It's not the first event organised by Allergy UK, but it's the first one I'm taking part in. This time last year it would have passed me by unnoticed. I was kind of aware that a few people may have allergies but I had no idea of how that affected their lives or just how serious it could be. I'm ashamed to admit I was one of 'those' people - I didn't really believe in allergies. Surely nobody could be allergic to all that, they were just fussy eaters with over anxious parents weren't they?
And then I had Monkey.
Monkey is allergic to dairy, soya, eggs, wheat, apples and pears. And now I believe in allergies! There's nothing quite like seeing your baby lying in a hospital bed to make you realise. Monkey's problems started quite early. She was first taken into hospital at 10 days old due to concerns about her weight.
Knowing what I know now the signs of allergies were there right from the start. Monkey seemed to have lots of 'tummy bugs' and although on the whole she was a happy smiley baby, when she cried she REALLY cried. It could go on for hours at a time and absolutely nothing would console her. I didn't think much of it at the time though. After all babies poo and babies cry. Monkey was my first baby, maybe I'd just underestimated how hard it would be.
Then when Monkey was around three months old things really took a turn for the worse. She screamed constantly, we were going through a full pack of nappies a day and she was sick a lot. We spent a lot of time on the observation and assessment unit of our local children's ward. It was at his time that allergies were first mentioned. I wasn't convinced. Monkey was breast fed and not on solids yet - how could she possibly have food allergies? I trusted the doctors knew more than me though and agreed to cut dairy from my diet to see if it made a difference.
A week into elimination we were out for a meal when Monkey's feet began to swell and she started to wheeze. We took her straight to A&E and she ended up being admitted into hospital for a week. I think it was only then that I realised how serious things had got. Doctor's were coming in from other departments to check she was ok as they had heard her crying and 'it's not a normal cry'. Dairy and soya allergies were confirmed. Weight was still an issue, Monkey was weighed daily and we were told we would have to stay in until she was back on the chart. This didn't happen though but we were allowed home when they started to see a steady gain.
The few weeks after we came home were probably the hardest for me. Allergens can take up to six weeks to leave breast milk so every time I fed Monkey I felt like I was poisoning her. It was horrible, I had to feed her but feeding her was making her poorly. With every week that passed it got a little easier though. The dietitian advised early weaning and prescribed a food called Neocate Spoon to help her gain weight and ensure she was getting all the nutrients she needed.
Weaning brought a whole new set of challenges. What should have been a fun and enjoyable time was full of fear. Every new food had the potential to make Monkey poorly and we did find some that did. Luckily though Monkey loves her food and we had the lovely people at Allergy UK to help - I spent many hours reading pages on their website in the early days and I still find them very useful today.
And that's why Free From Feast is important. Allergy UK desperately need funds to enable them to be there for children like Monkey. But more than that it's about raising awareness. So people are more understanding than I used to be. Allergies are a very real thing. It's not about Monkey being fussy, in fact she'll eat anything!
Monkey's fundraising is going really well so far. She's had some very generous donations on her just giving page. The lovely people at Moo Free, Allergy Buddies, Essy and Bella and Newcastle Vegan Festival have donated some wonderful raffle prizes. We're planning a picnic in the park, cake sales and lots more all through June. We'd love it if you join us.