Half-Pint Photography More Than Mommy series features Q&A sessions with some of the inspiring moms among us. These moms will share what defines them outside of being “mommy”, their thoughts on balancing work and home life, the rewards and challenges of motherhood, and much more.
If you would like to be featured or know of another mom with an interesting story to tell, please tell me more by clicking here.
This “More Than Mommy” interview features another amazing mom that I’m happy to call a friend, Jillian Frayne. I’ll call Jillian an inspiration, even though she’d probably be embarrassed by it. (You ARE, Jillian! Embrace it!). As a mother of children with severe food allergies she encourages other parents to continually strive to provide the healthiest and safest possible environment for their children, while navigating the challenges they sometimes face. Her message is simple: All parents want the same thing – to keep our children safe, happy and healthy.
Welcome, Jillian! Since May is Food Allergy Awareness month, I thought it would be great to have you share your story and hopefully help some other parents by doing so. Can you tell us how many children you have and their ages?
I have 2 boys: Brendan 6, and Connor 4
Your boys are your connection to the food allergy community. When and how did you find out about their allergies?
Unfortunately, my husband Pat and I found out the hard way for both boys. Our pediatrician advised us to wait until Brendan was 2 to give him peanut butter. His picky eating had already started at that point and I was looking forward to trying this kid-friendly food with him. Who doesn’t love peanut butter? I asked if it was okay to finally try when we were at his 2 year old well visit and was given the ok. We left the doctor’s office and came home for lunch. I gave him the the tiniest bit of peanut butter on the tiniest piece of bread and the reaction started immediately and progressed quickly. Initially, it was repetitive coughing and sneezing and within seconds his eyes and lips swelled. I never expected this as no one in our immediate family has food allergies. I can’t explain how scary it is to watch your child go through something like this and not be able to help him at all. I’m incredibly thankful for the first-responders in our town and for the amazing care of the hospital ER staff. We found an allergist and after he was tested, we found out he’s allergic to peanuts and mustard seed. He was re-tested two years later and we found out he had also developed allergies to many tree nuts.
Our younger son, Connor, was given a blood test when he was a year old. He had severe eczema as a baby and we thought he might be allergic to cow’s milk. We were relieved when the allergy panel came back clear, meaning he didn’t appear to be allergic to anything. Then, at three years old he had a reaction to peas – a food he had been exposed to in the past. He didn’t ingest the peas but touching them caused his eyes to swell severely and required a visit to the ER. Our visit to the allergist revealed he was indeed allergic to peas and had also developed allergies to peanuts and tree nuts.
How have you been supported throughout your journey?
It was very overwhelming at first. Nothing seemed safe and everything was scary. Lots of reading and research and calls to the allergist’s office are what helped initially, but we’d be nowhere without the incredible support system of other “allergy parents” that we’ve bonded with. We didn’t know where to start in the beginning. My good friend introduced me to another mom who has 3 boys with food allergies, and she’s been through it all with her boys. She has listened, reassured, offered advice, calmed me down, and has made me realize this is doable. She was extremely helpful when it came time for Brendan to start preschool. She told me what to expect, brought up possible dangers I hadn’t thought of, and gave me realistic solutions for keeping him safe in class. I call her my allergy mentor and she is an amazing friend that I’m very thankful for. Yes, I’m talking about you, Aimee Basa.
There are many positives that have come to us through this. Pat and I are incredibly blessed to have the most amazing “village”. The group of parents we are surrounded by continue to astound us in their willingness and efforts to help keep our boys safe. They provide safe foods when possible, they avoid sending foods containing the boys’ allergens to school and activities, they’ve educated their own children, they advocate, and they ask questions and never assume. Most importantly, they never make us feel crazy for being cautious :)
Our boys are blessed to attend a school with a very supportive staff, who have done everything they can to keep them safe and included in school. And the boys’ friends and classmates are equally awesome. They truly want to help keep their friends safe.
Brendan has become a great advocate for himself. At 6, we are pretty proud of the way he handles most situations when it comes to food. Connor is getting there. It’s a little tougher with him being younger. He’s less of a picky eater and doesn’t always like hearing “no” when it comes to food.
Overall, we have a lot to be thankful for!
Is there anything you would like other parents to know or understand?
I really don’t want people to think I’m being overprotective or uptight. I’d so much rather have my boys and I fly under the radar and not have to ask for accommodations or special treatment. I’d love my kids to be able to participate without restrictions, but that’s not always possible. I feel bad and I do understand when others feel inconvenienced, but I know that they would do the same if it was their child.
And even with all of the support we have, the fear never goes away. It is always there in the back of my mind.
I am really no different than any other mom or parent. As parents, everything we do is with the intention to keep our kids as happy and safe as possible, while still being included. We all share that goal.
What can other parents do to help?
If you know someone who has a child with food allergies, try to be supportive, as you would for any parent, whether or not the child has a special need. All parents struggle at some point and we all need support. It’s great when other parents show that they want to understand and want to help their children understand what it means to have a food allergy. It’s important to ask a parent before you offer any foods to an allergic child. Never assume that something is safe. And please don’t get offended if we send our kids to a playdate, birthday party, etc. with their own snacks!
Do you have any advice for parents who have just learned that their child has a food allergy?
Don’t be afraid to ask. Anything. Ask your allergist questions. Ask other parents with allergic kids for advice. Ask your friends if they’d mind having the play date at your house. Ask your babysitter if he/she is comfortable with using an epipen. Ask the waiter the the restaurant to check the menu with the chef. Eventually, you’ll figure out your comfort zone and what works best for you and your child(ren).
And most people do get it once you explain the situation. When all of this first happened I would get embarrassed if I had to ask someone not to eat something around the boys and it was REALLY rough when someone would bring an unsafe food to our home, but people get it and want to help.
Do you have any favorite resources to share?
There are lots of blogs and websites dedicated to support and education. Food Allergy Research Education (“FARE”) is a good place to start and I’ve found a few allergy support groups on Facebook. Some online resources are:
- FARE – www.foodallergy.org and www.facebook.com/FoodAllergyFARE
- Kids with Food Allergies – www.kidswithfoodallergies.org and www.facebook.com/kidswithfoodallergies
- Snack Safely – www.snacksafely.com and www.facebook.com/SnackSafely
- Allergic Living – www.allergicliving.com and www.facebook.com/allergicliving
What are some of your favorite “safe” snacks, meals, products, etc.
Thank goodness for Goldfish! They’re a food group in our house. I really just appreciate any products that clearly label for allergens and the potential for cross-contamination. Include a statement like, “made in a facility” or “may contain” and you’re a winner in my book. Skeeter Nut Free Chocolate Chip Cookies are also a favorite. They boys love that JetBlue offers them multiple bags when we fly.
What do you like to do in your “me” time?
I started Pilates a few months ago and I am really enjoying it. I love a good book when I can find the time to read. But I also like to sit on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and catch up on one of the shows that are clogging the DVR.
What is your favorite thing about being a mom to two boys?
I absolutely love watching their brotherhood develop. They fight. Often. But their love and adoration of each other always wins.
Any words of wisdom to pass on to other moms?
I wish I could come up with something really profound or thought-provoking but I’m still learning and second-guessing myself throughout every aspect of this tremendous undertaking we call parenthood.
Now for something a little fun…tell us something funny that one of your children recently said or did.
I told my 4 year old he was handsome the other day. I asked him how he got so handsome and, of course, my husband chimed in with, “good genes.” My 4 year old looked down and said, “but I’m still wearing pajamas!”
Thank you so much for sharing your informative and eye-opening food allergy journey with us, Jillian. If you would like to give Jillian a virtual high-five for sharing her personal story, please leave a comment below. Also, if you are a parent of a child with food allergies, we’d love to hear about any valuable resources that you have to share.