Feature Mom: Meet Reagan

Welcome to our new blog feature, where we highlight a mom of allergic kids to let her share her story. Reagan was the first mom that came to my mind for this feature. She was not only the brains behind this blog, but I consider her the “pioneer” of allergy parenting for our group of friends. I remember back when she discovered her first baby, Greer, was allergic to milk, and adjusted her diet to continue nursing. I don’t think I was the only friend watching to give her situation a whole ten seconds of thought, basically consisting of, “Wow, that stinks. I would hate that.” I had no idea I would ever face a similar struggle! As you’ll see, Reagan is a consistent source of wisdom to the friends who know her, whatever the topic at hand. I enjoyed reading her story and hope you do, too!

Hey!  My name is Reagan.  I have two kids and each of them have led me on a different story of becoming allergy-free.  My daughter is 4 now and I started suspecting her milk allergy at 2 or 3 months old.  The most distinct symptom was watery green stools.  She was a relatively happy baby, so her behavior didn’t cause concern at all.  She did spit-up, but in looking back, I would say it was after I ate dairy and it was primarily everything she had eaten when it happened.  Thankfully, I had a friend whose oldest son had just been diagnosed with allergies (at age 2) and our babies were around a week apart, so she encouraged me to research a milk allergy.

After a couple attempts of getting a good stool sample, the doctor confirmed my suspicion that she did have blood in her stool which usually indicates a diary allergy.  The internet became my source of dairy-free wisdom, but despite how hard I tried, I felt like I always discovered after the fact that I had eaten something with dairy by the poopie diaper I had to change.  I would describe my first experience going dairy-free as very guilt-laden and depressing.  There was so much information to not only become familiar with myself, but also share with family and friends.  I felt separated from the world and my eyes were constantly being opened to the reality that the food I had been eating was filled with things that surprised me.  
At one-year-old, my doctor encouraged me to begin giving my daughter milk and she hasn’t had a problem digesting milk products since.  At that point, I began weaning her since I felt confident that we did have a safe option for her to drink.  When I was allowed to add milk products back into my diet, I noticed a lot more stomach pain than I had experienced during the previous year.  I had always suspected a dairy intolerance, but now my thoughts were confirmed, and although I didn’t totally eliminate dairy from my diet, I reduced it significantly.
Let’s fast-forward two years later when my son was born.  When I was pregnant, I did not reduce my dairy intake.  Honestly, I think I looked at it as my opportunity to enjoy dairy because I knew the road that could lie ahead.  It took a couple of weeks before I noticed what I would describe as colic-like symptoms.  He required more holding and rocking, he spit-up all the time, and he spent most of the evening hours crying.  I started eliminating dairy after a few weeks, and I remember one night asking my husband to pick up dinner on the way home.  My dinner included sour cream and cheese and my son let me know that he was not happy!  
The next time I visited the pediatrician, I explained the symptoms and that my daughter had experienced a similar reaction (we had moved during this time, so I was using a new doctor) and she immediately endorsed my observations and encouraged me to go back on the dairy-elimination diet.  I want to add a little commentary here that will hopefully be applicable to all mothers.  I have often said that pediatricians must go to school to learn how to calm parents fears and concerns because often that is their response when we share our observations.  That is usually a good thing because many times our children’s bodies have the ability to heal the cold or the stomach virus or similar problems, but if you sincerely think that your child is suffering with something that needs more attention, ask, seek, beg until you feel heard.  Look for a doctor that will listen to you and care for your child. I am endlessly thankful for all of the great doctors who have cared for me and my children along this path.  (End of my soap box.)
As I eliminated dairy with my son, his discomfort decreased and he began sleeping better.  The spit-up continued, but I was encouraged that his physical development would probably improve that around 4 months.  There was also a rash around his mouth that appeared to be eczema, but I was encouraged that it would clear up when the spit-up stopped.  Shortly thereafter, we were visiting my husband’s family for the holidays.  Since I couldn’t have any of the special food they ate at breakfast, his mother made me some scrambled eggs.  I don’t think my husband and I got more than an hour of sleep that night.  Then I began eliminating eggs from my diet.  Some children can take eggs that have been fully cooked in baked products, but I never saw his symptoms improve, so I eliminated everything with eggs.  
Around this time we moved again, and when I found a new pediatrician, I immediately asked for a referral to an allergist hoping to get to the bottom of what was causing the spit-up and rash on his face.  He was still waking up 2-4 times a night, so that was a concern as well.  The allergist did a prick test on his back and told me that he was allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, and corn.  I about cried in his office.  I must have looked shocked because he helped me make a plan to continue nursing.  He suggested I eliminate the allergens with the highest score and those I was already aware of (dairy, eggs, peanuts, and corn) and monitor the other two to see if I could tell a difference when he ate them (wheat and soy).  My son was also eating solids at this point, so I would have to carefully watch what he ate as well.  I went home and cried to my husband and he patiently helped me to begin to wrap my head around what I was about to do.  Honestly, I had no other option.  The allergy-free formulas were too expensive and I didn’t want to give up nursing at that point.  
I feel like the second time around I was more able to handle the diet emotionally and spiritually, but being so set apart from the group in any social situation was terribly humbling.  I had to take my own food if we were going to dinner at a friend’s house, having a church social, or even going to visit family.  I was hungry much of the time because there was so little I could eat.  If I ever left home, I had to have a plan for where I could eat, what I could eat, and at what time.  This diet caused more isolation at a time when I already felt isolated with two young children, nursing one, and trapped by their schedules.  This time around, however, I was compelled to fight through the difficulty because I knew it was best for my family.  When he turned one, I was able to wean him onto rice milk and that is what he continues to drink now.
This Saturday my son will turn 2.  In the last 6 months, I have added dairy products into his diet successfully, but I haven’t seen much improvement in his eczema, so I haven’t added anything else in.  I am really humbled and amazed at how happy he is despite the dietary restrictions he has.  Thankfully, his response to the allergens is not life-threatening, so I don’t have to guard his eating quite as tightly as some moms do.  We go to the allergist next week for another prick test, and I am anxiously awaiting the results.  He has shown signs of seasonal allergies, so I don’t think our road is over with all allergies.
How has this changed our lives?  Of course the obvious, what we eat as a family has changed.  But beyond eliminating the allergens, I would say that we are more conscious about the added ingredients of the foods we eat.  Honestly, you have to be when your child has a corn allergy.  Corn syrup is in everything!  I hope that we are more sensitive to the dietary needs of those around us.  It makes it easier to embrace other elimination diets when preparing food for others.  We try to place value on events that do not include food (or plan events with picnic dinners so that everyone can bring what is safe for their family).  I would have never expected this diet to be a tool of God to humble me and show me so vividly my need for His grace, but it certainly did.  My heart was purified as I realized how much I valued a sense of belonging to others around me rather than Him.  I also think that I learned (some) contentment and to have an appreciation for this draining and challenging place in life.  Through my husband’s influence, I also took up running and hiking once I felt confident that I was able to keep my body properly energized.  That experience gave me a confidence in my body and helped me get through such a difficult time in my life, that I am looking forward to exploring ways to challenge myself physically again.
What we eat?  There are many things that my son cannot eat out of a package that he can eat if I make it.  I have enjoyed learning to make my own granola.  Breakfast is by far the most challenging time of our day, so it is important that I have options available for us.  When they are delicious, I feel so grateful!  We have also found that the Better Oats brand of oatmeal has many delicious options that are both kid-friendly and healthy.  We eat lots of fruit!  My sons favorite food has to be broccoli.  It catches me off guard that he begs for mine after he has finished eating his, but no complaints here!  He eats a lot of Sunbutter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.  I really have found that it brings simplicity and joy to my life when I create a list of go-to recipes (I have around 20) that I use repeatedly for our meals.  I enjoy cooking so much that I can fall into a trap of looking for new recipes, but recently (Again!) I have decided that it is best for my children to have me- my attention and love- not a creative and new dinner.  
Despite how long this post is, I don’t feel like I have scratched the surface in many ways.  I would love for you to share any questions you may have or any part of my story that resonated with your experience.  Leave a comment below, so that others can join the discussion, too!
I have shared many recipes on this blog, so I will highlight an easy one we love!
ps- Don’t tell my kids that this isn’t bear meat!  That’s how we get them to eat it.
Shredded Beef over Rice

1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1 (4lb.) boneless top chuck roast
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 (14 1/2 oz.) cans of Mexican stewed tomatoes
2 c. water
4 c. hot cooked rice
-Mix together first seven ingredients to make seasoning for the meat.  Apply liberally to roast.  
-Cook roast in hot oil in a large fry pan or Dutch oven over medium high heat until browned on all sides.
-Add roast to a crock pot that has been preheated on high.
-Add stewed tomatoes and water to crock pot being careful not to wash seasoning off of the meat.
-Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours.
-Remove roast and shred with two forks removing the fat.
-Stir the roast back into the tomato liquid and serve over rice.
We eat this with broccoli or green beans.
Pirate Luke, 21 months, and Princess Greer, 4
Thanks for sharing, Reagan! You are an inspiration!

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