Blogger Jenny Ripatti-Taylor of Let’s Talk Mommy shares her experience of her child’s life-threatening food allergy.
*Disclaimer, emotional post warning. I have been contemplating whether or not to share this post that has been in my drafts for over a year. No one wants to write about things that hurt, but in the process of writing and now finishing this post finally, I want to make people aware more than anything. I am not looking for pity but sharing this experience only to pass on information about something that could happen to you, or if there are other parents out there that struggle with their child having severe allergies, they can relate to it. It’s a whole new world of parenting an allergy child, I promise you. We are here to support each other.
Tuesday, June 12, 11:35 a.m.
Yes, I remember the very minute it happened to you. You were happily kicking your feet in your high chair, sat between the fridge and the kitchen island, where you always sat. Lunchtime was fun for us, just you and me. I would put on music and eat standing at the kitchen island next to you while I offered yummy first tastes to you in your high chair. You were weaning.
I remember feeling a little excited that it was going to be your very first bite of peanut butter and jelly sandwich that day. An American classic and a favorite among kids. One I grew up on myself and loved. I never even thought for a second what it would do to you as I spread the peanut butter on one side and the jelly on the other. It was strawberry, my favorite, and I was hoping it was going to be yours, too. I cut the sandwich into tiny squares to offer them to you.
Daddy walked in from work to grab the wallet he left on the counter and grab a bite for lunch. He just walked into the back room to turn on Bloomberg for the daily stock market updates.
I never had the chance to turn on our music.
I casually handed you one square to try and turned to put the peanut butter and jelly back in the fridge. You happily grabbed it from me and put it to your mouth. It took you a second to lick it and see what it tasted like. I waited for a smile to confirm it was your new favorite, too.
At first, you just started gagging as if the cream peanut butter was stuck on your tongue and you weren’t used to the texture. It’s a sound most babies make while weaning and learning to control their gag reflexes. But it only lasted a second, and you started coughing, gasping, and your eyes rolled to the back of your head. I froze and could faintly hear the sound of Daddy’s work shoes running into the kitchen toward you. I quickly wiped as much of it out of your mouth as I could as you continued to vomit. We knew we needed to get you to the hospital immediately. We didn’t call 999 as we lived next door to the hospital. I didn’t know whether to hold you or buckle you in your car seat, but I knew Daddy would need to drive as fast as possible, so I buckled you quickly and jumped in next to you with tears rolling down my face.
The car ride to the hospital was the longest car ride of my life. Two corners before we entered the hospital car park, you went unconscious. I remembering screaming so hard, in my head and out loud for you. I ripped you out of your car seat, and I held you as tight as possible, screaming to Daddy to hurry. I thought you were dead.
I saw the sign for A&E and I jumped out of the car still moving with you limp in my arms. I shoved past an elderly man with a cane or a coatrack, unsure, and ignored the reception desk and ran straight through the double doors, screaming for a doctor and that I think you were in anaphylactic shock. A doctor to the right of me moved faster than I had ever seen anyone move and gave you a shot that made you gasp and me cry out in relief. My baby was alive. He saved my son.
Daddy followed through the double doors soon after, and you were hooked to all sorts of monitors, and they were having to give you medicine injections regularly as the peanut butter you digested kept attacking your system over and over. The hives immediately showed their ugly face all over your entire body. They were in your eyes and mouth. It seemed like hours after I heard you take that breath again that I realized I was still holding mine.
You were lying on the hospital bed, and I could hear the monitor beeping, telling me your heart was working, your lungs were breathing, and you were going to be OK. The nurse walked out to get you something, and I broke down in Daddy’s arms, crying uncontrollably. The emotions of it all finally catching up to me that I had almost lost you.
You were moved to a bigger children’s hospital. I didn’t sleep for two nights and sat next to you, making sure you were still breathing. The hives continued to come out over the next day, and it was clear you had a deadly allergic reaction to peanut butter. I wasn’t allowed to lie with you as you were hooked to machines in a baby crib, so I had to watch you through bars. It hurt so much that I couldn’t just cuddle up next to you and let you know how sorry I was for causing you this pain.
The hospital staff were amazing with you, but they weren’t so keen on a distraught mommy. I knew nothing about food or ingredients and worried how I would keep you safe. They handed me pamphlets on allergies and sent us home. I called ahead to Daddy and had him throw out everything that even had traces of nuts. The car seat needed to be replaced before I was putting you back in it as you had vomited peanut butter on it. I was scared of anything touching you. I was scared to touch anything else for fear of transporting it to you. I spent the next six weeks petrified to leave the house with you. What if someone ate a peanut butter sandwich and touched you. I was sent home with an EpiPen that just made the whole thing more real and more scary. I was paranoid about everything I fed you for months.
You were back to being a happy, healthy bouncing baby boy. You didn’t realize what had almost happened to you. What did happen to you. Your life continued on as normal, in your eyes. But I was changed forever.
When something like this happens, the unexpected, it changes you in different ways. I find it hard to talk about to this day, a day that has turned me into a paranoid mother by standards. Those that have children with severe allergies can relate, I know now, after years of being one, what it’s like. I can’t take my son anywhere without the anxiety of this day flooding back even after four years. Kids parties make me sweat, and if you know me, I never sweat. I don’t let anyone else be in control of my son’s meals (school now an exception that took me months to prepare for and still scares me), but I was the only one to ever feed him while he was growing up. Ironic since it was my fault he experienced anaphylactic shock in the first place. I fear every day that I will get a call from the school that he has eaten something he shouldn’t and something worse has happened. His allergy list is now a mile long. I have learned how to parent in a different way than I do with my daughter, who has no allergies. It’s a completely different life taking care of a child with allergies. You don’t just have to protect them from bumps and scrapes, but every person they come into contact with is a risk. Everyone around you could potentially harm him. The toys others have played with could have traces of something that will harm him. It’s a never-ending circle of paranoia.
I have had to become a pro at reading labels and seeing signs of him struggling if he has eaten something not right. I have to pay more attention to him than I do my daughter, especially when we are out and about for the day if there is food around. I have no idea how to stop panicking over him every time he isn’t with me. I hate having to tell every parent at school about him, just so they can help watch out for him, too. He is now getting to the age where I can explain things, and he can help me watch out too, but I am still so scared.
I have nightmares about my son going into anaphylactic shock again and again. I am jumpy when the phone rings during school hours, petrified it’s them calling. I hope that, as years go by, it gets less, but I also worry, if I get more relaxed about it, that’s when it will happen. I always make sure all our EpiPens are in reach, up to date, and we know how to use them, as well as our friends and extended family.
I sometimes get angry and wish I would have known more about allergies and the dangers of food when I was weaning him. Nuts and eggs included, as these are the two we have had issues with the most. I was clueless, a new parent just wanting to share her love for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A sandwich I will never touch again. If you think your child may have an allergy, get them checked. I didn’t know it, but my son had baby eczema badly and baby asthma — I was told that this can be a warning sign that they may have food allergies. I’m not saying all babies with either of these do, but just be aware of the possibility and have them checked out. Better safe than sorry.
There is nothing scarier than seeing your child go blue, seeing them choke and gasp for air, knowing you can’t do anything for them. The pain that rips through your body, the tightening in your throat in chest as you hold your breath until they breathe again themselves — it’s something that changes you, stays with you forever. If my experience can help but one parent be cautious about food allergies while weaning, then it was worth reliving it to share with you.