Getting together with a friend? You’re likely to meet for coffee or a meal. Throwing a birthday party? You’re sure to serve cake. Celebrating a church anniversary? Enter the potluck or catered meal. In our culture, food seems to equal happiness and good times—which isn’t a bad thing. However, it makes life challenging for families who have food allergies.
So far my own family hasn’t struggled with this—but I know others who do. I can’t imagine the fear that grips a mother whose child’s well-being hangs in the balance during these happy events. That’s why I thought it’d be helpful to hear from two of these moms and get their perspectives on what life is like for families that live with severe food allergies.
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Our life was going according to plan. My husband and I married a year out of college, purchased our first home, and two years later gave birth to our first child.
Then it happened. God took us on our first major detour together. Our infant son had colic, reflux, eczema, and hernias due to muscle strain during bowel movements. Doctors prescribed various medications and suspected his symptoms could be stemming from possible allergies. Since he was breastfed exclusively, I altered my diet to try to ease his symptoms, but it was difficult to track what was helping or hindering the situation. Nothing brought complete relief.
Two years passed, and by this time I had given birth to our daughter who had health issues of her own. She suffered from chronic respiratory infections, ear infections, and intermittent stomach cramping. We took shifts staying up at night making sure she could breathe while she struggled to sleep.
Then it was my turn for complications. I had been losing weight and had large bruises appearing on my body without sustaining any injuries. At a doctor appointment, I heard the words no one ever wants to hear, “We should run some tests for leukemia.” It was with great relief that I received negative results, but I still had no answers.
With two sick children and my own failing health, I went on a quest for a diagnosis. Many doctor appointments later, along with two trips to the Mayo Clinic, we finally learned we had Celiac Disease—an autoimmune disorder that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.
Armed with this knowledge, we began the healing process. We changed our diet to strictly gluten and dairy free. Even this did not bring complete relief, so we started a specific diet developed to heal the lining of the intestines. It was very time consuming and involved fermenting our own foods; making our own broth; and eating all organic, homemade, raw (unprocessed) foods. Eventually, relief came, and we could reassess our life.
Our debt from medical bills and the new, expensive, lifelong diet strained us financially, so we decided to downsize our house to better manage our budget.
The hard part was over. We had survived the detour.
Whenever I am asked how we dealt with all these challenges, it is so inspiring not to have to search for answers once again. The answer is simple. When God’s plans altered from ours, he held us close to him as we learned to let go and put all our trust in him. He never put us down as he taught us that hard times can bring blessings, too.
Our Christian friends and family supported us, listening with compassionate ears and never tiring of doing good. We had babysitters for doctor appointments, help with tedious food preparations, and a monetary donation to help pay medical bills. We even inherited supportive new neighbors in the process. Accepting help was difficult at first, but through this trial, God taught us how to rely on the help he sends through fellow Christians.
When our children entered school, we again saw God’s love in action. Parents called before parties asking what they could bring that our children could eat. Some sent special non-food projects or toys. Instead of feeling left out, our children often felt special. Upon receiving a toy as a birthday treat, my daughter lamented, “I feel bad for the other kids in my class. They ate their treat, but I get to keep mine forever!”
So while life’s detours are unexpected and often unsettling, go with God because he’s looking at the whole road map and leading you in the right direction. I have learned my life was, is, always will be going according to plan . . . his plan.
Kristin Kutz and her husband, Joel, live in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, with their two children.
My 14-month-old feverishly scratched at his face. Huge white blisters exploded across his chubby baby cheeks. His lips swelled. He spit the food out of his mouth. He
vomited. After a trip to the E.R., we received the diagnosis—my baby had life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies.
So began a new phase of our life—a constant campaign to keep our son alive. It’s a campaign complicated by many people’s lack of understanding.
Food allergies are on the rise. We all know someone who has them. So what can we do to help? Overall the answer is simple—show God’s love.
Be kind in your interactions with the parents and children dealing with food allergies. Families dealing with food allergies didn’t ask for it, but they have to deal with it on a bite-to-bite basis. Put yourself into their shoes. Go one day thinking about every item you put in your mouth or on your body. That hand soap has almond oil in it. We can’t use it. That popcorn is made in a factory with peanuts and tree nuts. We can’t enjoy it. That dog across the street eats peanut butter as a treat. We can’t pet him. This is the reality of many food allergy families.
Here are a few practical ideas to show your Christian love and concern:
1. Keep kids with allergies from harm. Check and double check ingredient labels. Even if the label stated nothing last time about a particular allergen, it may this time. Make sure things are washed up as much as possible if your church/school/family consumes the food allergen. That means door handles, tables, toys, kids’ faces and hands, etc. And, if families wants to bring their own food, please don’t be offended. Let them do so without guilt. Their first priority is the safety of their children. If they are comfortable with you, the ladies’ guild, or school lunch program making the food, save the food labels for them to double check.
2. Don’t leave kids, their siblings, and families out. Institute ways in your church, school, and home to serve safe foods—or to leave food out of the situation altogether. We have chosen to bring non-food toys/trinkets to school to celebrate our kids’ birthdays. It has gone over so well that one of the teachers asked all of the families this year to only bring non-food items for birthdays—even though there aren’t any food allergy kids in her room.
3. Ask a lot of questions. If a food allergy individual is coming to your home, church, or school, ask, “What is the specific allergy?” Some with egg allergies are fine with cooked eggs, but not raw eggs, so baked good would be safe. Some with peanut allergies are perfectly fine with the walnuts in the brownies you made. Check with the families as to what is safe to eat and what is not.
4. Know the signs of an allergic reaction and what to do. Have the contact information of the parents and local emergency line. Learn how to use an EpiPen and do so before emergency personnel get there. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has some great resources for families, schools, and churches at foodallergy.org. Mylan (the EpiPen manufacturer) even gives free EpiPens to schools in case there are children who experience an unknown allergic reaction. Visit epipen4schools.com.
Be a blessing to these families. Little gestures let these kids and their families know you care about them no matter the setting.
Rachel Learman and her husband, Paul, have four children. They live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016
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