By Rebecca Bull

We found out about my daughter’s peanut allergy when she was just eight months old and had a reaction to a peanut-based sauce.

It came as a shock because she’d eaten peanuts before and been fine. In the aftermath, I felt overwhelmed and anxious as I tried to get to grips with the changes we’d need to make in order to keep her safe.

It’s now more than three years later and I’m able to look back and reflect on how far we’ve come. There are a few things I’ve learnt along the way that have helped me cope and I hope that by sharing my experience, I can help others in a similar situation.

Educating myself

One of the things I struggled with after her reaction was the long wait to get an NHS appointment with an allergy specialist. In the end, my partner and I decided to pay for private treatment because we felt incredibly vulnerable living with so many unanswered questions about how to keep our daughter safe.

In the first few months after learning about her allergy, I spent a lot of time researching answers to the questions I had. Would she outgrow her allergy? Could she be treated? Exactly how much exposure to peanuts could cause an allergic reaction? The list seemed endless.

It wasn’t always easy to find answers and I sometimes struggled to face up to the reality of our situation. However, with time I grew to accept it and was able to better focus on learning how to keep her safe while enabling her to still live a full life.

I’ve learnt that preparation is key when managing an allergy. I always write down a list of questions to ask doctors at her appointments and I note down the main points they mention because there’s often a lot to take in. Being prepared helps me make the most of our hospital appointments.

Over time, I’ve found sources I can trust for information. Emma Amoscato’s book Living with Allergies is still one of the most useful sources of allergy information I’ve come across. Her writing is incredibly accessible, and the book helped answer so many of the questions I had – plus it’s endorsed by Allergy UK. I also became a member of Anaphylaxis UK and have found them helpful when I’ve had questions.

Doing my research and being well informed has helped me navigate situations like sending my daughter to nursery, and now school, as well as taking her to birthday parties. It’s also helped me feel more in control, which in turn means I’m less anxious.

Caring for myself

Unfortunately, educating yourself about allergies means you’re bound to come across some heart-breaking stories.

There are moments when I recognise that I’m not in the right frame of mind to deal with this, so I take a break from social media and websites where I might encounter something upsetting.

I try to be in tune with my emotions as much as possible and care for my mental wellbeing, so in turn I can be a better mum.

When we learnt about her allergy, I was less than a year into motherhood and it was all-consuming – I rarely allowed myself a proper break. Finding out about the allergy compounded this and I struggled to trust anyone to look after her.

A consequence of trying to do it all myself meant I felt run down, so I gradually learnt to recognise when I need time to recharge and most importantly to speak up for my needs. I’ve learnt to allow myself to take time to do something relaxing and to do so guilt-free.

Something as simple as taking a 30-minute walk or reading a book gives me the space to allow my mind to have a break.

Pacing myself

At first, I worried about a lot of things in the future like sending her to school, travelling and birthday parties. It was too much to think about all at once, so I had to learn to pace myself.

While there are things that still worry me, and probably always will, I’ve realised I don’t need to have all the answers straight away. After all, no one knows what the future holds. The allergy landscape is already changing, so I’m hopeful that some of the things I may worry about now may not be as big a challenge when she’s older.

By pacing myself I’ve learnt it’s ok only to do what we as a family are comfortable with right now. For example, we’ve still only eaten out a handful of times and we’ve only recently been on our first holiday abroad.

I figured there’s no need to feel pressure to do the things I might see other families with allergies doing, especially since I don’t know their specific circumstances.

Finding my people

Having a child with an allergy can make social occasions nerve-wracking because they often involve food.

I was on maternity leave when my daughter was diagnosed and every time someone suggested meeting for coffee, I worried about whether I’d be able to keep my daughter safe in a cafe. After all, she was at the age where she’d pick up everything and put it in her mouth.

I didn’t always feel listened to, and I sometimes felt misunderstood and lonely in it all. Then

I attended the Allergy Free From Show which proved to be a turning point for me because it was the first time I got to have a conversation with other families dealing with food allergies.

It felt like a weight off my shoulders to realise that the worries I had were perfectly normal and I left feeling empowered to speak up for those with food allergies. That evening I posted on my Instagram account (Allergies in a Nutshell) for the first time and through connecting to others on social media I’ve come to feel less alone in it all. I know there are others out there who really get it and it makes it much easier to cope because the allergy community is incredibly supportive.

It’s also encouraging to see people with allergies flourishing and doing all the things I want my daughter to have the opportunity to do.

There are so many accounts I could mention but these are just some of the ones I follow:

  • May Contain – An insightful and encouraging first-hand account of life with allergies
  • Ash friendly – Mental health support and practical tips to help with allergies
  • Positively Allergic – A mum’s honest account on managing multiple food allergies
  • Nut Free Food Guide – Product recommendations and an accompanying shop
  • Allergy Companions – Restaurant reviews for those with allergies
  • Julianne Ponan – An empowering account from the founder of the free from brand Creative Nature

Building a support network

I’m lucky to have family members I can turn to when I need help and my daughter also goes to a school that’s willing to work with me to keep her safe.

But to be able to take advantage of this support I’ve had to make sure I’ve explained to others how to look after her. I’ve gone through her action plan with them and shown them how to administer her adrenaline auto-injector.

I’ve also gone through how we check food labels and how to cook a safe meal for her which has made a big difference. It still feels like a treat whenever others can cook for us.

Knowing that I don’t have to do it all myself has been beneficial to our whole family and I believe it’s helping my daughter to grow up to be a confident and happy girl.

If you’re on Instagram you can follow Rebecca at @allergiesinanutshell

*Please note, Becca’s story details her personal experience and opinions and the information above has not been signed-off reviewed by an allergy clinician.

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