Once upon a time, before having babies, I imagined what life with a baby would be like. I thought it wouldn’t be much different, there would just be this gorgeous bundle of half me and half my partner, who would be in the ultra stylish sling while we carried on with life.
Whilst in this early 20s daydream of ‘what will be’ I know I was heavy to reflect on other people’s parenting. Luckily my friends who had children at the time were all utterly fabulous and I loved being a part of their lives, the bonus being that I also learned lots from them and wasn’t half as scared as I should have been, when having my own children.
Having not had small people of my own, I shared the beliefs of many that with so many allergies being reported, people were making them up. Children were not allergic to all the different things people stated, parents these days were neurotic and didn’t know when to let go.
Never did I imagine I would have a child with allergies and my first son helped me keep thinking this. He was fit as an ox, hardly ever ill and ate anything and everything. I didn’t think to check food labels ever and again, reflected that those who had their children on restrictive diets did so more, for their own emotional benefit, than their child’s.
Then I had my second child. All seemed ok except that he had really bad eczema (that some of the ‘helpful’ people I knew suggested was my own anxiety manifesting as eczema in him. Except, I didn’t have anxieties when it came to him). My best friend, whose own son is dairy free, gently suggested that I try a dairy free diet whilst feeding J and within days, his eczema became much better. Guided by my lovely friend, we worked with J, introducing him to some dairy – back at square one. Try again, he can have a little, until he could have dairy in his diet. Result! Just one of those baby things that now he was over a year, had grown out of. I had no further worries.
Weaning continued in much the same fashion as it had with my first child. No worries about allergies, some days he loved what I gave him, other days not so much. It was pretty much textbook. We exposed him to high allergen foods and there weren’t any issues.
One morning, when he had just turned 2, his brother asked for peanut butter on toast. I made it for him and for J, who was asking for breakfast. I didn’t think anything of it. Sat them at the table with their toast and continued getting ready for the day.
When I went to see how the boys were getting on, J was covered in hives. It looked as though he had fallen into stinging nettles. His skin was bright red with big, white hives (I had never seen white hives before). I gave him some anti-histamine and took him upstairs with me. We were sitting on the bed, with him facing away from me. He started sneezing and literally, would not stop. 30, 35, 40, 45 sneezes. I had my hand in front of his mouth ‘catching’ the sneeze. When he eventually stopped I turned him round to face me and his whole face was swollen. I knew I had to get him to hospital. I gave him another hit of anti-histamine and put him in the car. Big mistake. When you have a child in anaphylaxis (or an adult for that matter), call an ambulance. Do not try to drive them yourself.
There we were, in rush hour, getting caught behind the rubbish trucks, the roundabouts and eventually, yards from the hospital, at a filter light where the person in front would not go, even though the road was clear, because the filter wasn’t green. We (eventually) got to hospital and they took over immediately. The crash team got straight to work, he was administered IV drugs, nebulisers, had his stats taken every 20 minutes and was then under observation for the next 6 hours.
From this morning onwards, life in our household changed entirely. We now have a life full of consultant appointments, allergy clinics, epi-pens, anti-histamine and eternal vigilance. One of the most frightening things that has happened since that morning is the day we went out overnight, with the kids and had left J’s epi-pens at home. You see, it’s not enough to even just have one epi-pen on you, did you know that epi-pens can fail? Or that they only ‘work’ for 15 minutes and you may have to administer another one? Or that for some people, they don’t work at all? Anaphylaxis can take only 2 minutes to take over a person’s airway and render them unconscious. The flip side is that it can also take 6 hours for any symptoms to appear. What happens if your child is exposed to an allergen (but shows no signs) close to bedtime?
I have to explain to people that, unless they have been trained in how to spot some of the lesser known symptoms (hallucination, hives that appear under clothes) and then deal with them, there is a possibility that my child could become very ill in their care. Who wants that responsibility?
The main problem in dealing with anaphylaxis is thoughtlessness. People, like who I used to be, who think that the allergy is made up. People who don’t check ingredients before offering food to my child or who don’t think to wash their hands having just handled nuts. People who switch off when I am showing them again how to use an epi-pen and what signs to look out for.
Luckily we have amazing friends, one of whom has a special jar in their house for nuts so that nothing in their house is contaminated. Family who purge the house of potential allergens and plan days out around this very serious allergy. Friends who are happy to train their teenagers in how to use epi-pens and procedures for when they are with my child. These friends and family realise the very real risk of dealing with J’s allergy, they know that every time I hand him over into anyone’s care, there is the potential that he could come into contact with something that could kill him.
So please, the next time you roll your eyes and think that parents of children with allergies are making a fuss, remember that every time we are away from our children, we face the possibility that they could encounter something that could kill them. Quickly and viciously.