I’ve become what I never understood…

It occurred to me today that I’ve become what I’ve always hated.   Okay, well maybe not hated, but never truly understood.

I’m a part of a community online where frequently I hear moms talk about their kids’ allergies and sensitivities.  They would go on and on about how they could only buy food at the Whole Foods Store or wash their kids in triple purified castille soap.  The woes of having to provide lunches because school lunches were full of nasties and not being able to participate in the average birthday party without bringing their own cake.  I was of the opinion that these moms were, well, making it up.  Or at least making it worse than it was. There were too many moms like this to all have kids with real allergies.

But today I realized I am that mom. That mom that finds trips to the natural food store necessary.  That doesn’t let her kids have foods with artificial colors in them, except for momentary lapses in good sense.  The one that cloth diapers and freaks out whenever there’s an ingredient on a bottle of lotion that sounds scary.

We started out pretty laid back.  Thing One was born, and had a few skin troubles and trouble digesting cow’s milk for the first 10 months, but that’s normal, right?  Nothing to make a big deal out of – just keep slathering the lotions and steroid creams.

When I learned about cloth diapering, I quickly made the connection between Thing One’s eczema and the chemical fragrances in diapers.  My niece was reacting to Luvs at the same time, and a connection was made in my brain. Sure enough, using cloth diapers significantly reduced the outbreaks.

Thing One in Cloth Diapers - August 2007

Our first step onto the slippery slope of crunchiness.

Then Thing Two, our second son, came along. At four months old, almost exclusively breastfed, and he was constipated.  No, not that breastmilk poops-once-a-week thing.  Constipated. We watched him scream and grunt in attempts to go to the bathroom, and I wanted to cry just as hard as he was crying.  Don’t even dare suggest we try prune juice.  That was over months ago.  We moved on to the harder stuff  by the time he was 8 or 9 months- children’s laxatives, dried fruit, extra water.  It finally dawned on us several months ago that this might be an allergic reaction to milk products.  Sure enough, removing milk, yogurt, cheese, and other major dairy products helped some.

But he’s still having trouble.  After speaking to the doctor (and getting a prescription strength stool softener) she said that what I was describing was a full milk protein allergy, and that I would have to be careful to check all foods for milk products, including ones you wouldn’t normally think of or know about – whey and casein, for example.  And it occurred to me that daddy, who does most of the cooking and snack handing-out, might be inadvertently giving Thing Two foods that had those things in them.  To top it off, Thing Two also reacts to almonds, with vomit and diarrhea baths.

That begs the question, what can Thing Two have?

So last night we went through our cupboards.  Did you know that Saltines have whey in them?  Or that Spaghettios use cheddar cheese in their sauce?  I bet you didn’t know that even soy cheeses often use cow’s milk whey as the second ingredient.  For the first time in my life, I truly understood why the FDA mandated allergy warnings on all food products – some of those ingredients hiding milk products were completely foreign to me, and without the warning, I wouldn’t have caught them.

Our little demon, Thing Two

And don’t forget the artificial dyes!  It took us only a few tries to figure out that Thing One was highly sensitive to FDA Red 40.  When a normally well-behaved little (then) two-year old boy is screaming and literally bouncing off walls after having a cherry-flavored sucker…well, you figure it out fast.  No more Tylenol for you.

Top it off with the fact that Thing One is very sensitive to synthetic fragrances in bath products and laundry detergents, and Thing Two is sensitive to other chemicals in drugstore brands (though the fragrances don’t seem to bother him…)

Suddenly I’m starting to align myself with all those moms I thought were crazy and overprotective years ago!  Suddenly I see that their attitudes and behaviors were based on trying to do what was right by their children, struggling to keep their children healthy, rash-free, and sane.  It wasn’t about being super-mommy.  It was about self-preservation.

And it’s not easy, because unfortunately, a lot of the world reacts like I did – that allergies and sensitivities are either something to live with or they are not common enough to be worth catering to in the general marketplace. And it’s frustrating to not be able to easily provide the things that would best serve my children without resorting to specialty stores, the internet, and a hawk-eye. It’s frustrating to be planning a pizza party at Pizza Hut with friends in a few weeks and to know that Thing Two will not be able to participate unless I let him eat cheese-less pizza.  And I don’t doubt they used milk in the dough.  We haven’t even approached what we will do for Thing One’s fourth birthday and the cake we will eat in 2 weeks!

So I’ve become one of them:

* I can only shop for Thing One’s groceries at Whole Foods or another natural foods store.  This isn’t a matter of snobbiness.  I still get most of my groceries at Kroger.  But if I want to buy imitation cheese (or even a good goat’s milk cheese) that doesn’t contain dairy, I have to go to the natural foods store.  I couldn’t find a substitute at Kroger, Publix or Walmart.  The same for ice cream, convenience foods like macaroni and “cheese” and many other products.

* Suddenly, the best option for eating is to cook from scratch.  Which sounds really domestic and good housewife (except that I mentioned my husband does the cooking, right?)  But face it – when even the Spaghettios contain dairy, it’s sometimes easier to whip up a plate of veggies, panfried chicken, and a fruit salad for dessert than to navigate the iffy waters of ingredient lists on frozen foods.

* I’m also suddenly considering whether or not the $9.50 bottle of Burt’s Bees is better for my kids than the $10.50 bottle of California Baby.  And not even thinking about the price,  because at least I know it’s not going to break my kids’ skin out.  (I chose Burts Bees this time, by the way, because it smells so good, like my My Baby Love soap bits.)

But…is it just me, or is paying $9.50 for a 12 ounce bottle of baby shampoo a bit insane?

* I’ve become super crunchy for laundry as well.  I stopped using chlorine based bleach,  and started using soap nuts.

*Cloth diapers remove the chemical fragrance reactions from disposables, which has made a huge difference.

*And obviously we have to check food and medicine labels for artificial dyes.  While Thing One has outgrown most of the out-of-control behavior triggered by Red 40, we still notice significant mood changes when he eats things like red M&Ms.

Yes, I think I finally understand.

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16 responses to this post.

  1. I am also finding myself becoming a crunchy hippy mom. But like you say it’s for self preservation more than anything, we are meant to protect and love our little ones so keep up the great work mama! I’d rather have the ol stink eye from someone then a rash infested bootie to care for!

    Reply

  2. Wow! Had no idea! I’ll be looking closely at labels more. But I agree – it’s much better to cook at home than try to figure out the hundreds of ingredients on something frozen or boxed! I can’t even pronounce some of those… it says… what?! 🙂

    Reply

  3. I love soap nuts! Ds has eczema pretty badly, but no food allergies that i know of yet. i haven’t tried introducing him to cow’s milk yet. i think, if I do, it’ll be goat’s milk. Children suffer from so many allergies and are sensitive to so many things in their every day environment that these reactions have to be coming from somewhere. I shudder when i read how many baby products get a 7 or higher rating on the Cosmetic Database.

    Reply

  4. So far, snapdragon has no discernable allergies, but I’m planning his 1yr birthday party & wondering things like if it’s really bad of me to let him have cake? With wheat? And eggs? And sugar? And food coloring???
    It’s tough being a mom.

    Reply

    • I say let them eat cake!

      LOL.

      Maybe make it yourself from scratch or buy an organic mix? That way you can control the ingredients – real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup, and make chocolate or vanilla frosting so that you don’t have to use food coloring (or you can buy natural food coloring at the natural food store. Blueberries would turn the frosting red or purple, too!)

      Thing One got a Walmart bakery cake shaped like a Lion – the kind made mostly of frosting for those perfect 1st birthday pictures. What a mess! 🙂

      Reply

      • Posted by Karin L. on February 19, 2010 at 12:17 am

        We are big fans of crazy cake. Very easy, made from scratch, no eggs or milk (if that’s a concern). My mom always makes it in a big cookie sheet pan (she mixes it in a separate bowl), so there is a lot to go around. And most of the time I frost it with chocolate chips, or just sprinkle them on top prior to baking and skip the frosting.

      • Yum! The kids love sweets, so this would be a hit anytime. And I’m sure I could use pure chocolate (if I can find it) or carob chips for the topping. 🙂

  5. Posted by Care on February 17, 2010 at 1:04 am

    This is our house, too. I was planning on diapering my Little Prince from before he was conceived. I try to keep convenience foods to a minimum, but that’s largely because my husband and I are both battling weight issues, and that’s easier without the junk.

    Then we had our LP. He wasn’t gaining weight. At two months old, he was still over a pound beneath his birth weight. He spit up all the time, and in rivers. We had a lactation consultant out, but we wound up in the hospital all the same. Failure to thrive. Here’s where it gets interesting.

    LP was put on cow’s milk formula. The spitting was insane. Like, put 4 ounces into him, two or more would come back out. Every single time. And throughout the day, not only just after he’d eaten. We moved him to soy, but that left the poor kiddo so constipated he’d turn nearly purple trying to push. Back to dairy it was. His doctor told us to quit complaining about the laundry and buy more bibs.

    I didn’t like it, but he *was* gaining weight. We introduced whole milk to him at 9 months, and that’s when the truly crazy started. He couldn’t focus. He couldn’t sit still. Not even for a few seconds. He was rocking all the time, bouncing when he wasn’t, and when he wasn’t up to those, he was banging his head off the sliding glass door. All day, every day. No language, no ability to play, nothing. At 13 months, we took him off all dairy products. DH has a milk protein allergy as well, so we thought we’d start there. Sure enough, no more rashes, he could play and focus, and within two weeks was signing ‘more’ and ‘eat’ to us reliably. We have been trying to have him diagnosed either allergic or sensitive or something to keep the well-meaning baby-feeders (and his pediatrician, who prescribes dairy based medications!) at bay. We have nothing. Apparently, according to the pediatrician and the allergist, we’re making things up. The report from the allergist actually contains things we didn’t say, and left out things we did, “supporting” the conclusion that we’re just over-reacting. Nice, huh?

    I never thought I’d be an obsessive-compulsive label reader. But in just the last six months, I’ve committed at least 20 “alternative” names for dairy to memory, learned to look for specific brands of margarine so LP can have cookies, and we make our own bread – even the bread at the store has “modified milk ingredients” in it.

    It just never ceases to amaze me. We’re trying to do right by our kids, and survive their childhoods with our sanity at least held together by threads. And yet… Other parents think we’re being all helicopter-y. The doctors think we’re looking for something to be wrong. Can’t win either way.

    Reply

    • Thanks for your response and your own story! It’s so important that we stick together and support other moms!

      I’m thankful that we found a wonderful pediatrician on our first try here in Nashville, and we did bloodwork on Thing Two to look for allergies. She said this: “Just because the test comes back negative doesn’t mean he’s not allergic. The test can only confirm what we are assuming is correct. If you see that he has a reaction after eating something, and the reaction stops when he no longer eats that item, it’s likely an allergy.” I’m glad that you already know that!

      It’s probably too late for you, since you’ve already memorized all the ingredients (which is incredible, by the way!) but here’s a great printable the size of a credit card with all the names: http://www.kellymom.com/store/handouts/concerns/hidden-dairy.pdf

      Reply

      • Posted by Care on February 17, 2010 at 11:56 am

        Oh, I don’t know ’em all by any stretch – I have a cheat sheet as well (mine comes from http://kidshealth.org/parent/misc/milkallergy_cutout.html ), though I haven’t looked to see which I like more. I just know the basics – anything with ‘lact’ is out, as is any derivative of casein, whey and most caramel colorings. That alone hits on something like 10 or 15. ^_~ Makes things easier.

        Boy, I wish I’d hit supportive. The allergist (which I fought tooth and nail to get my Little Prince in to see, as the ped *insisted* that if he’s under 3 nobody would see him, told me that because the skin pricks came back negative, he’s not allergic. He’s also, in their opinion, not sensitive, and we should reintroduce dairy as soon as possible to get this child fattened up. 9.9;; I’m not impressed, needless to say, and in the summer will either be pressing to see an allergist again (LP will be turning two), or getting a new pediatrician and starting the whole thing over again.

        I got really lucky. I have a friend whose oldest child has food allergies. She was able to help me through a lot of things when the ped and allergist just wouldn’t. No matter how much they tell me I’m being ridiculous, can at least turn to her for support and ideas on where to turn next. The worst part of the whole thing, honestly (after seeing what dairy does to my son, of course!) was having the allergist say ‘he is not allergic…’ then when I ask what could cause the reactions we were seeing, having him repeat, ‘well, he is not allergic, so…’ over and over. Sheer craziness. So glad to know that a) I’m not insane, and b) not all doctors are nasty! ^_^

  6. Posted by Holly/Poi on February 17, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Wow. I’m about to have my own Thing One, and I’ve been trying to keep it natural so far, though I hope not to encounter any major allergies! Sorry to hear your little ones are suffering, but I’m glad that you are knowledgeable and motivated enough to DIY and help them!

    On a related note, something I think about… how did this happen? Our generation (I’m assuming that with young kids we’re in a similar early/mid-30’s age bracket) had some allergies, but nothing like today. Everyone I knew ate PB&J – now some kids aren’t even allowed to bring it to school b/c of classmates with peanut allergies? Do you have any thoughts on this?

    Oh, and I had my baby shower last week, and got some cash, which I am now on my way over to your shop to spend – I’ve had some of your stuff on my wishlist for ages now!

    Reply

    • Congratulations on your new little one on the way! I hope he or she never gives you reason to call them “Thing One.” (If you are familiar with the reference to The Cat and the Hat, where Thing One and Thing Two tear up the house and leave the kids who live there to clean it up!)

      I have my theories, but whether or not they are accurate, I don’t know. 🙂 I’m not a person who sees in black and white, so that complicates things. I think a lot of things come into play; these are just some of them:

      1. It seems to me that as a child/teenager in the ’80s and ’90s when I had skin problems, they shrugged their shoulders and treated the symptoms. Medicine seems to be taking a more holistic approach to treating both the symptoms and the problems in the past decade.

      2. I think we are exposed to a lot more residual chemicals, which may or may not be good for us, than we think. Years of use has left those things in the air, the ground, in the wood and paint in our homes, etc. On the other hand, we aren’t exposed to as much outdoor air, which might be why we are more sensitive to outdoor allergens like pollen?

      3. Maybe people in the past just accepted it as part of life?

      4. For us, it was genetics by far. My husband was worse off than both my kids together, with eczema, psoriasis, asthma, allergies to fruits, chocolate, and several other things. At 36, he still has asthma triggered by allergies and can’t eat apples or grapes without wheezing, unless they are cooked (cooking changes the molecular structure, or so I was told by another friend with fruit allergies.) So our kids are pretty much destined to allergies (and bad eyes on my side…)

      That was long, sorry! What are some of your theories?

      And thank you for the sale! After I do my daily computer work, I’ll be doing my shipping, so it’ll go out today!

      Reply

      • Posted by Holly/Poi on February 18, 2010 at 10:42 am

        I don’t know that I really have any theories, not really having done enough research to base it on. But it’s something I really wonder a lot about – the peanut allergy in particular. I think your ideas definitely make a lot of sense!

        On the other hand, I also wonder if some of it stems from being too careful. (Not the milk allergy, really, but other things) I know kids that grow up playing outdoors/in the dirt seem to have better immune systems overall than those who grow up in too sterile of an environment, which is interesting. Gotta wonder how much of these new immune problems stem from kids (after our generation, up to present) spending more time inside playing video games and MUCH less time outdoors… and even the time outdoors has been much more limited in where and what they are allowed to play, thanks to toxic sites, perverts, etc.

        I don’t know how that way of thinking translates to food allergies, or if it does. I do know that my mom’s generation is amazed at how many foods I, as a pregnant woman, have been warned to stay away from, besides the obvious. The peanut comes back into question here, too: I’ve read/heard that I should not eat be eating peanuts while pregnant (which I have done anyway as for a while, it was one of the few protein sources I was able to tolerate!) because this may lead to protein sensitivity in my child. A few years back, though, they were saying the opposite – eat peanuts when pregnant so your child does not develop a peanut sensitivity! I guess we’ll see – cross our fingers and hope for the best. I know my mom was chowing down on PB when she was pregnant with me, and I don’t have the slightest reaction to nuts.

        WHO KNOWS? I guess that’s what it comes down to. If the docs and scientists can’t agree and figure it out, how can I? Meanwhile, I’ll just keep trying to keep things as simplified and additive-free for myself, my husband, and my future child(ren) as I can, and hope I’m doing the right thing.

        Looking forward to trying out your products!
        ~ Holly

  7. I too have become quite crunchy, thanks to my little one’s milk allergy. I went from being a carefree food loving individual to questioning everything and anything I put into my body. My son’s allergy has also led me to reading all of the different theories about how horrible cow’s milk is for humans and all of the ailments and illnesses it’s been linked to. Talk about culture shock! I’m all natural food stores and mostly organic now. I think my partner secretly sneaks to McDonald’s on his lunch breaks. 🙂

    Reply

  8. […] dairy, dairy-free. 3 Comments Wow!  I received a great response to my post about becoming the type of mom I never understood – a mom who has kids with allergies bad enough to change the way we live.  I was thankful […]

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  9. Hi there. My toddler has eczema as well…which was triggered by cheap soap (I blogged about this). So what do you know, no more exzema. 🙂

    She also has anaphilactic reactions to many nuts and seeds (pistachios, cashews, and sesame seeds mainly). If she even touches a pistachio, we’ll have to go to a hospital. She also tested allergic to dairy and eggs, but gets mild stomach irritations from that and we don’t need to use Benadryl or the epi-pen.

    The simplest solution for us is that our entire household went vegan. We’d been curious about trying it for health reasons anyways, and her allergies just pushed us into that direction. I have a couple of quality vegan cookbooks (and dessert cookbooks since we basically have to bake all our own goodies, if we want them) and that’s been key for me for enjoying veganism. Even after several months of compulsive label-reading, sometimes I forget to look at the ingredients on something I used to buy all the time…and it will have whey or dyes or preservatives in it (a Wheat Thin is not a Wheat Thin! Some are simpler than others). I now make most of our food from scratch for this reason and have been leaning towards buying more organic products, just to go that one little extra step to remove pesticides from our diets. I’ve gone this far, why not? 🙂

    The fake cheese thing killed me too when I found out they sometimes contain whey (seriously, wth?!). I don’t even bother with fake/vegan cheese anymore…I really don’t miss it…and I used to LOVE cheese!

    But yeah, I came to many of your exact same conclusions. Glad to know I’m not alone!

    Reply

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