We’ve all cringed when someone’s snotty, hacking child comes hurdling towards our babies, hands outstretched, ready to infect them. Doctor’s offices, restaurants, grocery stores, church… people LOVE touching babies. They’re soft and squishy and instinctively grasp your finger. But babies have very sensitive and weak immune systems. Their bodies can’t fight like ours, and they’re affected much more strongly by simple bugs. So we protect them, turn away from strangers, put covers over their carseats, or just avoid public places altogether. When you realize how contact with other people can harm your child, you go to great lengths to protect them, shield them from that harm until their bodies are ready to fight it off.
But what if their little bodies never can?
I am the mother of an allergic child. Two actually, but one isn’t severe. He is allergic to peanuts and amoxicillin, both only causing hives and both easy enough to be avoided. My really, severely allergic child is the baby. She’s 19 months old and already has a laundry list of no-no foods and environmental allergies, each with its own reaction ranging from hives to bloody diarrhea to anaphylaxis. We carry an EpiPen and Benadryl everywhere we go. We avoid restaurants and potlucks and pre-packaged snacks. Birthday cake is as accessible as Atlantis. Grocery shopping takes twice as long and costs twice as much, between the constant label-reading and the price of buying organic. Oftentimes there are at least three different meals being served to our family of 5. I’m constantly checking and re-checking ingredients, watching for signs of a reaction, holding my breath if she finally gets to try a new food, keeping an eye out for the green poo that parents of allergic babies know all too well, Googling plant families and related vegetables… It’s a lot of work. Of course, it’s all worth it. I’m an info-aholic, so I crave knowledge, am always looking for new sources and new information on her numerous allergies. Sadly, her allergies seem to be increasing, so I find myself back at Google fairly often. Anytime she cries out in her sleep, I immediately grab my phone and quadruple-check the plant families of everything that was in her dinner. All this to say, I am ON TOP of this allergy thing. I research and ask and avoid like a boss.
But this weekend, I was shaken. Within 20 minutes of arriving at my mom and stepdad’s house to swim, baby girl began rubbing her eye. She had only napped for about 10 minutes, so I thought she was tired. But then she really started digging into it, whining even, and I thought maybe she’d accidentally gotten some sunscreen in her eye. Nope. Her eye was getting bright red and she was getting really upset. I took her from my mom and noticed some pink splotches on her forehead. Being a super pale little thing, she has been known to get splotchy from crying, but this wasn’t that. Could there be an ingredient in the sunscreen she was reacting to? Reading the label twice told me no. And this reaction was localized. It started getting worse. The splotches were spreading, getting darker, and swelling. Her eye was nearly shut and her lip was almost twice its size. She was having an allergic reaction. We quickly dosed her with Benadryl and watched her. My mind was racing. EpiPen or ER first? EpiPen or ambulance first? But the worst thing in my mind was that I COULD NOT FIGURE OUT what was causing this. She hadn’t pet the cat. She hadn’t eaten anything. There was an actual line down her face where you could see the reaction – her left side was fine, her right side was swollen and red and splotchy. Something had touched her face.
Thankfully, the Benadryl did the trick. The swelling started going down and the spots began to fade. We took pictures of her for documentation, but they break my heart, so I won’t share them. She perked back up after an hour or so and had a great time swimming. But what had caused the reaction? The question never left my mind. I’m STILL racking my brain, trying to pinpoint what caused it.
The next night we had a church back-to-school swim party. I hadn’t slept well the night before, constantly checking on her in the night to make sure the reaction didn’t reappear once the Benadryl wore off. We hadn’t been there five minutes when I noticed a rash on her. This time on her legs. She hadn’t eaten anything. There were no cats. No one had decorated with burlap. She’d just been in chlorinated water the day before, so it couldn’t be that.
What was HAPPENING to my baby?!
I just about had a meltdown. For all of my research, all of my learning, all of my avoidance and diligence in checking labels and ingredients and packing safe snacks, everything I had done to protect her… there were still things that could hurt her. I could not control everything about the environment we were in, and I didn’t like it. Any time someone reached out to touch her, my heart leapt. What was on their hands? What had they recently eaten or touched? Did they have pets? What was in their lotion? Bodywash? Perfume? Could this person, innocently greeting my child, cause her to go into anaphylactic shock? There was a young girl, about two years older than my own, who followed us around like a shadow, constantly trying to touch or hold her. My chest started burning and I couldn’t catch my breath, hot tears were rolling down my cheeks. I was FREAKING OUT. My dear friend recognized the anxiety and took baby girl from me, my husband took the boys, and I leaned against the side of the pool, alternating between breathing and running worst-case scenarios in my head.
I know, I know. Anxiety is not of God. He has not given us a spirit of fear. Be anxious for nothing. All easier said than done when you’ve just seen your child have allergic reactions to something you can’t name, and therefore can’t avoid. The control freak in me was not handling it well. The mother in me was taking it even worse. To be honest, I haven’t calmed down much since then. My Google foundation has been shaken. I can’t tell you everything she’s allergic to, because I DON’T KNOW. I can’t keep her from the dangerous stuff, because I DON’T KNOW what it all is. I DON’T KNOW where to find it. I’m in the proccess of finding another allergist (one who actually became a doctor to help people), but know that even after extensive testing, she can develop new allergies. I’m praying and begging and pleading with God to heal her. I want her to be able to go to birthday parties and have cake, eat at potluck dinners and big family picnics, do late night fast food runs, eat the snacks in preschool. We’ve learned a lot about health and the disgusting ingredients a lot of the things on the shelves of grocery stores contain, learned to be smarter about what we put into our bodies. I am so grateful for what she has taught our family about health. But I am also desperate for her to be healed. And I’m desperate to protect her.
So if I cringe at you reaching for my baby, it’s not you, it’s me fearful of that amazing-smelling lotion you just put on.
If I turn my body away from you, it’s not you, it’s me worrying because I don’t know if you’ve just eaten peanut butter on your toast that morning.
If I decline your offer for babysitting, it’s not you, it’s me not being able to control the environment she’s in, or me worrying about your pets, or me being exhausted at the thought of going over the list of allergies, EpiPen instructions, Benadryl doses, and emergency contacts.
If I ask you not to feed my child, it’s definitely not you, it’s me protecting her.
If I don’t visit you, or don’t go to a restaurant with you, or don’t eat the food you cooked, it really isn’t you, it’s my natural reaction to avoid everything but my own home and my own cooking.
If I seem distracted, it’s not you, it’s me watching her like a hawk and running a thousand different scenarios through my head at once.
If I complain, I’m sorry. I love my baby and am grateful for the wealth of information available now about allergies. But I’m also a mess. I’m worried and hungry and so very tired.
So please don’t feed my baby. Please don’t be offended if I pick her up before you can. Please understand that the unknown for an allergic child can be life-threatening. She IS that child who can’t even walk past peanut butter. She IS that child who could have dire consequences from eating the candy you want to share. And she’s the child who has unknown allergies and severe reactions. Please wash your hands. Please don’t feed my baby. And please don’t be offended.