Thank you, Lisa, for inviting me to share our story with the No Nuts Moms Group! I'm the creator of the blog Pure and Peanut Free, and I'm also the leader of the No Nuts Moms Group in Colorado Springs, CO. I have two children. My son is 7 and my daughter just turned 5, and it's because of my youngest that we found ourselves on this food allergy journey.
From the time she was born, Eva suffered from severe eczema. At one point, when she was just a week or two old, a woman stopped me in the grocery store and asked "What on earth is wrong with your baby?!" After multiple trips to the doctor, and several false diagnoses, like baby acne (yeah right!), I was finally told (without testing) that she was allergic to dairy, and that I should supplement my breast milk with a hypoallergenic soy formula. The eczema cleared up and we thought we had our answer. At 9 months old, however, she had what I believe was her first anaphylactic reaction. We were at an amusement park and my son was eating a snack. I had prepared a bottle for her and after a few minutes of eating she began screaming and writhing in pain. Between the bouts of crying she would suddenly fall asleep (what I now know was caused by her blood pressure dropping), and then she'd wake and start all over again, until she finally vomited and the symptoms began to improve. Assuming that this was just a stomach bug, I didn't think too much of the incident and didn't even mention it to her doctor.
The second time she experienced anaphylaxis was not quite so easy to forget. She was 14 months old and we were at a play date. My son was eating a peanut butter cookie and, thinking I was being a very wise parent (she was too young to be introduced to peanuts, you see), I chose an oatmeal cookie for her. But here's my BIG mistake: I let the two of them share a plate. His peanut butter cookie next to her oatmeal cookie. Soon after eating she began choking and grabbing at her throat. I literally thought she had swallowed a rock, as they were playing near some gravel. She would cry, choke, and then intermittently fall asleep (her blood pressure dropping, again). I rushed home, and as soon as we got inside she began vomiting. She threw up over and over, to the point that she could barely lift her head. It was then that her face began to swell. (I, being still very naive about food allergies, didn't connect the dots). She seemed to feel a little better after vomiting, so I filled the tub for a bath. As I was undressing her, I noticed the hives. On her stomach, on her back, on her bottom. Places that were hidden from the other symptoms (always check these areas if you suspect a reaction!!!). That's when the light-bulb went on and I had that AH-HA moment! This was an allergic reaction!
I rushed her to the doctor, where they confirmed it was a reaction. But to what? Allergy testing was scheduled for later in the week.
At the allergist I sat trying to comfort my baby girl as her tiny back swelled from the skin prick test. My mind raced through memories the past week - that image of her unable to speak, clutching her throat, her wide, brown eyes pleading for help which I couldn't provide, was forever branded into the forefront of my mind. When the results were in, we discovered that (surprise, surprise!) she was not allergic to milk at all, but rather to peanuts, and her results were off the charts! The pieces started falling into place. The eczema - I was eating peanut butter on the advice of a mid-wife (and since there was no known family history of food allergies), to increase the protein in my breast milk. The reaction at the amusement park - my son was eating peanut butter crackers. And at the play date - she obviously ate some crumbs from my son's peanut butter cookie. It all made sense.
Which brings us to today. She's a happy, vibrant, opinionated, eczema-free, EpiPen toting (actually, I carry it) five year old who's excited about starting kindergarten in the fall!
My most immediate concern after her diagnosis was that she would never have a normal childhood. She couldn't have sleepovers with friends, eat dinner at their houses, travel, go out for ice cream or go to summer camp. All the things that I remember so happily from my childhood. Which is why the No Nuts Moms Group is so important to me. It's allowed Eva to make friends with other children who share the same allergies, who also live in peanut-free homes and whose parents are just as concerned about cross-contamination as I am. Parents who don't think I'm crazy for reading the ingredient label six times, who, in fact, will read the same label themselves 6 more times just to be sure; who are supportive and always there with good advice, never criticism, and a shoulder to cry on (even a virtual shoulder). As we all know, this allergy stuff can be tricky business, and I don't need to tell you how wonderful it is to be able to type in a question on the NNMG facebook page and immediately receive answers from across the country. We have an amazing community and I'm so very thankful for each and every one of you! Because of you, because of our ever growing community and our constant, tireless advocacy, I know that the world will be a safer and more allergy-friendly place for our kids in the future.
Rebecca Sherrow shares her stories, nut-free recipes, and original photography on her blog, Pure and Peanut Free. After additional testing, it was determined that her son is allergic to melon and shellfish. Her recipes are free of peanuts, tree nuts, melon, and shellfish. You can also find her on freedible. As well as on twitter, @RebeccaSherrow, facebook, and Pinterest.