Evie is a bright and happy little girl of 5 years old, who loves parties, her friends, scootering & the imaginary world full of fairies! She doesn’t like being different – none of us do. But Evie suffers from life-threatening food allergies.
Evie had her first anaphylactic reaction at just over a year old. She wasn’t actually eating the allergen but just playing with her sister who had recently eaten peanut butter. Her eyes swelled shut; I didn’t even make the connection to peanuts until we were halfway to A&E.
Since then, Evie has gone on to become severely allergic to all nuts, egg, wheat, sesame and most recently dairy and soya. Up to now I have been able to keep our home and the food within it safe. However, as her dairy allergy becomes more serious (and with a baby sister regularly drooling milk) even home is becoming threatening. With a history of multiple food allergies and asthma (no matter how well controlled) Evie is at a high risk of a life-threatening reaction.
As you will appreciate Evie’s menu choices are pretty limited! But as a family we have learned to adjust and I make sure that 90% of the time we all eat the same meals. I can even make a yummy dairy, wheat, egg, nut, sesame and soya free birthday cake! There are times though, when I’ve been at work all day or I’m exhausted from a sleepless night that I would love to get a takeaway but that’s just not an option for us.
Having a child who is so allergic means that as a mother you have to be constantly vigilant. As a result I find it very difficult to ‘switch-off’ and relax. There are very few people who I trust to look after Evie which means ‘me-time’ is limited. And as a couple tempers can flare when Evie has a reaction or if someone forgets the lifesaving Epipen (even if we are just 20 feet from the house).
Holidays, eating out and even which friends we can visit are dictated by Evie’s allergies. Sometimes that’s hard for Evie’s older sister and can cause resentment. We do go away on holiday but the preparation is exhausting and sadly I tend to be very much on edge until the plane has landed and we are on the ground and near a hospital again. We have only braved a non-English speaking country once and that was before we knew the extent of Evie’s allergies – I’m just not sure if and when we will ever do that again.
Evie’s school are very, very supportive and have made the school a ‘nut-free’ zone. At my initial meetings with staff they were confident that they knew how to use an Epipen and had dealt with allergic children before. However, when I challenged they weren’t clear on all the signs of anaphylaxis – a priority when dealing with a severely allergic child.
So I have worked closely with the school to develop a protocol that is clear and simple for all staff. I am invited to staff and parent meetings, and purchase nut-safe treats for the PTA. Evie sits in the same dedicated place in the lunch hall every day and takes in her own packed lunch. Despite all these preventative measures, mistakes can still happen, especially at Christmas when chocolate and nuts abound!
Sadly having a child who is allergic is isolating even from your closest friends and family. No one can believe that something as innocuous as food can kill within minutes. The number of times I have heard “Oh she’ll probably grow out of it”, “Yes my friend/sister etc. is intolerant to dairy/wheat etc.”, “it says it may contain nuts but that’s OK isn’t it?” All these comments are meant well but raise anxiety for me and make me wary of allowing play dates, babysitting etc.
Despite everything, Evie is a confident, funny, gorgeous little girl, who brings us so much happiness. We are incredibly lucky to have her and we never forget that. It’s our job as parents to make her life as stress-free and enjoyable as possible. That’s why we go into battle with all her allergens every day. And for today at least, we’re winning.