It was December 2014 and things with being a working mama were really starting to come together. The two of us were coming up with a weekday routine that I was finally feeling okay with. Our 30-40 minute drive to daycare and work now consisted of praying then singing songs as well as lots of babbling. After I picked him up around 2:30 each day, I would nurse him in a lounge area outside of the bathroom of the church next door. It was our special time together that we both looked forward to daily…. Or at least I know I did and I convinced myself that my son did too. After that, we would pray and sing all the way home where we had our special routine there too.
However, weekends were my favorite. I loved just spending time playing and not worrying about having to be anywhere. My son started eating solids at 5 months of age in October….
hmmmmm….the same month that hives started.
He was very interested in food; however, did not eat much of it. We introduced foods on a 3-5 day cycle, starting with oatmeal cereal, avocado, bananas, apples, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, and string beans. Intense teething started up again around then too. For teething, he did not like the teething rings so much; however, loved gnawing on a frozen mini bagel like a nurse at our pediatrician’s office suggested.
In hindsight, I would never have started solids until six months of age and would never ever give a bagel to gnaw on for teething. However, what did I really know at that point about food allergies having never dealt with any myself.
Saturday, December 13 was a typical snowy evening. As I was setting up my son’s dinner, I was excited because it would be his first taste of yogurt. After two small spoonfuls, the verdict was in: he loved it!
However, within a minute it all changed.
He started to fuss and rub at his face. Turning red, his lips and mouth swelled up as huge blotches formed all over his face, neck and chest. Although just an infant, fear was written all across his face. After calling 911, an ambulance arrived in what felt like a lifetime. In the ambulance, his state continued to get worse. I held an oxygen mask over his now slightly-blue lips. As he started to zone out, I prayed that he did not lose his breath. When he cried, I felt a second of relief for he was breathing.
Asking the EMT repeatedly about his state, I now know that she too was worried. Her silence spoke louder than any words could have. They did not have an EpiPen with them in the ambulance and called to meet up with another team on the way to the hospital. However, due to the snow, that did not happen. As the doors to the ambulance opened, they sprinted in holding my son as I ran behind them, helpless.
The hospital staff administered epinephrine, Benadryl, and a steroid then reassured me that everything would be okay. It was 40 minutes after ingesting that tiny amount of yogurt and I now know that we were beyond lucky. Not everyone gets those 40 minutes.
A moment of relief soon turned into the reality of what had happened. It mixed with guilt, throwing me into the most difficult place I had seen. That night, I slept on the floor next to his crib waking up every hour to check for breathing. Yet, even in his sleep, TJ smiled on…
We soon learned that TJ was allergic to milk, eggs, wheat, oats, barley, rye, peanuts, tree nuts, coconut, sesame, soy, and peas. At first, I spent those early months trying to defend myself to others as a good person who did not eat too many peanuts or eggs during my pregnancy. Or, explaining why I chose to continue breastfeeding despite these allergies. I was explaining myself to everyone to try to prove that I did not cause this and I was not an awful mom. However, it was unhealthy and I needed to shift my focus to best help TJ.
Therefore, I turned to writing, starting this blog as an outlet for the emotions I was feeling and information that I was learning. By sharing our story, we hope to teach everyone with or without food allergies while inspiring others who wear similar shoes to smile on despite the challenges they face. While we have just begun this journey, I have already learned to smile because:
1) Special kinds of people wear these shoes. Wear the label often thrown at you with pride.
For you are special.
2) Make the most of it, don’t let challenges like food allergies define you. Only YOU can
3) Ignorance is not bliss and needs to be educated.
4) Let your faith be bigger than your fear. Trust your instinct but always be prepared.
5) Educating means advocating. Never apologize for it. Your child’s life never requires an apology.
Last, but definitely not least, TJ continues to inspire us each and every day. Throughout all of our emergency room trips, endless doctor appointments, and the worst days, TJ always smiles, inspiring our blog’s original name (Smiling Away Allergies) and now continuing to teach us to embrace every step of the way… every bit of our story…
…even if it means having a messy house.