I met my partner when I was pretty young, and we’re now at a point where our relationship could vote and buy beer in Quebec. Going back to my teenage years, I was pretty blasé about relationships. There were butterflies and disappointments, but I’ve never really experienced real heart break. (I understand this probably seems a little out of context for an allergy blog, but I promise, I’m getting there…)
As a parent, the gradual appearance of allergy after allergy with my kid, and the likelihood of more to come, is stressful, but we’re getting the hang of it for the most part. Good shit happens, less good shit happens, and you manage a little better each time, as people generally do in life and love.
Last summer, after a year of fear and relearning to cook, and reshaping how I think about food, we took our daughter in for a baked milk challenge.
For those who are not in the know, milk protein changes when you cook it. The longer you cook it, the less it is what it once was. A lot of kids that are allergic to dairy can consume products with heavily processed or well-cooked milk protein. It can be a back door approach to sneak dairy into an individual’s diet without their system recognizing it as the “enemy.” It can help with building tolerance as well. The process basically involves taking your toddler (or larger, older human) to the allergist, where you buy a magical muffin that has been prepared in a way that they know exactly how much milk protein is in it.
Note: I’m going to describe what we did here, but need to make sure everyone understands that this was just our experience and I’m going from memory and the science may change or doctors may do things differently. This was a BAKED food challenge and other food challenges are done differently. It’s all medically supervised and there is little (but not no) risk of a serious reaction. Went in informed and prepared. Do your research.
Over the course of a few hours, your allergic human (of any size or age) consumes first a crumb, then another, then a small piece, then another, then a chunk, then another, then another, then the rest of the muffin. These doses are doled out over the course of a few hours, at regular intervals, and you watch carefully for signs of a reaction. If there are none, or nothing significant, you pass. Your kids gets a diagnosis of “baked milk tolerant” and you get a schedule of food prep to follow.
A couple months of one muffin a day with X amount of baked milk protein. Then you up it to two muffins for a couple months, then you start giving them stuff with boiled milk (lasagna, casseroles, etc.) for a couple months, then another couple months of consuming commercial foods with milk as the fourth or so ingredient. After more than half a year of gradually increasing exposure to dairy of varying degrees of cookedness (pretend that’s a word), you go in to try another food challenge to see if your kid can now consume plain old dairy, which involves a different testing and follow up process.
A few points about the baked milk challenge:
- People are supposed to be in peak physical condition for these tests. Not like, one-handed push up condition, but not sick or sniffley in any way. For a toddler, I think one-handed push ups are easier than finding a day that they’re not even a little bit sick. Kids are gross and we had to reschedule the challenge several times because of colds, eye infections, etc.
- My daughter hates sweet things and the muffin is super sweet so kids will eat it. I spent four hours cajoling, bribing and wrapping bits of muffin in other food products. For the last half, I resorted to pulverizing it in a container of applesauce with promises of the park and a Peppa Pig marathon.
- Four hours in a waiting room with a two year old is a special kind of hell.
- I have never been so hopeful and terrified and miserable and overjoyed to be carrying out a pain in the ass procedure. I would do it every day for a year if it meant a pass.
Simply put, if our daughter passed this test, our world would literally change. Getting rid of a dairy allergy, even one terrible muffin at a time, would expand our lives in ways I can’t even put into words. It was like the worst and best date ever. Tedious, but full of possibility!
After four and a half hours, my daughter was declared “tolerant.” I texted my family and friends and posted pictures of her triumphantly (ok, begrudgingly) eating the muffin/applesauce mush. I called my mom with tears in my eyes. I went home and baked two batches of the muffins, and worked all the phases of the regime into my calendar. We were so relieved and so in love with the possibility that in a year, we might be able to knock her top allergen off the list.
But…by 4pm the next day, in the midst of a back yard barbecue, just two muffins into her program, she got grumpy, then clingy, then barfed all over my husband’s shoulder. Hives popped up on her belly a while later. We dosed her up with antihistamine and kept the auto injector at the ready, but she’d gotten it out of her system. She was fine, but we were heart broken.
I don’t know how else to put it, though I know it’s a little hyperbolic. A door opened, we took a look around, and then it shut. I was gutted.
But, as many teenagers figure out, heartbreak is something you get over, and sometimes things aren’t really that different on the other side of it. Really, we just had to keep doing what we already doing. It was the fact that nothing was going to change that was upsetting. Disappointment is a thing, but it’s a manageable thing.
Tomorrow, we are scheduled for another challenge: baked egg.
I am cautiously optimistic. Egg was not a huge reaction for her. Her brother was allergic to eggs, but he outgrew it by her age. Half the kids I know couldn’t eat eggs for a few years.
Egg would be good to work back in. Pancakes are never the same without eggs and vegan waffles just don’t work. (Seriously Pinterest…they don’t. Stop trying to convince me they do.) Vaccinations and flu shots would be a lot less stressful without the egg thing. As mentioned previously, working scrambled eggs into our lives would make weekday dinners way easier. I’m all for team “egg tolerant” and I’m willing to put in the work to get on it.
But, I’m also a little wiser now. I’ve done this before and I know that allergies are unpredictable. I’m going to take things a little slower this time, be hopeful but cautious, and just wait and see how it all plays out.
In the immortal words of Wilson Philips, with their mom-jeans and embroidered vests of wisdom:
Don’t you know?
Don’t you know things can change?
Things’ll go your way,
If you hold on for one more day.
We’ll see how things go tomorrow (and the next day…the next day is important too…one more day and all that…).
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