Nothing quite prepares you for what is to come when you have a baby. Before I had my children, I thought I knew the meaning of the words ‘tired’, ‘worried’, ‘love’, but I did not. At least not in the sense these words have taken for me since having my babies. I remember myself before Crevette was born and with hindsight I have to admit I was incredibly naïve. I honestly thought I would spend my maternity leave relaxing and baking cakes; enjoying my time off work drinking cups of coffee in town with a little boy old ladies would coo at. My only worries before giving birth were whether I would remember how to change a nappy and what my little baby would wear when leaving the birthing centre.
The photos above were taken about ten days apart. The first one I took on the day Jumpy was due and the second the day after she was born. She took her time, my little girl! My first few weeks with her were easier than with my first two. She was my third baby, I kind of knew what I was doing and despite the sleep deprivation, I was really enjoying spending lots of quality time with my three angels. Jumpy was the easiest baby you could imagine. She was content, peaceful, slept a lot during the day and never really cried. It all changed when the eczema and allergies came to disrupt our lives like a huge, terrifying tornado.
The word that best describes this week for me is ‘light’. I feel relieved, lighter now I have found the courage to write about Jumpy’s allergic reaction. I could almost compare the lightness in my mind to the loss of baby weight and slight imbalance you feel straight after giving birth. So here is how we started living with her allergies.
Two days after Jumpy’s trip to A&E, we saw her dermatologist and she advised removing from her diet all foods I had observed were making the eczema worse. A month after her allergic reaction, we had the results from the immunology department and it was showing we were to avoid eggs, cow’s milk, wheat and soya bean.
When you are on your own at home with a problem, you feel just like that: all on your own at home with a problem. Somehow, I could not find anything of interest online, until I stumbled upon a ‘free from’ recipe book with glowing reviews. I immediately ordered the book and you can imagine my excitement three days later when I received it… I started leafing through it only to realise all but three recipes were unsuitable for Jumpy. Yes, it was dairy, gluten and wheat free, but the recipes included nuts, eggs and soya.
I have always eaten everything I wanted without ever thinking about what it may or may not contain. I have never watched what I was eating; I have no food intolerance; have never been on any kind of restricted diet. I am not even too fussed about foods you should avoid in pregnancy. I would describe myself as a free spirit when it comes to food. My philosophy is: when you enjoy your food; you are a happier person than if you are constantly worried about what passes your mouth. I had no idea how to exclude anything from anyone’s diet, as I had never had to do it or seen it done ever before. To my knowledge, I do not know anyone who is allergic to anything.
It was a mammoth task for me to accept the fact my baby would not be able to taste all the lovely things I enjoy cooking for my family. I felt like she was going to miss out so much. My closest friend was a lot more reasonable about the whole situation and reminded me that if she had never had the stuff, she could not possibly miss it. I had never seen it that way. Friends are great at telling you obvious things you cannot see yourself because you are too involved, too wrapped up in your own thoughts and worries. They have the distance needed to be objective and logical.
Instinctively as a mother, you want to feed your child. Not being able to do so made me feel like a bad mother, a useless one. I do not want any other mum to feel like me, alone and lost. Le Coin de Mel is not just about allergies or eczema, not just about one of my babies. It is about having a great time all together and making life with allergies more manageable. Whenever anyone finds and uses one of my recipes, I feel like I have succeeded. I am connecting with other mums trying to bring normality to their child’s life. That is huge!
Two months later, at our first appointment with the allergy specialist, I was told for sure that she was allergic to wheat, cow’s milk protein and had a strong sensitisation to peanuts and eggs. Sensitisation means that the blood tests were showing a strong likelihood of allergy, but as she had not eaten those and therefore not reacted to them, it was not labelled ‘allergy’. She was given an ‘Acute allergy / Anaphylaxis treatment plan’ as well as an Adrenalin auto injector. A soya challenge in hospital a week later revealed she was intolerant to soya rather than allergic to it, so she can have it in small doses, which is great.
I was relieved to know what was causing the vomiting, sleep deprivation and considerably aggravating the eczema. I was not making any of it up! I know it probably sounds odd, but the worst of it all is not the fact she has allergies to ingredients I use every single day in my cooking. The worst bit was being in the dark about what might be wrong with my tiny, beautiful baby.
I had an ‘action plan’ on paper, a real guide with steps to follow in case of an allergic reaction. I knew everything was going to be alright. After a couple of weeks on her ‘free from’ diet, her eczema was not flaring up as much, she slept better and was scratching a lot less. A month later, my grumpy baby turned into a content little girl. Her skin was completely clear, her cheeks looked rosy and healthy and she had put on a kilo (yes, a whole kilogram!).
I prepare a lunchbox for her when I am at work and she goes to our childminder. She has her own cups, plate, bowls and cutlery there to avoid cross-contamination. I also pack all snacks for when we are out and about. I have been teaching Crevette (5 years 7 months) and Beanie (3 years 5 months) not to give her anything to eat unless hubby or I tell them it is safe. They always eat at the table and I vacuum crumbs that have fallen on the floor after each meal. We have matter-of-fact discussions about Jumpy’s allergies so that they understand how crucial it is not to let her eat anything she could react to. She is too young to tell people at parties or playgroups, but they are not and they do a great job looking after their little sister. When she goes to school, I will refer her teachers to the blog for recipes for play dough or food they might be cooking with the children. She will not be excluded from activities because of her allergies.
I am a mum on a mission. I am determined for her not to be different or miss out because she has allergies. She did not ask for those allergies and should not be punished because of something that is out of our control. Her allergies are part of her, and we are not going to whine about them or dwell over them. We are not going to avoid talking about them either as they are not taboo. They are just part of who she is and that is fine.
I have adapted some of my staple recipes to ensure we could all eat the same thing from time to time, like my root vegetable soup. When we cannot have the same thing, I try to cook something for her that looks (and hopefully tastes) similar. Her French pancakes were such a big success her siblings were fighting over them. When I decided to make play dough or finger paints for the children, I managed to tweak the recipes I had been using so that all three children could enjoy the same activity without worrying about her ingesting something potentially life-threatening.
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Please note that I do not work in the health sector and I have no medical training or knowledge whatsoever. This is my daughter’s story and the recipes on my blog are perfect for us but they might not work for you. Always consult a doctor if in doubt. Allergy UK is another good source of information.