. Use the emergency plan as a tool to show family members & close friends how real and serious food allergies are because some may not understand or believe you.
3. Get ready for a change in social situations. There are many misunderstandings about food allergies and unfortunately, it will change your social life. I want to encourage you that as hard as it is, IT IS WORTH IT to educate your close family and friends. But there’s a right and a wrong way to do this. People won’t understand unless you explain it, but you won’t be able to explain it if you turn people off. Start with your emergency plan. Use it to teach others you’re NOT dealing with a food intolerance or sensitivity since these are often mistaken for food allergies. Put in the extra work to go to that social event, but give yourself a break too. You can’t and shouldn’t do it all.
Keep Your Food Allergy Family Strong
4. Keep your relationship with hubby or support person strong. Teach your hubby to keep your little safe too. Lean on him when you need support. Love each other. You’re in this together and he will likely be one of the only ones that “gets” it at times. If you're single, find a good friend that will support you during the tough times (see #7 below).
5. Make room in your schedule. Running to the grocery store will be more like walking. Leave extra time to read labels. You’ll need to focus more time on food than you ever imagined.
6. Make food enjoyable. Whether you like it or not, you’ll need to make a lot more things yourself. Baking and cooking will either break you or make you. Buy good quality tools to make your life easier and make cooking & baking more enjoyable. You may love baking or cooking now, but years of substituting and making the same things will take a toll. Find ways to be inspired. Take a cooking class; learn about food allergy cooking; grow your own food; do what it takes to make it as interesting and inspiring as possible.
7. Find a community of food allergy moms. Hubby wasn’t made to be your only support. You need other moms in the same boat. Find that support and BE that support. A good place to start is with a good-quality online support group. Find one and join now. You owe it to yourself.
You Can Succeed At Being A Food Allergy Mom
Dear younger me, you’re now entering the life of a food allergy mom. You may not want this title, but you, mama are the best person for the job and have all you need to be successful. This life is not for the faint of heart; but love, care and the right guidance will bring you and your little one through as you navigate what you wish you never had to. Keep your head up, mama. You can do this.
What advice would you give yourself after food allergy diagnosis? Share in the comments below.