Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Kid Who Couldn't Eat (Practically) Anything

Lately, various friends have inquired how I deal with the Duchess's food allergies, so I thought it might make a useful post.  This is the first in an occasional series on the topic. (I've always wanted to write that).

The Discovery:
The duchess was breast-fed for six months, and happy was I on her half-birthday when I ceremoniously brought out the Similac to feed her.  Hooray, I thought. (I know this is not a politically correct notion; so shoot me). 

The joke was on me, however.  First, she downed the whole 8oz in one hungry gulp, then threw it all back up in a genuinely spectacular fountain and promptly broke out into massive hives. I freaked out and called the nurses line at her pediatrician's.  The geniuses over there told me that if I had been drinking milk while breast feeding, it probably wasn't that, so try a different brand of formula. (Needless to say, I've since switched pediatricians).  After experiencing another incredible breakout of hives, I busted out some soy formula and went from there. 

It wasn't until a full month or so later that, in conversation with a pediatric dermatologist about the Duchess's eczema, that I realized I needed to see an allergist.  Eczema, food allergies, and childhood asthma are all somehow related, but nobody knows for sure exactly how.  But controlling the former two seem to help prevent the latter.  These conditions also can be hereditary, and my husband had childhood asthma, and his sister and brother have peanut allergies. All of them had eczema.  The Duchess sometimes gets a little wheezy when she gets a cold, but we've avoided the worst asthma symptoms, much to my husband's relief.

Soon, the Duchess's situation was revealed in its sad entirety: Dairy, wheat, eggs, and peanuts all caused an allergic reaction and needed to be eliminated. (Since then, we've added on shellfish but I had given it to her before the diagnosis without a problem).  Interestingly, the wheat allergy was not manifesting itself with dramatic throw-ups and hives, but rather through bad eczema.  And after a couple of wheat-free weeks, the eczema went away, only coming back from time to time for short visits.

The Adjustment:
I won't lie - I felt a deep sense of loss when I found this out. What is she going to eat? I remember thinking desperately.  From birthday cake to kiddie meals, at least one of those forbidden ingredients is practically everywhere.  Even a casual recipe in a magazine is most likely unable to be useful to us, and I have basically ignored practically all of my cookbooks for the past three years.  I can't just stick around at a friend's for snack or pop into a restaurant for lunch unless I've planned ahead and brought something, or we're at one of the restaurants that cater to people with food allergies.  I also have to bring the Duchess to the allergist to get a flu shot because the shots are incubated in eggs and we can't run the risk of a reaction (she's never had a problem, though).  The year there was a separate H1N1 shot, and she needed boosters for the flu shot, we had to be at the allergists four times in just a few months - brutal!

Finally, with the help of one of my friends who has severe food limitations, I came around to viewing it more positively.  For one thing, the Duchess can be in the same room as the allergens, which is a good thing. I've reframed my point of view, asking, "What can she eat?"  The answer is, a lot.  Since then, I have come up with several meal ideas that are quite appealing to the Duchess, easy to pack, and also easy to share with Honey, who ironically, has no food allergies. ("Go ahead," said the allergist jovially. "Give her some peanut butter.") We've also tried some foods that most people don't think about for kids, like polenta.

Dealing with the food allergies have required some lifestyle changes of varying degrees, but I can't help thinking that at least she's basically healthy.  And we are so thankful that the worst thing that has happened to her is that she has to skip some cake once in a while.  Next post will be about my tips and tricks for feeding the kid who can't eat anything.

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