Lots of things are scary as a first-time parent, but nothing prepared me for watching my baby experience severe anaphylaxis. No one prepares you for this.
No one prepares you for the deep sense of dread. The constant worry. The planning, upon planning, upon planning. The wondering: How am I going to keep my child safe?
My husband and I have spent months working with an allergist trying to narrow down what our one-year-old is allergic to. We have some answers, but what feels like so many more unknowns.
Enter bread. It was a sunny September afternoon. We were having a nice day playing and laughing together. I had just bought a loaf of whole wheat sourdough from a bakery down the street, with the intention of letting our son try a couple of bites. We hadn’t introduced wheat yet.
As a couple, we follow a vegan, plant-based diet. So when it came to introducing foods to our son, we focused on legumes, tree nuts, and other potential allergens like soy and sesame. We were taking things slow and introducing one food at a time to be sure.
In the early going, our son experienced a serious allergic reaction to lentils and a mild response to cashews. An allergist confirmed he has allergies to both those foods. Yet, at just over 12 months, our son also had tried 86 different foods. He was tolerating a lot, and enjoying exploring new tastes and textures.
Although a top allergen, the fear and anxiety we had with introducing other foods simply wasn’t there for wheat.
2nd and 3rd Doses of Epinephrine
After a couple of sourdough bites, our son went back to watching The Wiggles, sitting on my husband’s lap. From the kitchen, I heard a couple of coughs. At first, we didn’t think much of it. Then a couple of sneezes – maybe it’s a coincidence. Then the crying began. Our son is usually easy to soothe, we just need to change the narrative, so my husband tried taking him outside (which always works). They were back quickly, as the crying persisted.
I tried to nurse him, but he wouldn’t latch and kept crying. We brought him upstairs to our bedroom to check his body for hives. When I put our son down, he seemed to gasp for air. This was the moment we never wanted. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. In a frightened state, I said to my husband: “I think we need the epi.”
Blue to the sky, orange to the thigh. We administered an EpiPen Jr auto-injector and called 911. Within five minutes, the paramedics were at our door. They checked our son’s vitals. He was OK. We made our way to the ambulance.
I climbed inside, and watched my baby get buckled into a stretcher for our short ride to the hospital. Within minutes, he was in full body hives, crying, and scratching like I’ve never seen. Before we’d even left our driveway, our little guy got another dose of epi. My husband watched in tears. He’d meet us at the hospital shortly.
As we were getting triaged at the hospital, I noticed our son didn’t seem right. His face began to swell, he became lethargic and was more challenging to rouse.
The paramedic advised other medical staff that he needed to be seen immediately. Our child was given a third dose of epi, oxygen, and an IV was put into his little foot so he could receive the steroid methylprednisone and fluids. Soon after, he was stable. I lay next to him in the hospital bed and held him as he slept. Relieved that my baby was safe. He made it.
After Baby’s Anaphylaxis, Moving Forward
As you can imagine, or perhaps you’ve experienced similar, this type of experience is traumatic. Seeing your baby have anaphylaxis can really impact your well-being. It’s something that will be etched in my mind forever. So, now what? It’s time to recalibrate.
How do we as parents move forward knowing anaphylaxis is something that could happen again? How can we continue to make this the best possible life for our child? Here’s how we’ll be moving forward.
- Acceptance. We hadn’t prepared ourselves for serious food allergy life, but it’s our reality. Accepting it also allows us to let go of what we thought life would be like, become present, and make the most of the life we have.
- Learning. We’ll be educating ourselves, our loved ones, and anyone who is around our child so we’re all prepared to act quickly and confidently should a serious allergic reaction occur. The non-profit Food Allergy Education and Research has a Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan template that makes this easy.
- Seeking support. This isn’t something we have to experience on our own. We’ll be sharing our experience with family and friends, finding local and online communities with other food allergy parents. Plus, we’ll work with a therapist to work through our experience.
- Filling up our cups. Experiences like this can be draining. For me, I find it therapeutic to get out in nature and move my body, attend a yoga class, or enjoy a tea with a friend.
- Being present. We want to make the absolute most of our lives and ensure our son has the best life possible. To do that, we can’t spend all our time worrying about the future, but instead, be here with our son now and enjoy it.
Emily Jones is a communications professional who lives in Southern Ontario, Canada.