I have no allergies.
And yet I have spent the better part of the last 8 years trying to understand them. More the latter portion of those 8 but we’ll get to that.
The Always Sick Chick wasn’t always “always sick”. We ate Chinese food, had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, watched animals for friends without a fuss (even had two of our own), and never had to be mindful about spills. What reckless and overindulgent lives we lived!
In sickness and in health...isn't always easy.
That all changed with our first child. My, what wondrous things pregnancy hormones do to an expecting mother. That’s another article, though.
I’d like to interject with a quick history of my own experiences with allergies up to that point. My grandmother was told that my aunt (at an early age) was allergic to dogs but my grandmother never told her NOR gave up their family dog. My father is horribly allergic to cats (eye-watering, itching, throat-closing allergic) yet we had 5 of them when we moved in with my stepmother. He used an inhaler for many, many years along with shots in order to cope. Now he barely needs either…around their 5 cats.
So, in my experience, allergies were a ‘mind-over-matter’ situation. With enough perseverance a person could overcome it. This was the complete opposite of my wife’s experience whose family had many allergies of which we thought she had inherited none of the food allergies, and the environmental and animal allergies were well controlled with medications.
Now back to the birth of our first child. We went from ‘no care or cause for concern’ to ‘couldn’t keep our pets anymore because they made my wife miserable’ in only a year. She coughed and sneezed and wheezed because of them. She felt sick nearly all the time, especially since she was in the home a majority of the time as a stay-at-home mom.
I’m not proud to say that I told her to ‘suck it up’. If my father could do it then so could she. The pets were a part of our family and we couldn’t give them up.
In the end, we gave them up.
Another thing I’m not proud to say is I blamed her. I was so angry and emotionally distraught over the whole situation and eventually I blew up at her and told her how angry I was in a terrible way, with a drunken argument filled with accusations. I’m sure I hurt her deeply because she loved those animals too.
Fast forward a couple years. By this time I had come to terms, mostly, with the fact that we couldn’t have pets. Okay, no biggie. I grew up with a lot of pets and always envisioned pets in my ideal family dream but it wasn’t a bad thing. We had friends with pets and couldn’t necessarily go to their place anymore but it was okay because they could still come to our place, as long as they were careful about bringing in pet hair. We couldn’t stay at my dad and stepmom’s house when we went for a visit either. If I played with an animal or was at a friend’s place and they had an animal then I had to be careful when I came home to wash up properly or she would be miserable the rest of the night. But I was flexible and learned to be okay with it.
In case the subtlety was missed, this was actually quite a dramatic change that I didn’t really get used to and it wore on me. The biggest problem was that I still didn’t understand and harbored a deep-seated doubt that she wasn’t trying to overcome this.
I know, shame on me.
My wife was pregnant with our second child during this time and, two years after our first, she gave birth to our second. We now had two beautiful boys. Because of her concern of latent allergies, given her family history, we were cautious of introducing new foods to our first and had never exposed him to such things as peanut butter. I say ‘we’ but it was her that stressed the concern and I that went along with it simply to appease her. In my opinion, we were being overly cautious and should expose him to everything but, as you may have discerned by this point, I am more of a risk-taker. Still, for her peace of mind, I went along with this plan as we continued it with our second.
It was at this time that another strange thing happened. She developed an allergy to foods. Raw fruits and nuts made her break out with hives. They made her tongue swell. She had an asthmatic reaction.
What the hell, pregnancy hormones?! What the hell is going on?! Is pregnancy mutating my wife? I thought pregnancy was supposed to be a period of swelling for a woman followed by the ‘miracle’ of birth. Now I’m learning that pregnancy can degrade a woman’s body and cause passive traits to manifest. I seriously don’t understand.
So now she seems to have these strange and exotic allergies. She’s apparently allergic to furry animals. Our oldest might be allergic to nuts. Our youngest may be allergic to dairy (all dairy, mind you. Not just lactose-intolerant) and he may have asthma.
I’m not gonna lie. I really wondered to all the validity of these claims. So she felt like her tongue swelled when she ate an apple. So our youngest got a bit of a rash when he was exposed to dairy. I partially wondered, although I rarely voiced it, if this wasn’t all in her head and that our boys would suffer the vices of an over-protective mother.
This, as you may gather, was a rough point in our marriage. We were at odds about many things. Part of this was due to my inability to understand, not just about allergies but about several things. We came very close to divorce. By close I mean I slept on an air mattress in the living room for a month. We talked more in passing than in earnest. I took nearly any excuse not to go home, whether it was to work late or hang out with friends. The climax was actually the talk of divorce.
Luckily, it didn’t happen. Unluckily, I still didn’t understand a lot.
Another year later and we moved to a new state. In the military this is called PCSing or ‘Permanent Change of Station’. Our oldest was almost 5 and our youngest almost 3. The move was a rough experience and the stress was obvious with our boys as they got sick frequently. I felt bad for them and wished it wasn’t necessary. We survived and were staying in on the base in temporary lodging until we could move into base housing.
In our new city, my wife was closer to friends that she hadn’t seen for years and she finally got to visit with them once again. One night she stayed out with a friend all night to catch up on each other’s lives and have fun partying. I was completely for this as it would be nice for her. She didn’t do it often. I stayed with the boys, obviously.
The next morning, I grabbed a snack bar for my breakfast that I hadn’t eaten at work the day before. My oldest son, curious as all kids are about what their parents are eating, drinking, and doing, asked if he could try it. It had a peanut butter spread on the top but he had never had a reaction to anything which I assumed he would have. My wife told me about labels placing warning about ‘manufactured in a facility that processed peanut’ so a rationalized that if he were allergic to them then surely he would have had a reaction by this point. So, I gave him a bite.
I regretted that moment ever since.
I watched as he chewed a small bite then spit it out saying ‘it tasted funny’. I could instantly tell that this wasn’t the normal ‘I don’t like the taste’ reaction. This was something else. The way he was trying to scrap it out of his mouth and spit it out wasn’t normal. This was followed by his face swelling. Soon, his eyelids were swollen to the point that his eyes were looking at me through little slits. Needless to say, I panicked. Luckily, his throat wasn’t swelling shut and he could still breathe. I rushed us all to the hospital ER, calling my wife to let her know what had happened.
It’s hard to express the amount of shame I felt. I had failed. I had failed my son, my wife, my whole family. I hadn’t protected him. On the contrary, I had caused this pain to him. What if it had been worse? What if he hadn’t spit it out? Would that have caused his throat to close? Did I almost kill my own son because of my lack of understanding? I was horrified by myself.
Needless to say, that was eye-opening like little else could be. I wish beyond anything that I had been more receptive before that point. I am more thankful than words can express that it hadn’t been worse.
From that point I paid better attention to the information that my wife presented. I had paid attention before but I made sure I knew with greater certainty the facts and possible consequences and I erred far more greatly on the side of caution.
I still made mistakes.
My youngest got sick a year later. I wasn’t sure that he needed his rescue inhaler but my wife insisted so I trusted her decision. He still developed pneumonia but the doctor gave him antibiotics and he was fine. It was strange because we never realized that he had it but took him to the doctor because the cough seemed to persist. I’m glad we did.
Another year later and my youngest had a persistent cough again. My wife was a little amused that I was the one this time worrying if he needed to go to the hospital. She was sure that he didn’t so we didn’t go and just made sure he got his inhaler and he was fine.
I’ve learned to trust in her recommendation. She devoted a great deal of time researching everything and seeing the signs of problems. I regret much that I did wrong in this whole ordeal. I’m thankful that I have two beautiful boys and a wonderful, beautiful wife that has done much to keep them healthy and happy.
Do I finally understand? No.
I never will. I will never know what it feels like to eat something and it causes a physical reaction. I will never know the fear of wondering why a food or a playful animal is making me feel sick. But I don’t need to. I just need to know that my family knows what it feels like and that it has been far harder on them than it has been on me.
My wife is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, raw fruit, cats, dogs, other various furry animals, and should abstain from gluten. My oldest is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs. My youngest is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and dairy. They don’t abstain from these things because they want to. They do it because they have to.
Finally, I needed to trust more in my wife and not allow my decisions be dictated by the past decisions of my family.
And occasionally treat myself to Chinese food or a Snickers bar and make sure to keep it away from my family. After all, they’re the ones that are allergic, not me.