Dear The Other Mothers,
How do I explain how envious I am of you, the other mothers, with normal children.
I watch you as you enter the park, or arrive at a busy soft play centre. Your children immediately run off into the chaos to have some fun while you order a coffee and find a seat. You chat to your friends about your day and you relax, knowing your child is having a great time. You glance towards them occasionally but you don't need to worry. Soft play is not a risk to you. The park doesn't contain any dangers. Your children are happy and they are safe.
I don't know what that feels like, because my child has food allergies.
I long to relax the way you do, to take my eyes off my child without the fear of him picking up something he shouldn't and placing it into his mouth. I dream of looking over and smiling the way you do as he plays with other children, instead of anxiously moving closer in case the other child decides to share their snack. I wish I could just not worry the way you do, as the people we are with order their child something that I know mine could never have.
Your world just seems so simple to me, without these worries and concerns.
Other mothers, I watch as you let your child pick a yummy treat, and you smile as they laugh and enjoy. I look down at my own child and sigh as the feeling of dread rises, and I prepare to explain again why he can't have the same. I spend my days thinking so many steps ahead, planning snacks and safe alternatives, desperately trying to ensure my child never feels like he's missing out.
Life without food allergies looks so much easier to me as an allergy mum.
As we sit and watch you see children playing happily, but I see food crumbs and spilt milk. You see games and innocent fun, while all I can see is poison, and danger for my son. Visiting play centres, catching up with friends and enjoying a hot drink is a pleasant experience for you, but for me it's a nightmare loaded with disappointment for my child.
You see, as the mother of a not so "normal" toddler, everything feels a little different, because his food allergies are always on my mind.
My little baby wasn't like all the others. He spent the first few months of his life being so violently sick that we would leave puddles wherever we went, and if milk touched his skin he would immediately break out in hives. I was left feeling totally overwhelmed and completely helpless. I eliminated dairy from my diet and his, and his symptoms improved dramatically. My son has Cow's Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) - an allergy that affects up to 7% of infants. I have an amazing support network around me of parents going through the same thing and I have gained so much more knowledge that I had back then, but some things will never get easier.
I am experienced enough to know what he can and can't eat, I am an expert on reading labels and I know all the best places to eat with an allergy. What I will never become good at though is facing the disappointment my toddler feels every time he's reminded that he's a little bit different. My eyes start to sting every time I have to explain he can't have what all the other children are having; and every time I have to take him away from somewhere he's enjoying because there are just too many hazards it breaks my heart a little more.
Life with food allergies is harder than I ever imagined it would be, and although we have found ways to cope it will never stop being a struggle. Other mothers, I'd like to ask you one thing. Think about this the next time you see a mum anxiously watching her child's every move. Remember these words the next time you see a mum nervously wiping ever surface before her baby sits down. Bare this in mind the next time you see a mum desperately trying to console her toddler because he just can't have an ice cream.
It's so tough sometimes as we try to let them be just like the other children, and a small smile or a nod of understanding would make so much difference to our fragile hearts. Really, we'd appreciate it more than you'd ever know.
Love from an allergy mum xx
To read more about Lauren's experiences of Cow's Milk Protein Allergy and to find more support on breastfeeding with CMPA check out her blog Dilan and Me, which features a wide range of information, resources and allergy friendly recipes.
Photography by Mr. Adam Robertson