In our Food Allergy Mum Interview Series, we hope to promote understanding and insight in to the challenges of parenting a child with life threatening food allergies, along with the need for change to build an allergy aware allergy safe commUNITY!
Mel Happ, Food Allergy Blogger
What are your child’s allergies? When did you find out?
Dairy, eggs, kiwifruit, peanuts, treenuts, she was also allergic to soy until she was 3. Our now 5 year old daughter had her first anaphylactic reaction, to milk powder at 5 months of age.
What would be one of the most difficult aspects of daily living with food allergies? Or one of the biggest challenges raising a child with food allergies?
I have found one of the biggest challenges is giving our daughter the most "normal' life we can, having her partake in everything other kids her age do, and not feel like she is different, while still ensuring that she is safe and is able to be a strong self advocate, keeping herself safe also. The learning curve of our new relationship with food was steep, but manageable, and now it's just our new normal.
How important is the support of friends, family, and community?
Support is absolutely essential, it was the reason why we moved interstate, to be closer to family. Our family provide us with support and a much needed break now and then, a "sleepover/adventure" for our daughter with Nanny & Poppy is a much valued recharge for hubby and I. We have also been so lucky to find a circle of friends where the other mums and kids are so supportive in ensuring our daughter is safe and included. Our 3yo & 4yo Kindergarten/Preschool teachers, parents and children have also been a valuable support and safe space for our daughter to grow and blossom.
What would you like other people to know about caring for a child with food allergies? How can families who don’t live with food allergies be extra safe around your food allergic child?
That we are not over protective helicopter parents who are micromanaging our children, we are just like every other parent, wanting the best for our little ones, we just happen to have a few extra things we need to think about to make sure our child is ok. Our spontaneous trips out take a bit more planning and preparation, we need to make sure we have what we call our "kit bag" that includes our daughters EpiPens, antihistamines, steroid creams, wipes, asthma pumps, safe treats. We like to know if where we are going will have food, so we can bring safe options so our kids don't feel left out. Personally I need to know, if we are going to a new town/area, where the closest hospital is. Ask questions, us "allergy mums" will generally have an idea on how we can help our child be included and safe at the same time. Invite our kids to the birthday party, we have been to parties where our daughter couldn't eat anything and others where she could eat everything, both parties had the same result, a super excited little girl loving playing with her friends, even if Mum was on high alert like a sniper!
Do you have a proud mum moment (of your food allergic child?) that you would like to share?
At playgroup when our daughter was 2.5 years old, one of the parents offered her a sandwich from a platter, even though she had eaten the sandwiches every week for months, she didn't know where I was (I was in the kitchen making the sandwiches!!), she told the father "no thanks I don't know if they're safe for me, I need to check with my Mumma". I may have cried a few proud tears that morning!
What would be one piece of advice for parents who have a child with new food allergy diagnosis?
You are not alone, and it will be ok. Reach out and find us, other "allergy mums" we are always at the ready for advice, information, a listening ear, or a hug.
Do you have a favourite, safe for your family, recipe or meal idea to share? What's one of the first recipes you taught your kids to make?
The Allergy Friendly Chocolate Cake has been a lifesaver, I make it into cakes, cupcakes, birthday cakes, it is a delicious chocolate cake without dairy, eggs, nuts, and can be easily swapped to be gluten free, our daughter loves making it with me. And to add another staple, chia pudding, delicious and a valuable source of calcium and protein, our daughter has had a few scoops with breakfast and dinner since she was 6 months old.
How can we raise food allergy awareness in our communities?
Education, at a community level, kinder/preschool/school level, and at a GP and Paediatrician level. Parents new to the food allergy world, need to be given more information than just "read these pamphlets and avoid these foods", and they need to know that there is a strong community of parents working hard to keep their kids safe, and to raise awareness of food allergies. I spoke to a TAFE class of early education students last year, and they were so appreciate of "real life" experiences and information, we need to keep the human touch in the information being given out, not just the facts and stats.
Thank-you for being a food allergy awareness advocate. What inspires you?
My daughter, she is so resilient, loving, full of life, and inspires me regularly with her willingness and ability to speak up for herself and question those around her, which to some may seem precocious at 5, but it gives me faith that she will manage, no matter what, as we all will.
Mel Happ (hence the Happ-y!) is a wife and mumma blogging, tweeting and sharing about food allergies and all things that make this happ-y mumma tick. Her daughter (2012 vintage) has severe food allergies. Mel realised after battling through the first 2 years of her daughter’s allergy journey that they needed more support than just their little family of 3, so they made the big move back to be closer to family in Country Victoria, NSW. Mel is also an allergy friendly recipe creator, advocate and runs a food allergy support blog This Happ-y Mumma.