My labor started sometime on Saturday, intensified during the night, and on Sunday morning, my water broke. I labored all day and night, and my daughter was born early Monday morning. It was long, exhausting, and painful.
There was complication followed by complication, but when all of the pushing was done and my girl was on my chest, my heart immediately started singing. I think it literally grew all of the necessary oral anatomy, vocal chords, and lungs and started to sing. Every love song I had ever heard started playing in my head with new meaning. This was love on another level.
We vowed to protect her, as all parents do. We vowed to love and support her unconditionally.
When my daughter was born, just shy of a month pre-mature, I had a lot of guilt. Not immediately; she was perfect and just as she was meant to enter the world. Then, on her second day of life they put her in the isolette. They hooked her up to chords, monitors, and beeping machines. Her body, so new to light, was laying on a lit bed with tall, bright flourescent lights shining down on her.
They put a mask over her eyes that looked like something I could have made with materials from the dollar store and they said “don’t let this mask slip, these lights could cause blindness.” So, unable to hold my baby, or nurse her when I wanted, I sat and stared at my baby under those lights. I didn’t move. I don’t think I blinked. I didn’t want to miss the mask slipping. I had to protect her. I didn’t sleep for three days after I had her.
She came out of the isolette and retired to just the lit bed. I still couldn’t hold her when I wanted, but it was better. Our family stayed like that for about two more weeks.
So much guilt. Maybe I should have walked more. Maybe I should have walked less; walking always caused contractions and the daily walk from my office to my husband’s across campus each day always put me in a GREAT mood to see him. Maybe I should have advocated more when I relayed disturbing symptoms of pre-term labor to my doctors and they said “pregnancy isn’t supposed to be glamorous.” Maybe I should have had more water to drink…but how could I have had anymore? I felt like my organs were drowning.
There wasn’t any way to know that was how our lives as parents would begin. My labs were always perfect. My doctors thought I was low risk and totally healthy. I ate healthy foods, except for that after work binge session while I waited for dinner (I probably could have done without that).
All parents have guilt. Every time there’s a boo-boo. Every time there’s an unhappy baby, or a misbehaved toddler; there’s that pang of guilt. What did I do wrong? How could I have prevented this?
When our daughter was diagnosed with food allergies, months before her first birthday, we asked ourselves those familiar questions. I asked her allergist at her first visit. It’s all the peanut butter I ate while I was pregnant, right? Is it the nursing? No and no.
I didn’t have any food allergy risk factors. There was nothing I could do. He called me on the drive home and reassured me to keep nursing and not make adjustments to my diet. He said my thin daughter was developing well, staying on her growth curve, and thriving in the environment we’d created for her.
We started researching. We found the familiar studies saying that we shouldn’t expose our baby to peanuts (we hadn’t other than in utero and through breast milk).
Then we found studies saying that kids at risk should be exposed to peanuts. Ok, so maybe this was our fault.
My dad was adopted and we don’t know his biological family’s full medical history- maybe Cece always was “at risk”.
Then we found studies saying antibiotics were to blame – she had never been on antibiotics, and I was never on them while pregnant or breastfeeding, so we’ll count that one out.
Then there was the study that said our dishwasher was to blame. The dishes we use are too clean. I looked around my house and thought, yea, my dishes are clean but these dust bunnies say she’s been exposed to plenty.
For a while, Andrew and I really wanted an answer. We wanted to be able to blame ourselves or some environmental factor, but in reality, the cause – whatever it is – isn’t going to change the path we’re on. Maybe the cause could lead to the cure and prevent future cases of allergies, and that would be truly amazing.
That dishwasher study really told me we could let ourselves off the hook. Maybe there’s a correlation between the amount of households with dishwashers and the rise in food allergies in recent decades, but I bet we’d see a similar correlation between the increase of air travel and food allergies, or education and food allergies, or better health care and food allergies.
Correlation does not prove causation, at least that’s what all of my statistics professors said – but, what do they know about scientific studies and data analysis?
Last night, my husband posted something on social media about the latest study revealing the cause of allergies. An observation that kids raised on farms are healthier and less likely to have allergies. It’s frustrating to see such a simplistic analysis of a scientific study written up by a borderline news organization. It’s even more frustrating to see the daily news you watch on TV pick up the story to really spread it around.
I try to remind myself of the positives. These stories raise awareness. Someone is studying food allergies – COOL!! Then, I make the mistake of reading the comments people make.
I saw the following comment made by a man against peanut bans in schools. I see this comment all the time. After a few mama bears showed up the party, he said: “I just don’t understand why food allergies are such a problem now. They never had this stuff when I was a kid.”
You don’t understand? Join the club! No one does.
People far more educated on the subject can’t begin to understand. The sentiment behind this statement, though, is hurtful. It insinuates that parents are making a big deal about nothing and that Gen X parents somehow screwed up and caused this surge in allergy shmallergies.
Maybe we’re sensitive. Maybe it’s difficult to read a story that implies I should have gotten my 6-week-old out for daily romp with a cow when she showed her first signs of food allergies. In December. In New Hampshire. Maybe that’s a hard pill to swallow.
But, boy, am I tired of the blame game. The I’m-judging-because-I-made-a-particular-decision-because-I-love-my-baby-more-and-look-how-it-turned-out-for-you-game.
Co-sleep. Don’t co-sleep. Nurse. Don’t nurse. Dress your baby-girl like a princess. Dress your baby girl like she’ll be playing with cows all day.
It doesn’t matter.
Do you love your baby?
Do you try to support your baby’s physical and emotional needs with all of the resources available to you?
Yes? Then you’re doing a good job. You’re doing a great job.
Aside from all of the allergy information I’ve gathered over the past year, I’ve learned not to judge another parent for what they do or don’t do for their child.
If parents want a nut-free school, it’s because they think it’s going to keep their child breathing for the entirety of a school day. If a parent has a child with a disability or illness, they need your support and understanding; not your thoughts about what they must have done or not done to end up in that situation.
No one wants to prevent food allergies more than a food allergy parent. No one.
Most everyone we meet “gets it” after some bit of education. Most everyone we meet is supportive. It’s the strangers making comments on articles and allergy boards that are dangerous for our daughter. We’ll never meet them. We’ll never get the chance to educate them and their complete lack of empathy is dangerous. It’s damaging. I cringe when these studies come out. I want to lock them up in a vault until they provide some information that can actually prevent food allergies. At the moment, they just give parents who don’t struggle with food allergies every day the opportunity to congratulate themselves for a job well-done. When in reality, my family is no different than theirs, except their baby is allergy-free and my baby isn’t.
When we play the blame game it’s easy for people to get defensive, angry, or feel guilty. None of this is productive, so this morning I’m really just wishing for an end of it.
Bye Mommy wars. Bye blame game. If you’re publically tooting your own horn, you’re probably blowing the wind out of someone else’s sails.