Connecting the celiac disease and food allergy/intolerance community together by sharing our stories to food freedom. From our beginning struggles to striving after a diagnosis, we can all relate and help each other out by sharing what we’ve learned and our unique personal journeys.
I have another wonderful Freedom Feature to share with you today! When Chelsea reached out to me to share her story, I had tears in my eyes while I read. Chelsea’s story is a bit different, as she is not the one with the allergy, but her (almost) 2 year old son. The scary and heartbreaking event of finding out (the hard way) that a toddler has a severe food allergy is something that sticks with you forever and changes every aspect of your life. Food allergies are nothing to scoff at or to be taken lightly, no matter what age, gender, or walk of life. Now give Chelsea Gray, the beautiful mother of Noah and blogger of Today With Mama Gray, a warm welcome as she so courageously shares her family’s story.
background: who are you?
Hi! I am a 27 year old happily married, mom to an energetic (almost) two year old who is learning to tackle my son’s many life threatening food allergies, one day at a time! I work full time as a tax accountant, I have a knack for all things DIY, and I’m a lover of red wine and reality TV!
what was life like before your diagnosis?
Life was normal, easy, and much less stressful before our diagnosis (but whose isn’t?!). I had a happy one year old, who was always battling an eczema flare up, and had started to slide down the percentiles in the weight department. So, we decided to introduce peanut butter to help boost some calories. Within 30 seconds of a pea-sized taste of my favorite food, our lives changed forever.
how did you find the right doctor and end up getting properly tested and diagnosed?
The day after my son’s anaphylactic reaction I called the first pediatric allergist that popped up on Google, and he got us in quickly. We did blood work, and were basically told to stay away from everything because he tested positive for it all – peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, wheat, soy, milk, etc. After joining a support group for parents of allergic children, I realized I wanted to get a second opinion. I learned how false positives are incredibly common, and just because blood work shows a positive, doesn’t mean you will have a reaction, etc. So, we scheduled an appointment with our wonderful allergist, Dr. Leickly. We did the whole testing over again…skin, blood, etc. But, this time, based on the results our new allergist was comfortable doing oral food challenges for several items! We have now been able to introduce four items into my son’s diet and it has completely restored my confidence, my excitement, etc. It’s been exhausting, but so rewarding. We still have a long, long way to go since he is still allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat, and eggs. But, we’ve made progress! I think it’s so important to trust your gut, and not be afraid to seek out a new doctor if you aren’t getting the care you deserve. It changed our lives!
how did life change after diagnosis?
Everything changed. Life as I imagined for my son and our family was just… different. I’ve dealt with a lot of anxiety each and every day since our diagnosis. I don’t trust many people with my son, I am constantly reminding people to wash their hands, or not to kiss my child. I am constantly on edge. In group settings, I find it hard to enjoy myself, because I’m watching Noah like a hawk. It’s draining, scary, and life changing. But, my son’s diagnosis has also brought our family closer and allowed us to focus on what’s important in life. My motto is that “everything happens for a reason”, and we WILL make the most of this! We now have my son’s eczema almost entirely under control now. After our diagnosis, the eczema he battled as a baby all kind of made sense. We kick ourselves for not questioning allergies sooner, but our pediatrician never made it out as a big deal, we just assumed it was hereditary. Oh how much we’ve learned since that life changing day!
why did you start your blog? what did you hope to achieve out of doing so?
I actually started blogging when I was pregnant with my son as a way to write down memories, share stories, etc. But I took a long hiatus when life got busy taking care of a newborn! A few months after our diagnosis, I needed an outlet. I started blogging again, with a purpose. I wanted to share our stories (successes, and failures). I wanted to educate newly diagnosed families, as well as friends/families that don’t quite understand what it’s like to deal with life threatening allergies on a daily basis. You can’t truly understand the stress, or emotions that go into each day unless you live it. Sharing our stories, tips, etc. gives insight and helps educate! I also wanted a creative outlet to write, focus on my love of DIY, and let another side of me shine through!
do you have a celiac/food allergy tip to give?
Trust your instincts…If you are nervous about a food, don’t try it. Don’t be afraid to speak up if something makes you uncomfortable about a situation! And of course, always carry TWO Epi-Pens. Also, find others in your community who relate to your situation. It’s incredibly therapeutic to surround yourself with others who “get it!”
have any favorite gluten-free foods or brands to share?
Enjoy Life was our saving grace after our diagnosis. To find a brand that was dedicated to being Top 8 Free, changed my life and gave me hope!! We love ALL of their delicious products. We also love Ian’s Chicken Nuggets and Fish Sticks, and Van’s has many items that we enjoy!
can you share your favorite recipe with us?
One of our family staples is an amazing, and flavorful Shepherd’s Pie. I’ve tweaked it from the amazing Cybele Pascal, and it’s such a comfort food that comes together easily. So delicious! I’ve learned that so much of allergy free cooking is just using a lot of substitutions. It is possible to enjoy delicious meals that are safe for my family!
what do you hope to see in the future; for yourself and the gluten-free/food allergy community?
For my family, I hope we continue to work together as a unit to manage my son’s allergies, that we would gain more confidence, and are able to give Noah as “normal” of a childhood as possible. I hope that awareness continues to grow for the community, and that more people would realize the severity of what we live with. Often times food allergies are assumed to be something that just gives an upset stomach, or a rash. People don’t realize that something as small as a trace can truly threaten someone’s life. I hope for stricter labeling controls to alert for cross contamination, etc. And I really just hope families learn to thrive and succeed while managing their allergies!
An incredible journey, but Chelsea has so much love and strength for her family that she is thriving. As I’ve talked about in my allergy posts, many childhood food allergies can be grown out of, so there is hope that Noah may lose these allergies with time. But until then, Chelsea and her family are doing everything right and her determination to raise awareness is the key. You never know when food allergies will strike. They are terrifying and life threatening. If someone tells you they or their child is allergic or can NOT have a certain food, please respect that and take every precaution you can. We need to lift each other up and make food allergy management as “easy” and safe as we can.
So tell me:
+ Did you or your child develop your food allergy at a young age or older?
+ Any questions for Chelsea?
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