On a normal Tuesday afternoon, our eight month old would have been napping in her crib. Instead, she was in my lap at the allergist’s office, overtired and on the verge of a meltdown. The nurse administered the skin pricks and instructed me to hold Lady Bug’s naked torso with a very specific grip, so as not to interfere with the allergy testing.
She squirmed in my lap, eager to escape my arms and explore the green and white linoleum floor. With curiosity, Dan and I watched as the sites of so many of the skin pricks developed into raised, red bumps, resembling mosquito bites. The baby straddled the fine line between laughing and crying. I sang in an attempt to keep her smiling. All I could think of were oldies.
Knock Three times
Cheer up Sleepy G
With a Little Help From My Friends
My mind was in turbo mode. I wasn’t thinking of what the raised bumps all over my baby’s back meant. I was hyper-focused on the task at hand- being a human oldie station with no breaks, commercial or otherwise. It’s really hard to think of songs you know the words to when your baby is just an inch away from totally losing it.
As we watched the spots on her back develop like a Polaroid picture, I imagined the doctor would tell me I needed to cut a few more things out of my diet as long as I was breastfeeding. My diet was already free of wheat, dairy, eggs, and soy. Recently, under the pretense of increased health, but truly in an effort to lose the baby weight, I’d cut out sugar, chocolate, and alcohol. I would hardly notice one or two more changes.
Our worst fear was that the doctor would tell us Lady Bug couldn’t be around cats, as this could predispose her to developing asthma. Dan’s parents have two beloved cats. I dreaded the thought of asking them to choose between their feline babies and Lady Bug.
Twenty long minutes later, the nurse returned. With her eyes trained on the many red spots covering Lady Bug’s back, she gave us the preliminary results. Among other, more mild allergies, she was severely allergic to eggs, milk, peanuts, and tree nuts. She told us the doctor would come in to talk to us, and then she would come back after that to show us how to use the EpiPen. I don’t remember exactly what else we talked about, but I know that at that point, Lady Bug was quiet and content, asleep on my breast.
I looked down at her sweet baby face, and began to understand that a rogue cashew could kill her. The weight of it was suffocating. I was not prepared for this. Tears spilled down my cheeks. The nurse paused her spiel and placed the form listing the first signs of anaphylactic shock on the table.
“I know you’re nursing but I’m going to hug you anyway,” she said. I accepted her awkward embrace, appreciative of this small, but infinitely kind gesture.
Up to that point, when it came to my children, my biggest fears were guns, balls rolling into the street, and texting drivers. Now it is the specter of a stray honey roasted peanut found on the floor, a bite of gluten-free banana bread offered with the best of intentions, or a stolen lick of vanilla ice cream that I fear. I had not realized what a luxury it was to fear just the normal things.
Under the florescent lighting of the stark exam room with my baby asleep in my arms, I sat in a hard backed gray chair and cried. I cried for all of my new fears and I cried for all the things I’d never had a chance to appreciate, that were already lost. I cried because I was scared. I cried, overwhelmed by the vastness of the chasm between the place where my ability to protect my baby ends and my trust in the universe begins.
I cried for all the doubts and fears that up to now I had never associated with eggs, milk, or nuts.
No one will ever love her as much as I do.
No one else will protect her like I will.
When will I have to talk to her about death?
Will she mature too quickly, knowing a single peanut could kill her?
Will she miss the opportunity to just be a kid who fears normal kid things?
Could I lose my baby over a simple miscommunication, a careless error, an ill-timed nap, a disengaged babysitter, or a stray peanut found underneath the couch?
With a perfunctory knock at the door, the doctor entered along with her cute, well-accessorized blonde PA, and a medical student she introduced as Tom, a kind appearing young man with a German accent. The doctor handed me a clipboard with a scrap piece of paper to take notes on. It never occurred to me to bring my own notebook and pen.
We were bombarded by a firehose of information and a folder full of papers to read on our own. We talked about EpiPens, support groups, what to do, what not to do, and the chances Lady Bug would outgrow her allergies. I wrote down as much as I could. The doctor anticipated we would have questions and instructed us to schedule a follow-up appointment on our way out.
Two hours after we entered the clinic, we walked into the cold February air. My brain was tired and my heart was heavy. I thought I would be relieved to finally have answers to our questions about our baby’s persistent itching, eczema, and congestion. All I had were more questions and a reservoir of new fears and responsibilities.