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Saturday, July 13, 2013

a mommy's story - Lisa Olson - food allergies

Lisa Olson has lots to share on the subject of parenting guilt. In this edition of Confessions of Mama Guilt she talks about her daughter's serious food allergies, scares and feeling like it's all her fault. Despite not all of us having kids with food items that are off limits, we can all relate to feeling like something we did caused their strife. It's a good reminder in this post that it's not our fault, some things just happen with our children. The best we can do is love them so much that they draw pictures of us with smiling faces! THANK YOU, Lisa, for sharing your story!

(All photos from Lisa Olson)

When is the first time you recall feeling this Mama Guilt of feeling like you failed, did not do something right, or like others were judging you?
I've always known that I wanted to be a mom, so it was really hard when my husband and I decided we were ready to have a baby and it didn't happen right away.  And suddenly it seemed like everyone around us was getting pregnant.  Why wasn't it happening for me?

People kept asking "When are you going to have kids?" They didn't realize that this simple question broke my heart each time I heard it.  

And then one day I saw those 2 pink lines on the pregnancy stick- finally!  8 weeks later I miscarried.  It was utterly and totally devastating.  I had the support of family, close friends and my amazing husband, but I've never felt more alone.

Even though everyone says "it happens for a reason", I still felt like I had done something wrong.  Like it was somehow my fault.  I felt like I had failed as a mother, as a wife, as a woman.  

Fortunately I conceived again shortly after and my daughter Hannah was born in September 2009.  Lucas was born exactly 19 months later in April 2011.  Two successful pregnancies helped me to let go of the guilt I felt over losing my first, and in becoming their mother I feel like I have found my true purpose.  

Before you became a mom, what type of mom did you think you'd be? Give at least 5 words to describe the mom you imagined yourself being.
I had tons of experience with babies and kids from family, babysitting, volunteering, etc, so I mistakenly thought motherhood would be a breeze.  I thought I'd be super organized, calm, relaxed, patient, blissful, fun, adventurous.  I also imagined myself sewing, crafting, scrapbooking, making all of my baby's food from scratch.

I really thought I could do it all. I had absolutely no idea just how hard it would be, especially those first few months as a new mom.  
Look at the words you mentioned in #2... are you those words now? Would you call yourself those words now in describing how you are as a mom? Would others use those words to describe you?
I think others would describe me as a calm and patient mom, but I don't always feel that way.  It's what I strive for, but it can be so hard not to lose it sometimes.  Especially when I haven't had enough sleep. My organization and time management skills have pretty much gone out the window, but I try not to let it bother me too much.

This time when they are little is so fleeting, and I'm trying to soak up every moment.  

I definitely think my kids would describe me as fun.  One of the best things about being a mom has been reconnecting with my inner child- playing CandyLand, coloring, having dance parties, making obstacle courses, going to the zoo, playground, museums.  And everything about Christmas! I truly enjoy seeing the world through my children's eyes.  They make life magical.  

What has been the scariest moment of your motherhood adventure so far? Why? What do you wish someone had done for you or said to you in that moment?
My first big scare as a mom was when Hannah was 11 months old and her face and neck suddenly erupted in itchy, red hives while she was eating lunch.  A few months later she had another outbreak of hives while eating.  In both cases the pediatrician said we could treat the allergic reaction at home with Benadryl, but since then we always carry an Epi-Pen just in case.  An allergy blood test revealed allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, soy and sesame.  No one else in our families has food allergies, so it is a new challenge for all of us.  I wish that our extended families would be more careful about reading labels.  Baked goods and candies are especially tough, since many contain trace amounts or have been exposed to nuts.  Luckily Lucas has tested negative for all food allergies so far.

How specifically do you feel guilty about what your kids eat, allergies, etc.? What has that been like? How have family or friends reacted that was NOT helpful and that WAS helpful? What is it like in general having a child with a food allergy? How has this experience made you a BETTER/STRONGER mom? 
The guilt about food started when Hannah was 10 weeks old and developed severe, itchy, painful eczema that spread over her entire face. The pediatrician mentioned food allergies as a possible cause, but suggested that I continue breastfeeding and just use an ointment to treat the rash. I had been fortunate to have things go very smoothly with breastfeeding, so it was a shock to learn that something in my breastmilk might be causing my baby such misery. It was a horrible feeling to not know exactly what was causing it and not know how to fix it.  In hindsight I wish that I had gone for a second opinion.  I wish that I had pushed the doctor harder to find out what was causing her symptoms instead of just treating the rash.  I wonder if it would have made a difference if I had tired an elimination diet or switched to formula instead of breastmilk.  Almost 4 years later I still think about it, but I have to remind myself that her allergies likely would have developed no matter what I did. 

After her 2 allergic reactions to nuts Hannah started rejecting most foods and dropped way down on her weight percentile.  My husband and I became obsessed with her eating habits and began focusing just on getting calories into her any way we could.  I had such good intentions of feeding her super healthy organic meals, but eventually it became "whatever she will eat" which often were the less nutritious options.

It has been really hard to deal with what I perceive as the judgement of family and friends about what Hannah will and won't eat.

I admit that we have made mistakes along the way, but I have to remind myself that at each stage we were doing what we thought was best at the time.   

As for being a parent to a child with food allergies, I hate having to be "that mom" who is always reading labels and asking "does this have nuts?"   I have become a much stronger mom because I have had to go out of my comfort zone and push to make sure that Hannah isn't accidentally exposed to nuts or peanuts at school, camp, on play dates, etc. Fortunately there is much more awareness about food allergies now, especially in schools.

What is your advice to another mom who experiences this mama guilt over allergies, feeding, etc.? What would you have wanted someone to say to you in the beginning of that difficult time?
You know your child best.  If something seems off to you, you are probably right.  Push hard if you have to and get the answers to your questions.  Even if it means getting a second, third, or fourth opinion. We have seen 2 pediatricians, 3 allergists, a dermatologist, a pulmonologist and an ENT, and we finally feel like we have the best team possible to help us deal with Hannah's allergies.

Don't worry about what anyone else thinks.  Don't worry about sounding like a crazy mom. You are your child's best advocate!   

How do you know you are a good mom? If you don't feel like you are one now, when will you know you are? What needs to happen to make you feel like a good mom?

I feel like a good mom each time Hannah puts her arms around me and says "I love you SO much I want to keep you forever."  

I feel like a good mom when Lucas jumps up in his crib and shrieks "Mommy!" with delight when I go in to get him each morning.  I feel like a good mom when Lucas masters a new skill and Hannah says to him "We are so proud of you little boy!" because that's what she hears me say.

I feel like a good mom when another child is crying and Lucas goes up and gently hugs him/her, because that's what I do when he is sad.  I feel like a good mom because Hannah drew a picture of me the other day and in the picture I am smiling.

What is something else you've learned along the way?
As Hannah outgrows some of her allergies, we are trying to makes positive changes in what we feed the kids. We include them in meal planning, and we just started a small garden of fruits, vegetables and herbs. We have started eating most meals together as a family, and the kids are served what we are having.  I try to always include at least one food on the plate that I know both kids will eat.

Somewhere I read that as parents it is our job to put healthy foods on the plate, and it is up to our children to decide what and how much of it they eat.  This totally transformed my way of thinking about meals, and has largely taken away the obsession and battles over getting them to eat.  My goal is for them to develop a lifelong healthy relationship with food. 

**********************LISA, YOU ARE AWESOME! 
THANK YOU!**********************

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