I was sitting in the doctor’s office recently and overheard a conversation, or should I say, “listened in”. I’m embarrassed to admit that as soon as I hear the word “allergies”, my ears perk up. I overheard a nurse explaining to a father that his son had several food allergies. She demonstrated how to use the epipen and then handed him a folder while he nodded with a far-off look pasted on his face. I knew that look well because I’ve worn it myself. It wasn’t until I witnessed this that I remembered how frightening and overwhelming those first days and months were.
Doctors tell you: what your child is allergic too, what symptoms to look out for, how to use an Epipen, warn you that you should always have the Epipen with you, and…that’s it. I liken it to the experience as a first-time parent when you walk out of the hospital with your newborn baby and think, “Ok, now what?” Much like with a newborn, when your child has food allergies, you must always be on guard, anticipating, protecting, observing, responding. It can be exhausting.
Those first days are daunting. The way I chose to cope was to learn as much as I could. I jumped on the computer and started researching. I found resources like FAAN, FAI, and KFA and read almost every page of their websites. I attended national conferences and subscribed to magazines and newsletters. That still wasn’t enough. I needed to talk to other parents who “got it”. I knew that there was so much that needed to be changed in our communities in order for children with food allergies to be safe. I also knew that in order to make these changes I would need to “harness the power of the collective.” So I decided to start a support group.
I found a local child center and asked if I could have a meeting there. I posted my sign and hoped for the best. Our first meeting was myself and two other moms. Two years (and a whole lot of work) later, our small support group has blossomed into a non-profit organization. We have grown through our mutual passion to educate others and our desire to enable our children to thrive with food allergies.
The point I want to make is– it does get better. You learn to adapt to living with food allergies, just like you adapt to having a newborn. You create a new “normal”, and hopefully you find soul mates along the way. I define soul mates as those people who help you cope, empower you, and make your life a little easier. Beyond my family and close friends, for me, these soul mates came in the form of the three talented women who joined me on this mission to educate and advocate: Erin, Robin, and Theresa. Without their support and the support of our families and friends, Food Allergy Education Network would not exist.
It’s my hope that you find support, comfort and information here with us. Each week I will do my best to share what I’ve learned on this journey.
Wishing you all the best,
Gina Mennett Lee
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