At first blush, food allergies make life harder — and less delicious, right? But when I step back and think about the past year of our food allergy journey, it's not all bad. In fact, there have been some positive notes.
Let me go back just a bit ... When my son was born, I knew breastfeeding was a priority. I read books, I went to a class at the hospital, and when my doctor said a C-section would be necessary because my baby was breech and unlikely to turn, I told her that one of my biggest concerns was breastfeeding soon after delivery to establish that all-important bond.
Still, even though I was committed to the cause, I thought six months was a reasonable goal. Some mama friends shared with me their plans to nurse for a year. "Wow," I thought. "It's pretty cool that I know a saint."
Then, I had my son. And while it wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done, breastfeeding was actually pretty natural for the two of us. Don't get me wrong: Those growth spurts that every nursing mama knows so well? They practically sent me into a rage. I was starving all of the time. Awake all of the time. Sore much of the time. After his four-month growth spurt, I swore we were done.
But then, I dunno, I took a nap and everything seemed better. And we kept going. Past 6 months. Past 12 months. Past 18 months ... He has never had even a drop of formula. Not everyone can physically accomplish this for a variety of reasons. Not everyone wants to do this. I TOTALLY understand both of those perspectives. But this is something I am really proud of.
I'm also proud that we continued breastfeeding after my son was diagnosed with food allergies. After his blood test results, I was advised that if I intended to continue nursing, I would have to avoid all of the same foods that he did.
But wait a minute, I said. My son had never had a direct reaction to breast milk, I argued. Our pediatrician (whom I completely trust) explained — and our allergist and a lactation consultant later agreed — that allergies can manifest in a number of ways. And it's entirely possible that the damage was being done to the gut, as opposed to a reaction that I could see. At the time, my son wasn't gaining weight, and even though I offered a number of other explanations for this, it's possible the allergies and my cheese- and butter-laced milk were part of the problem. So part of our goal with removing allergens from his breastmilk has been to help heal his gut.
When I tell people the foods I don't eat it, there is often a great deal of shock (after the shock that I'm still nursing, period). Followed by a joke that not being able to eat cheese would be reason enough to wean.
But I feel like this is just something most mothers would do, provided they had the information and physical ability (as well as emotional/mental well-being). I am blessed to have these things ... at least for now. When we do wean (something on the horizon for sure), it won't be because of any desire I have to eat cheese. Even though — to be clear — I really, really miss cheese.
The downsides to allergies are fairly obvious, but there have been a lot of benefits to our allergy journey too.
1. Limited junk food. So, here's the deal. When you can't have eggs or nuts or peanuts or dairy, A LOT of baked goods (at least the good ones!) are off the table. Candy? Nope. If I want us to have a treat, I typically make it. That helps make treats just that: treats. And while I'd like to think we would have restricted Easter and Halloween candy anyway, the allergy factor makes it that much easier to just say no. I cook a lot, and I try to avoid processed foods as much as possible; food allergies make it easier to stick to that script. Would he have had McDonald's by now? I hope not, but man, I do remember how easy a drive-thru can be. But ya know what? We can't. So, we don't. He doesn't even know what a Happy Meal (and its blasted toy) is.
2. We get creative. When you can't fall back on some of your old favorites, you have to get creative. On Easter, I made chocolate frosting using avocado as the fat source. We've tried our own cheese-free taquitos (a total fail, but we'll keep trying). We recently tried sunbutter, and the kiddo loved it!
3. Newfound empathy. I'm hopeful my son will outgrow a number of his allergies. But either way, I personally have developed a newfound sense of empathy for people with a number of food allergies and parents of children with food allergies. As a parent, the desire to keep your child safe is no joke. And ugh, eating out is HARD.
4. My own elimination diet. A lot of people ask if I have lost weight eating like this. Not really, and because I'm nursing (and always hungry!), I maintain a pretty high calorie load. But I will say that I have generally felt pretty good eating like this. And that's significant. I see one of the benefits of our allergy journey being that I get to be on a true elimination diet. I actually suspect that I might have a sensitivity to eggs, for example, or that too much dairy doesn't lead to optimal health for me. This will be an opportunity to reintroduce those foods one at a time and test those theories.
5. Affirmation of my own willpower. Some days I say it has nothing to do with willpower. It's all about my love for my son. Is there nothing you wouldn't do for your kids? Then, I'm watching friends or family indulge in some yummy cheesy pizza while I'm sitting there eating a banana or some pumpkin seeds I have stashed in my purse. Then, I think, "Ya know what, it's totally taking willpower to not go over there and eat a piece of pizza!" But then, my son comes and nestles up on my lap and shares my pumpkin seeds. And I think, "OK, I don't know if willpower is involved at all. It's all love."