'I don't want to make my son a victim'
Does an allergy rule your life?
My son, Noah, was born in January last year, a healthy 3.6kg Tongan/Kiwi baby who has brought more joy and love into our lives than we could have anticipated.
I was 19 years old and had no previous experience with allergies or intolerances, nor did I think I would be affected by something like this.
When he was 3 months, my sister was baking a cake and wiped his face with the same cloth she had used to wipe butter off her hands. Almost immediately he broke out in hives and I had no idea what was going on.
This particular time, he didn't ingest the food, so we were very lucky it didn't progress into anything serious.
I took him to the doctor the next day and she said it sounded like an allergic reaction. She advised me to cut out dairy products and almost immediately I could see a difference in him. His eczema was completely gone and he was back to being a happy and healthy baby.
The second time we had a reaction we were in Tonga on holiday. A family member had just eaten bread and butter and gave Noah a kiss. His face immediately broke out in rashes and it spread to his entire body within five minutes.
Luckily we were near a pharmacy and were given an antihistamine that calmed the rash down after two doses; after a few hours, he was almost back to normal. But it was a scary time to have such a close call with a 6-month-old baby in a different country.
The third and most serious reaction was when we house sat for my parents in Pukekohe and he suddenly broke out in hives. We rushed him to the Pukekohe A&E and on the way there he started to have difficulty breathing.
The doctor gave him some adrenaline when we arrived and he came right after a few minutes. We still don't know what caused this, but can guess he tried to eat a piece of biscuit we later found on the floor.
We then had testing done for cows' milk (dairy), egg and egg in baking. We had all three results come back with some degree of allergic reaction.
We had a challenge test done at 13 months for egg in baking (where he is supervised in hospital eating tiny portions of an allergen), and it showed an automatic fail at the beginning of the test.
A crumb (from a muffin) the size of an ant caused him to break out in hives and he was treated by the doctor then supervised for four hours afterwards.
My partner and I were still new to the whole allergy thing and family members found it hard to understand.
Coming from a multicultural family (me being part Maori and my partner being Tongan), both of our families didn't have much experience with food allergies either. In our family, food is a huge part of our lives.
Almost all our family occasions involve some type of feast or food frenzy where everybody is stuffed to the tips of their toes and people gush over my mother's brilliant cooking techniques.
That makes it especially hard when you need to hover over your child to make sure no one sneaks him a treat he can't have or accidentally touches him after eating something he is allergic to.
The allergy specialist told us our son has anaphylaxis to eggs and dairy which means if he were to eat these foods, his body would think it is under attack and his immune system would respond by releasing antibodies to fight the "threat" and this can cause his mouth and face to break out in rashes, throat and mouth swelling and difficulty trying to breathe or even stop breathing. Not to mention after having a reaction he suffers from eczema and is usually restless at night.
Our doctor and allergy specialist recommended we get an epi-pen, a luxury at $120 a pop! They expire every year, and as a young family on one income, we struggle to meet our sons needs as we're missing out on an entire food group.
He needs replacements such as soy milk and special "yoghurt" to make sure he doesn't miss out on calcium and other vital nutrients his little growing body needs.
We have bills and a mortgage to pay, cars to fill and mouths to feed. I think we're one of the lucky families who have parents willing to help out financially as well as being supportive emotionally, but there are many other people who don't have that luxury.
I stay at home with Noah as I worry that a childcare centre won't provide the attention he needs. I hover over him at every family event, meal and children's party (on the rare occasion we can go).
I used to spend hours in the supermarket reading the back of packets religiously to make sure he would be safe with the foods I brought home.
I worry about taking him to cafes or playgrounds when I meet up with other parents and their kids. I often feel sad for Noah because I feel like he is missing out on making friends and being social with other kids.
People often ask me if he will grow out of it. Sometimes they roll their eyes because they think his allergy is in my head.
I'm grateful to have a large family full of understanding and loving people who have learned (like me) to include Noah. Living with an allergy is hard on our family at times but with a little bit of planning and a positive outlook we can continue to live a (mostly) normal life.
I feel by writing our story people will be more open-minded towards children who have allergies.
In the previous articles posted by other parents who have children with allergies, I was saddened by some of the horrible comments left.
I am not a "fanatical allergy suffering parent". I'm not over-attached. I'm not trying to annoy anyone and I don't want to make my son into a victim.
We as a society need to get rid of the "it's not my problem" mindset. I'm just like any other parent trying to do what is best for my son.
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