It all started on a sunny vacation in Florida. We were out for a walk when we decided to purchase a package of cashews as a light snack. My daughter who was one-and-a-half immediately started reaching for one. Her curiosity about the new food was adorable and since I was all into the baby-led weaning and sharing, I was more than willing to comply. For a moment I hesitated because it was a nut but then I innocently thought “she’s had peanuts before and she’s fine with those, plus there’s no nut allergy in our family”
Holy shit, was I wrong.
All it took was a 1/4 the size of cashew to send our sweet one-year-old into anaphylactic shock. She swelled, she broke out in hives and we ended up in urgent care in a country we did not live in. Thank goodness for travel insurance.
Once we were back home an allergist confirmed what we had suspected – Janice had a severe allergy to cashews and its sister nut pistachios. We were told of the risks of eating out at restaurants and taught how to use an epipen. But the one thing the Doctor mentioned that really resonated with me was, “Your house and school will be the safe zone for her. It’s when she goes to friends’ houses, or her aunts or uncles, that’s where the danger is.”
This scared the shit out of me because for the first time I realized I couldn’t always protect her. And nothing makes you feel more hopeless as a Mum than knowing no matter how hard you try, you can’t control what others do and you can’t control the safety of your child.
Our life had now turned into a daily battle to keep things out of the house that read “may contain tree nuts.” We had to turn food away that people dropped off and we’d had to start saying no to the many free samples that are given away grocery stores. We stopped visiting local restaurants that we loved and we had to constantly repeat over and over to my step-kids and their friends the importance of checking labels.
Yes it was hard, there were tantrums and meltdowns from everyone, but in the end none of us cared that we had to change our life, we just wanted our Janice to be safe.
When we informed family members and friends about the allergy, some were absolutely amazing and did things without asking like completely change desserts at birthday parties just so my daughter and her siblings wouldn’t feel left out. Then we had the opposite with some people where we had to explain the allergy to them over and over again.
I really struggled with the latter group of people. They weren’t intentionally being difficult and there was no malice in their questions, but the more we repeatedly explained the allergy to them the more it felt like our family was becoming an inconvenience to people. Which then led to me becoming more of a people pleaser.
We would be in situations where food that contained tree nuts would be opened and I would be frantically watching my child hoping she wouldn’t pick up a crumb. When instead, I should have just said “please don’t open that until after we leave.”
The more this went on, the more I felt horrible. The guilt of letting other people cloud my judgement as a mother began to eat away at me. Normally when I felt a loss of confidence in my mothering I would call my Mum and ask for her advice, but she had recently passed away. So here I was stuck in this new world without my compass, and I couldn’t figure out how to navigate my way out of this funk.
Then one day a beautifully written piece by a Motherlucker contributor was posted. Libby Shumka’s “Taking Candy From a Baby”. I was inspired by her story, her confidence and her general awesomeness about fighting for what she wants for her kids.
It was what I needed to get my mothering mojo back.
And that’s the funny thing about motherhood in a digital age, sometimes when you feel completely and utterly alone, you find something that someone has experienced and you relate to it. Even though you’ve never met them and they live thousands of miles away.
So to Libby and the many other Mums who share their stories, I, and I’m sure many others, thank you.