I am the mom I never wanted to be. I'm the mom no one wants to be actually. It's a sad thing to think but it's true. I'm a preemie mom and a food allergy mom. No one wants to be either of those but yet, here I am owning both titles.
Katherine was born prematurely at 33 weeks ushering me into the Preemie Momma club. It took me a long time to accept what happened. My body had failed us. You're supposed to carry your baby to term. You're supposed to take your baby home with you when you leave the hospital and not leave her there in the NICU to be cared for by nurses and not her mom and dad. And most people succeed at doing so and don't bat an eye. But not me. My pregnancy with Katherine morphed into a life-threatening situation that at times, I still can't believe. I can't believe how fast everything went wrong and I can't believe how lucky we are that I lived and that Katherine doesn't have any lasting effects from her premature birth. I had planned to have a completely natural unmedicated birth because it's what I always wanted. (Absolutely no judgement regarding other people's choices. Our births are our births and our preferences are our own.) Everything went south when my atypical preeclampsia went into full swing and an emergency c-section was needed to save our lives. My lungs were filling with fluid from all of the swelling. Had I not gone to the hospital the night Katherine was born, I would have drown to death. Just typing that is mind-boggling. But we made it through it. Katherine lived in the NICU for 28 days. The majority of the time she lived there, I stayed there. I slept in her NICU room on a cot provided by the hospital so I could be present for every feeding. I don't regret staying there.
Sean is highly allergic to peanuts and allergic to dairy thus my title of Food Allergy Mom. We're at the beginning of our journey with food allergies and how to manage them. We've made mistakes but we've also gotten a lot right. The scary thing about his allergy is not being able to let my guard down about his food for a second. The one time I didn't think and gave him a cookie at a community event, it was a peanut butter cookie and he had a reaction. Not an anaphylactic reaction (thank God) but a reaction none the less. We've made our home peanut-free under the advice of his allergist. When asked if we should do this, the allergist's exact words were "I'd sleep better at night if you did.". Another direct quote from Sean's allergist, "This is the real deal peanut allergy. I don't like giving these diagnosis but this is very serious.". If hearing those words about your own child doesn't strike fear into your heart, I don't know what will. The scary reality for Sean is if we don't monitor all of his food and read all of the ingredients, he could have a life-threatening reaction. Before he was diagnosed and we suspected his reaction, I didn't sleep at night. I was afraid we had given him something he was allergic too without knowing it and he went into anaphylactic shock while he was sleeping. Is this insane? Probably. We were very careful with his food once we suspected his allergy but I was uneducated about his allergy and terrified for my child. There is a possibility he could outgrow his allergies. It's more likely he will outgrow the dairy allergy than the peanut allergy. Outgrowing a peanut allergy is possible but not very many people do. We're praying he outgrows it but not getting our hopes up. I struggle with the idea that he'll have this condition for the rest of his life.
The thing I've discovered about both of these titles is there's a sisterhood that comes with them. All preemie mommas remember the date they brought their babies home. We welcome each other into the group; even though we don't want new members. There's an understanding when you find another preemie mom. There's a strength in preemie moms because we've been through so much at the beginning of our mom journey. There's also comfort in numbers, I've found. I've found comfort in meeting other Food Allergy Moms because they get it. They get what it's like to read food labels, to be afraid of anaphylactic shock and of not being able to relax about your child's diet. We understand about asking what oil is used in food fast restaurants and leaving a restaurant if the oil contains an allergen. We understand debating if you should pack your child's lunch or let him eat the hot lunch provided by school. This is an easy decision for non-allergy moms but one that takes up a lot of mental space for food allergy moms. Any food allergy mom (or food allergy individual) I've met so far has been willing to share their experiences and coping mechanisms. And for that I am grateful. Some day I'll be on the other side of this journey and comforting a new member of the Food Allergy Mom club but for now, I'm taking the comfort of the moms who have been there.
And while it is sad to bear mom titles no one wants to bear, I wouldn't change anything (ok, I'd make Sean's allergies not life-threatening but that's it). These titles have made me a stronger mom and a better mom. I'm grateful I'm the mom I never wanted to be because it's exactly the mom I'm supposed to be.