I am sitting in the allergist’s office with my child right now. He is afraid, fearful. I wait, I listen, I watch as his arm grows larger from the “skin prick test” used to identify allergic reactions to various substances. At 9 years-old, he already knows this is a really painful test. He knows that it’s very uncomfortable because his body usually responds with large hives on his back. He is giving me a play-by-play, only slightly distracted by the iPad. “I hate you mom,” he says several times. “You know this hurts me, mom,” he says again. “Why do I have to do this?” as tears roll from his eyes.
I remember learning that he was potentially allergic to several foods as early as 2 months old. People asked me how I knew. Imagine this: feeding your child a teeny bit of fruit and seeing him react with red blotches on his body. Imagine being in the heat, watching hives grow from an infant’s body. Imagine calling 911 as you watch hives grow around a young boy’s mouth after eating rice form a Chinese food restaurant (likely, cross contaminated). You know, you just know.
In the past 9 years, we have told our son to avoid peanuts at any cost. In 9 years, we have asked him to carry a life-saving Epinephrine pen. If he is without it and ingests peanuts or shellfish by accident, he could lose his breath. He has watched us tell countless caretakers how to stick it in his leg and call 9-1-1.
Imagine my curiosity when I heard about a new treatment for allergies, one that is called Oral Immunotherapy, whereby children are learning to tolerate foods they could never tolerate before. Not that the kid is begging for peanuts. “I don’t even want to eat a peanut mom,” he said in the office. Nope, he doesn’t. But, what if he ever is exposed to one? If there is any chance of him becoming stronger, I want to give him that chance. It is within our reach to make him stronger so that if there is an accidental exposure, his body will know how to handle it. I am his mom. His first step to becoming a candidate for this new treatment is to update his allergy history through a “prick test” and a blood test. He hates all of it. Objects to it all.
One of my favorite pediatricians said she is more hopeful than ever because of all of the research and treatments that are available today. She grew up in my neighborhood, has allergies and has children with allergies. I trust this woman implicitly and hearing this leaves me more hopeful than ever.
Despite his favorite ice cream, pretzels, kombucha, sushi and even missing religious school on the day of the visit to the allergist’s office, my son remains unhappy with me the entire day. For the first time ever, he puts himself to bed after dinner. “This is the worst day of my life, I just want to go to bed mom,” he declared. I repeat my mantra in my head, “I am his mom, I know best.”
I have never been allergic to anything, nor has my husband. We cannot imagine living with this fear. We cannot imagine what it feels like to be him. I developed a hive on my arm on the way home from the allergist today. It’s what mom’s do. We sink so deep into the same emotion, we, too, feel pain when our kids feel pain. We develop empathy hives when our kids develop hives. Is there such a thing?
I am hopeful that one day we will figure this thing out. Kids won’t have to fear flying on airplanes, going to overnight camp or feeling left out from school birthday parties. I am hopeful this generation inspired us to work harder to find solutions and, potentially cures. I am hopeful that peanuts won’t equal poison for kids, and I am hopeful that I can help other parents who are in the same position as I was once in, and remain in today. I am hopeful that when my son wakes up tomorrow morning, he will no longer be mad at me and understand that I am his mom, and I do know best.
Binay Curtis is a nutritionist focused on food allergies and weight loss. She also is a sought after speaker and media trainer @Galaxy Six Strategies. For nutritional therapy information, please find Bacon + Broccoli on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.