(children mentioned; food allergy mentioned)
It is interesting to me how many similarites I experience between several years of infertility, and being mother of a food-allergic (FA) child. Of course there is that key difference of actually having that long-awaited miracle of a child. If I had to choose between IF and a child with FA, you can bet I’d choose the latter, despite all the anxities that come with FA.
As with IF, there is a tendency to obsessively research, to read message boards and forums and to seek out others with similar experiences. There is sometimes almost overwhelming fear of dire consequences – in the case of IF, what if nothing works? I shied away from contemplating CF (childfree) for a lot of my IF experience because it was so scary and painful, and just not where I wanted to be. I wonder if that would have been different had I been able to get to know some CF after IF friends and role models – like Loribeth or PJ. Perhaps I could have envisioned a life beyond the dream instead of just seeing it as bleak. With FA, there is always the worry that your child could lose his/her life due to an allergic reaction. If you have the epipen with you and use it, the chance of death is pretty small. But if you don’t have it … anything could happen. With both IF and FA, there is a stress level that sometimes screams at you, and other times is a much lower level.
You become part of an “underworld” culture – one that the general population has only a vague sense about. Everything looks normal on the surface. Others don’t see the time and emotional energy that goes into every day, making sure you tag all your bases. They don’t see how hard it can be to do simple things that others take for granted. During the throes of IF, there was one time I almost lost it on the subway. Every second person on the train was pg or had a baby. It was a crushing feeling of despair. Yet other days were manageable. It’s the same with FA – sometimes I feel on the verge of tears that we can’t just do things other families & kids do – go out for supper, stop for a treat at the ice cream stand, dash out on an adventure without planning food, bringing the epipen, rehearsing what our options are, etc. Other days, it’s just “hey, this is our life, and mostly it’s pretty good. This is just what we have to do.”
It makes me wonder how many private battles are being fought around me every day, that I have no notion about. People with asthma, or type 1 diabetes, or serious illnesses – especially those that appear “normal” so you really can’t tell that there is a quality of life issue, a kind of suffering involved.
Then there’s the hope factor. Hope that medicine will bring about the next miracle – a cure for IF, a cure for FA. I think there’s almost an addictive, gambling nature introduced because there is this hope that you’ll hit the jackpot somewhere along the way. Of DS’s allergies, the chances are good he’ll outgrow egg, but very slim that he’ll outgrow tree nuts & fish. As with IF, you control everything you can, but you must accept that some things are just out of your reach. You have to hope and pray and do your best, and that’s all you can do. You hope to someday attain what seems so normal for everyone else. (of course I recognize that “everyone else” also has battles to fight – and often we don’t even see what they are).
On the good side, you discover some amazing friends, community, and support. You discover resources and strategies, and others who truly understand where you are and care to hear about the small details. You discover that your experiences can help others, and that you actually have wisdom to share. If you’re extra-lucky, you might find these in a real life friend as well as through the internet. I have found compassion, encouragement and strength in some very unlikely places in these struggles. It has made me realize how much I do need help at times, and that I don’t have to do it all on my own. Learning to accept help is important too. I remember a good friend of mine telling me she would hope for me during a particular tx, when I had no energy left to hope for myself.
You learn to count the blessings you have – your closeness, communication, and amazing strength and love for your spouse. I think if IF doesn’t tear a couple apart – which, sadly, it can do – then it helps to strengthen the relationship. Having a child with FA puts alot of stress on the family, but it also helps to remind us every day to treasure each person. Every day we all do many things that carry risk (crossing the street or driving in a car comes to mind), and an allergic reaction is a possibility for some – but only one possibility among many. I think you also have the opportunity to do things that you might not otherwise do – we did some great travelling during our IF time, that wouldn’t have been possible with kids. Now with FA as part of our lives, I am becoming quite a chef as I adapt recipes to suit our needs.
It surprises me how often a particular feeling rises up while dealing with FA, and smacks me in the face. Then I say “wait, I know this feeling well ….”