No one can prepare you for how having a child with a life threatening allergy will affect a huge number of decisions you make in your life from where you go on holiday, to what medications he can have to what school he'll go to and who you entrust your child to. It can be exhausting.
It was confirmed that our son had a life threatening allergy to milk at our local A&E department after he’d had a mouthful of baby formula at home aged 4 months. He started to cough, vomit, his breathing became laboured, he was very distressed, he was itchy and he had a bumpy rash all over his body. It was terrifying.
We were sent away with Epi Pens (adrenaline), anti histamine syrup and inhalers, it was bewildering, daunting and a lonely experience. While other parents were happily giving their child formula and were starting to wean their children onto all the food groups, we had to be wary of any food that went near him in case there were other allergens he hadn’t been tested for that he was allergic to. Initially we didn’t change our lifestyle but were careful, yet he would still have minor reactions on a regular basis, if we ate something cheesy then kissed him he would have a mild reaction, if we had residue food on our hands and we touched him he became itchy and blotchy, so we decided to cut dairy out of our diets while we were around him.
What we didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would be to live ‘normally’. So much supermarket food has hidden milk products in them. Some brands of fish fingers, sausages & cooked meats can have milk in them, over 70% of crisps have milk in their ingredient list. Some foods are labelled ‘Not suitable for milk allergy sufferers due to the methods of production’ or ‘Made on a line which previously handled milk products’. Many food products just say ‘May contain traces of milk’ even though you can’t imagine why on earth it would. The list goes on and on and we can’t take the chance no matter how small. It means that everything we buy has to be checked (no matter how many times you've bought it before) and more often than not put back on the shelf – we’re a pretty healthy family these days as we just can’t buy ‘convenience’ food. I cook a lot, adapt normal recipes to be dairy free and this is was the beginning of Wombie Events although it would be another 12 years before I realised this was a possibility.
Travelling abroad is not easy, food prepared on flights are not geared up for people with allergies, gluten free is catered for, vegetarians too, yet not dairy free. We always take our own food and while we would anyway for peace of mind, a part of me is irked that we have to. Getting restaurants in the UK to understand that food needs to be dairy free is a challenge, add a language that you don't speak well onto that and you're basically playing Russian roulette. That sounds melodramatic, its really not meant to be, it is just the truth. Our son, in Greece last year, had so many reactions despite a conversation in every restaurant we went to and a document written by a Greek friend stating what he was allergic to, that we let him have McDonalds for the last few days. It was safer.
As he gets older, and we know he is unlikely to grow out of his allergy, we wonder what the future holds. I look back to my mid teens and think about going out with friends and wanting to fit in and the decisions he is going to be faced with after being a bit worse for wear and it scares me. All we can do is make sure he knows the risks, that his friends all know about his allergy and hope that he makes the right decisions.