Food Allergy Mistakes: Forgiving Yourself and Moving On
A protein bar mix-up in the rush of re-entry after vacation resulted in a severe allergic reaction, thankfully stopped in its tracks with epinephrine.
A food allergy mom shares some important takeaways from her family's experience, acknowledging that it can be hard to forgive yourself when you work so hard to keep you loved ones safe.
Food allergy mistakes happen. In spite of our best efforts to avoid them. The beautiful thing about our humanity is that we can learn, adapt and do better when we let go of the past and move forward.
When we were preparing to go on an extended family vacation that would have us in the car for more than 25 hours, I grabbed a box of protein bars for me to eat during the car ride marathon. While the snack was not allergy-friendly for my son with food allergies, I figured it would be just fine. I would be in the front seat. The kids would be in the back. I had wipes. The bars were never meant to be eaten at home. But...
I didn’t end up eating them during the trip.
In the flurry of unpacking when we got home, the protein bars — that looked nearly identical to the ‘safe’ protein bars my kids eat every day — were accidently put away in my food allergic son’s 'safe' snack basket in the pantry.
And so, the story unfolds.
My 3-year-old son Miles wanted a snack and grabbed this particular bar from his basket. After just a few bites he grabbed his neck, upset, and said, “Oh no! This is allergy!”
It went downhill from there.
I’m so SO proud of my little boy for recognizing and verbalizing his symptoms right away. Welts and hives started appearing all over his face and body, he began vomiting, his eyes started itching and swelling, he was grabbing his throat, panicked. I immediately gave him his EpiPen. We threw him in the car and I drove as fast as I could with emergency flashers on to the ER. Miles sat in my husband Shawn’s lap.
The culprit was milk — specifically the whey protein in the bar. Miles is ANA to dairy. Whey protein is derived from milk and is a byproduct of the cheese-making process.
I know. I know. “Mistakes happen.” But, with all the safety protocols we follow and the special food prep that we do, I do my best to ensure that mistakes never happen. Not on my watch.
But it did.
The protein bar was in Mile’s ‘safe’ spot at home. The spot we’ve told him, “You never have to worry about anything in your basket because mom and dad will make sure it’s safe for you to eat.”
That little voice in my head keeps telling me, “You should never have bought those bars— they should never have been in Mile’s basket.” The guilt I’m holding onto weighs heavily on me. I know I need to let it go. And I will.** It will just take time I think, a long time.
Our family scare gave me some perspective I’d like to share:
With families who don’t have loved ones with food allergies
1. Please know that food allergies are real and they are scary. I understand how hard it is when you’re asked not to send peanut or nut butter sandwiches to school in your child’s lunchbox, especially when that might be the only thing they like to eat. But no parent should ever have to witness their child go through what we went through. The situation could just have easily gone the other way and we could have lost our son.
2. Your awareness of our struggle managing our two sons’ 20+ food allergies to keep them safe, and your compassion — always your compassion — helps us more than you could ever know. Thank you.
With families who share our food allergy journey
1. Be observant and learn how your little one tries to communicate ‘feeling funny’ after eating something. It could be as subtle as scratching at their tongue if they are pre-verbal. Or, if they are verbal, try to listen closely to them so you can decipher what they’re trying to tell you.
2. Always be watchful for symptoms of an allergic reaction, and never hesitate or second guess the need to use epinephrine if you think your child's having an allergic reaction.
3. We need to be there for each other through the bad and the good. I hope we can connect through the NNMG Food Allergic Families Forum FB group, or on Instagram. When we share the ups and downs of our food allergy experiences — the good and the bad — we draw strength, comfort and knowledge through that connection, even if we’ve never met in person, even if we span different parenting generations, even if we live on opposite coasts or in different countries and in different time zones.
About the Author: Francesca McGuire is a resident of Normal, IL and is a wife and mother raising two toddler boys with multiple food allergies. She has a Marketing degree and MBA from Illinois State University, and works full time as a business consultant. Francesca has a passion for writing and advocating to keep those with food allergies safe. She is an active contributor in the the NNMG Food Allergic Family Forum FB group and you can connect with her on Instagram.
Images: Courtesy of @frankeesfoodallergyfamily and Printabulls.com
**Resource Suggestion from Allergy Force
Parenting is not a straight-line path. Layer in chronic conditions like food allergies & related conditions and the journey gets even harder. (Think I-70, a straight shot through the Midwest vs. US Route 550 traversing Colorado’s mountains with steep cliffs, high winds, hairpin turns, and no guardrails.) You get the picture.
Tamara Hubbard, a family therapy-trained Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), has compiled a list of food allergy counselors in the Food Allergy Counselors Directory. Whether you are a FA parent, caregiver or patient, counseling from a food allergy-aware therapist, if you are open to it, can help you through the emotional/social aspects of food allergies.
Find even more counseling resources — from podcasts, to advice on finding the right therapist, to insurance considerations — at The Food Allergy Counselor Website.