In 2007, we welcomed our second son into the world. We were excited to bring our baby boy home to meet his brother and start living as a family of four. But soon after getting settled at home, my gut told me that something wasn’t right. This baby was sick.
Moms, I’m sparing the details of what was happening with the diapering and the baby spit up, but it wasn’t good. We were sent to specialists, and more tests were done. By 6 months, we were told that our baby wasn’t growing; in fact, he had dropped off all the weight charts and was clearly not getting the proper nutrition. We were feeling helpless, tired, angry, hopeless and really, really scared. He also started missing developmental milestones and our pediatrician threw his hands up and said, “Well, it must be a food allergy, or food sensitivity.” We took our son to more specialists and a Naturopathic doctor where more tests were done.
It was determined that our son was allergic or sensitive to gluten, soy, corn and dairy. Our desperation grew and we were struggling to provide a basic need for our baby boy. I found myself tossing and turning at night running through all the what if scenarios. I was wondering what this new person’s life would be like faced with food challenges and developmental problems. The only real way of knowing the root cause of his distress, was to eliminate the “danger” foods and see if he started to improve. At that time there was very little guidance and very little allergy free food products on the market.
Food Can Heal You, or Harm You
This diagnosis kicked off a whole family health transformation. From my experience working in health care and as a nutrition educator, I understood that what we eat can either heal us or make us sick. But I had only worked with adults, not a growing baby. We made the decision that the whole family would create a home where our son could thrive, which, tragically, meant absolutely no Goldfish crackers for my older son. It was very, very hard. Imagine homemade gluten free breads, crackers and rice cereals before being “gluten free” was a trend. Nothing tasted very good and we rarely ate out.
Food & Social Events
Birthday party menus for kids usually consist of pizza and cupcakes, both of which my son could not eat. I underestimated how hard this lifestyle would be on our family socially. Preschool was tricky. Food is very much tied to our culture and social situations. That is not something we gave much thought to before we had to face food allergies. Saying no to grandparents “treats”, avoiding birthday parties, backyard BBQs and amusement park goodies still makes me feel like my son missed out on a few things. However, we found out that people who really cared about our son and family, made it easy for us. Slowly the gluten-free “trend” grew, which helped our cause. It became easier to explain what our eating situation was when other people started choosing gluten-free products.
There were many sacrifices. For all five of us. By the time my daughter was born 2 years later, we had mostly figured out this new way of eating. By the time my baby boy started Kindergarten, he was starting to thrive and he was hitting more developmental milestones. Our drastic change in diet was working, it was truly helping him grow. Our hope was also growing. We had hoped that our son could play sports, do well with academics and make friends, even if he couldn’t eat the birthday cupcakes. We were lucky. Plus, we armed ourselves with knowledge and didn’t give in to social pressures around food.
A Normal Teenager
When our son started middle school, we decided to re-introduce some of the foods that he was sensitive to. Slowly he realized there were some things he could eat with little disruption. He sometimes teases me, and says, “You just wanted us to eat healthy, Mom. I wasn’t really supposed to be gluten-free.” I can’t help but think that our drastic change in diet made a difference in his life. He is taller than me now. He does not have developmental delays, in fact we are quite proud of his successes. He is a normal teenager, bad attitude and all.