I went back to work when my oldest son was eleven weeks old--tiny, vulnerable, floppy-necked. It was terrible and heart-wrenching to leave him, even though I was leaving him in the capable (if nervous) hands of his wonderful Daddy, who cut his schedule down to half time and picked up little Jabber from my school every morning just before classes began.
At the time I started back, Jabberwock was still nursing hungrily every couple of hours, and I had not had very much luck with the pump in between feedings. So we had very little milk in the freezer for him when I started working, but I was determined and pumped for most of my prep time and through my lunch for the first few weeks back. I eeked out just enough so that if I nursed him right before David came to get him and just as soon as I rushed home after school, he was mostly satisfied. Then something happened; I can't remember if it was a normal growth spurt, a bad day of pumping (sometimes it seemed like no matter what I did I couldn't get much milk, especially like when some kid was having a tantrum/screaming fit in the special ed room that my tiny pumping bathroom was located in, or if I had to, say, write a test and get copies made before I could be ready to teach my next class), or what. We ran out of milk.
No problem, we thought. We had been given free cans of formula, and although I knew all the dangers that supplementing can cause, I didn't really see any other options. I already was waking up in the middle of the night not only to feed the baby, but an additional time to pump, and I couldn't see any way around this. So David fixed Jabber a bottle one day while I was at work.
I remember I was teaching a class of seventh graders that was particularly challenging. The bright side of this is that they had just spent three months terrorizing my sub (so sorry, Lisa!) and were so delighted to have me back that it was still a honeymoon period when I got this panicky call from my husband.
Jabber, it seems, had taken about a half ounce of the formula bottle before David noticed some strange red bumps forming around his mouth. He took the bottle away, and before long Jabber's whole head was covered in hives, his ears were swollen, and he looked pretty sick. David called the emergency room or maybe 9-1-1, I'm not sure, but they told him to take Jabber in to the ER. Instead, he called me in the middle of class. I started to cry, and agreed that David should bring the baby into the hospital. I was beside myself with fear for this tiny little guy.
Something like five minutes later, there was a knock at my classroom door. By this time, I had explained the situation to my students, and they were suitably worried for me. David was at the door, with Jabberwock in his little bucket. His ears and mouth were still red and funny-looking, but he wasn't crying anymore, and he seemed alert and breathing just fine. David said he had improved so much in the last few minutes that he thought maybe they didn't need to head to the hospital. I agreed, although nervously, and instead he called the family doctor.
He pronounced a likely allergy to milk proteins and advised us to keep Jabber away from all dairy. Then he said probably we should keep him away from wheat, too, since that's another common allergen.
Okay, no big deal. We also got a sample of soy formula. Except that Jabber won't take even one sip of the soy.
So eventually we got him allergy tested, and we found out that he wasn't allergic to wheat (YAY! No more rice flour!), but he WAS allergic to soy and eggs, in addition to the dairy. The doctor didn't test him for peanuts, since it takes too much blood to test for multiple things, and we weren't planning on feeding him peanuts at that stage in his life anyway.
A year later, we got the news that peanuts were also on the forbidden list--in fact, his numbers were high enough for both peanuts and dairy to warrant an epi-pen to carry around. The first thing I did, of course, was research peanut allergies in children on the Internet.
Not a good idea. The very first article I found was all about this incredibly high percentage of children with peanut allergies who died withint an incredibly short period of time that the study was carried out. I began to cry with a kind of paralyzing panic. Instantly I remembered all the times I had eaten peanut butter toast or a big tasty handful of roasted peanuts right before kissing him or handling his food. I could have killed my son!
My mind raced forward to daycare, preschool, and oh, god, real school, where his ever-present epi-pen would be locked up far away in the nurse's office instead of in the backpack next to me ready to spring into action at the tiniest sign of respiratory distress. I was (and still am, to tell the truth) terrified of letting my son enjoy the simplest of pleasures--eating.
I became an expert label reader. We carried food for him everywhere we went. We had to ask a million probing questions at every restaurant we ordered at, and usually found them unwilling to say anything beyond, "Well, we can't guarantee that it doesn't have any of that in it." I banished all peanut products from our home. We began baking with oil and vinegar instead of eggs. I became an expert on cross-contamination, examining the jelly jar at other people's homes with a skeptical eye. I carried that little epi-pen backpack all over.
One story I read made me go cold every time I thought about it. It was about a boy who died on a class field trip after accepting a peanut butter cookie from a classmate. My husband and I drilled it into Jabberwock's head that he must never, ever, ever, EVER accept food from anyone without asking us first. And if we weren't around? Then he should not eat it. Period. No chances. I was convinced that he wouldn't ever do what that poor, poor boy did. The grandparents, other adults I know, even other kids have commented about how wonderfully aware Jabber is about his allergies, how he always double-checks, asking questions about the "ingweedients" of food he is given.
And for the last year, he has been cleared of all allergies except the peanut one. He has still not ever had an actual reaction to peanuts, and I hope to God he never does, since we have no idea what form that reaction could take. Hives? Stomach ache? Anaphylactic shock?
So because we have been so careful, and because we have explained his allergies so fully, he never puts anything in his mouth without asking first.
Tonight we were hanging out with Mary at her summer home, many miles away from my hometown and hospital and husband, and Jabber walks into the room in a bit of a panic because he just took three bites out of a cookie that my friend's daughter offered him. She didn't know about his allergies. He took the cookie and didn't ask me. I can't really figure out why he didn't, except that he was just so comfy with her and that he really loves cookies. The cookies were made with peanut butter chips in them.
I quickly gave him a dose of his prescription antihistamine, which we carry around with the epi-pen. He didn't have any kind of reaction that I could tell, but my heart has been all constricted and crazy ever since it happened, several hours ago. What if he had taken a different bite, one with a chip in it? What if my friend hadn't seen him, hadn't known about the allergy and said something? He didn't give it a thought, my little boy who always thinks about this. What happened? And how can I keep it from happening again?
God, that was scary.