My husband and I suffer from some environmental allergies. Spring is awful for me. For him, it’s summer. He sniffles and sneezes around dogs and cats, and I start to wheeze if I’ve been with these animals too long. Despite all of this, I never thought I’d have a child with a food allergy. But I remember that day last October clearly – I was at work when my phone started to ring and it was the daycare.
That always makes my heart sink. They told me my 20 month old daughter had broken out in hives after eating some babaganoush. The hives were coming and going. Her breathing seemed fine but I had to come and get her. I took her to the walk-in clinic across the street and showed the physician the ingredient list for the babaganoush. She had eaten it before, so I thought it was probably a reaction to something environmental. The Doctor said “oh, tahini – she probably has a sesame allergy”. A sesame allergy? You can be allergic to sesame?
Apparently you can be allergic to anything – as we learned four months later when we FINALLY got in to see the pediatric allergist. He gave her a skin test where he pricked her arm and dropped some sesame on it. Within seconds she developed this huge welt and he said “oh yeah, she’s allergic to sesame”. What did this mean?
Well, she is anaphylactic to sesame – meaning if she comes in contact with it she could have trouble breathing, and – with her being so young – she may not be able to tell us. We were given a number of epi pens and shown how to use them. Keep two at the daycare, two at home, two in the diaper bag. I still didn’t really think it was a huge deal I mean, so she can’t have sesame chicken at the Chinese Restaurant, or those little sesame seed crackers I used to eat as a kid. Boy, was I wrong.
Sesame can be found in almost anything. There are the obvious items, like hummus and babaganoush – both of which usually contain tahini (sesame paste). We soon learned, however, that there was only one type of bread at the store that we could buy that did not say “may contain sesame” (so we bought a bread-maker). Certain fast-food restaurants only carry buns with sesame seeds on them, so while my daughter can’t eat any bread/buns etc from outside, the rest of us can’t order anything with a sesame seed bun. Chinese restaurants – even Hakka, are now off limits because there is a risk of cross-contamination with sesame seeds or sesame oil. Even sushi is rolled in sesame seeds. Salad dressings, crackers, trail mixes – the list goes on.
In fact her daycare recently refused to provide any food for her that even listed “vegetable oil” as an ingredient because they could not be certain the vegetable oil didn’t contain sesame oil.
We’ve really had to change our lives in terms of the foods we buy and eat, restaurants we go to, and watching my daughter (who LOVES to eat) closely at birthday and dinner parties where some of the Aunties like to stuff children with food while parents aren’t looking. We’ve had to teach family. friends and the babysitter how to use the epi pens and have even had to leave summer BBQs where there were just too many sesame seeds hanging around (buns). As much as I may want to, I don’t eat any food at parties that my daughter isn’t allowed to and I carry food for her wherever we go. And even though I am told sesame allergies and peanut allergies have no relation, I’m terrified of having her try peanuts. I never thought it would happen to us, but it did, and I finally started to get more comfortable with it. I thought that was the extent of it.
Fast forward several months and my son is born. At two months he began to suffer from pretty bad eczema. I was told by his pediatrician that he could be allergic to cow’s milk. That really scared me. Two kids with allergies? As I was exclusively breast-feeding I took dairy out of my diet for two months but didn’t see an improvement. I struggled for months to get his eczema under control – creams, oils, medicated, non-medicated, hazelwood necklaces, oatmeal baths… and when he turned six months old, I was excited to give him his first bite of organic rice cereal. He seemed to like it but within five minutes he broke out in hives all over his body. Oh boy.
While we await my son’s pediatric allergist appointment, I remain anxious and worried. It got me thinking – what did I do wrong? I really feel a lot of guilt when I see my kids go through this stuff and set out to find some answers. I knew of peanut allergies before I got pregnant. I remember a nurse telling me when I was pregnant with my daughter not to eat peanuts because peanuts might cross the placenta and trigger the allergy. My OB, however, didn’t feel there was any evidence of a connection. Still, I didn’t have peanuts at all during my pregnancy (despite my undying love for peanut butter), and I certainly don’t remember having sesame…could it have been in the hakka I used to indulge in?
When we saw the pediatric allergist for my daughter, he said that exclusively breast-feeding for at least six months is found to help the immune system of babies and reduce the risk of allergies. Well, I did that. He also said that the allergist community has some theories (google “hygiene hypothesis”), but it seems as though if someone in your family has any type of allergy, your child is at risk for any type of allergy. So – again, my fault…seasonal allergies and childhood eczema.
Then I went to a naturopathic doctor to see if there was anything I could do to correct the allergies (specifically in my son). She said that since my son was born premature and delivered via c-section, he didn’t benefit from the bacteria he would have been exposed to in a vaginal birth and this may have disrupted his immune system. I felt pretty overwhelmed with all of the herbs and meal plans she was offering but tried it out anyways. I was feeling the guilt of my son’s delivery, not to mention additional guilt when she said “it’s better that you correct this now instead of bringing him to me when he’s four and also has asthma”… did I tell you my daughter was also recently diagnosed with asthma? Sigh.
I recently spoke to a pediatric nutritionist and explained my situation. She said that the reason this happens sometimes is because parents introduce solids before the child’s stomach is ready for it. According to her, babies are born with a “leaky gut” which means the spaces between the cells of their stomach wall are big. If you introduce solids before these cells become smaller, toxins and bacteria can pass into the bloodstream and cause a reaction. Oh great… both my kids were born premature, so did I wait long enough to start solids? She also said the old guidelines of starting with grains and rice cereals first are no longer promoted and that you should introduce vegetables and fruits no earlier than six months, and then introduce meats with grains following near
the 1 year mark.
So no real answers, many different theories. I don’t know what the future holds. I will have to eventually expose my daughter to nuts, and we have yet to see if my son has actual allergies or just sensitivities. I have days where I’m just really frustrated – having to make lunches for my daughter when her center provides food for everyone else, trying cream after cream to help with my son’s eczema, changing our laundry detergent, changing my own lotions and eliminating perfumes. I have days where I feel really sad – knowing my daughter will have to carry epi pens with her for the rest of her life and will miss out on some of the foods we all take for granted.
I have days where I feel really guilty – as it seems so far that whatever theory you go by, it could somehow be “my fault”. And boy do I have days when I’m really mad – when I run into those people who think it’s no big deal or glare at me when I ask their kids who have been eating hummus dip not to touch my daughter’s face (yep, that’s happened). I have had my run-ins with desi “aunties” too who were appalled that I wasn’t drinking milk – after all “how was I going to make breast milk for my son if I wasn’t drinking any” (which we modern masalamommas know is a myth). They’ve also said things like “I don’t know what’s wrong with people these days, there were never any allergies when you were younger” or “both of your kids have allergies? Maybe you should have taken more care of yourself” or “it’s all in your head… just give her more sesame and she’ll become immune to it”.
I don’t know if I will ever get over the guilt – whether there really was anything I could have done different or not, but I just have to take it one day at a time. I hope to get over all of these emotions before my kids are old enough to feel this way about their situations so that I am able to help them manage this positively. I have met other moms who have kids with allergies worse and more wide-spread than mine and we try to support each other on our bad days. I won’t stop trying to find things that can help, and hope to educate others about it as I do, but in the meantime I keep the peanut butter jar hidden in the back of the pantry and sneak in a fast-food burger when I’m all alone.
More About Aiesha Zafar:
Aiesha Zafar is a married mother of two young kids, who works full-time and also runs a business on the side. She is active in supporting women’s and health issues and blogs about gratitude and positivity to remind her how blessed life is. To read more about her, you can visit www.SealedWithABliss.com and follow her on Twitter @shaisays