How We Learned To Live With Our Daughter's Dairy Allergy

Becoming My Daughter's Biggest Advocate

Learning to Live with A Dairy Allergy

My daughter Natasha is 19 years old and is severely allergic to dairy products—she reacts on contact. As a family we have learned to navigate the world of anaphylaxis since she was just a tiny baby. 

When she was just a young baby, I found her not breathing. It was easily the scariest experience of my life! We were on vacation in my home country of South Africa. On our way to the nearest hospital Natasha broke out into hives all over her body. At the hospital they administered epinephrine and she began to breathe again. This was Natasha’s first anaphylactic reaction and we suspected a single strand of cheese.

We found out that she was severely allergic to all dairy products, nuts, eggs, and mushrooms. Initially, I was so overwhelmed and afraid but knew that I had to learn to empower myself and be an effective parent. I had to overcome my grief and anger and had to learn how to keep Natasha safe. I became her biggest advocate.

My husband, a family physician, brought home an EpiPen (epinephrine auto-injector) training device for me to practice on. We began reading labels religiously and ensured everything we fed Natasha was dairy-free. We decided, though, that since we do not live in a dairy-free world, it was our responsibility to teach Natasha to live with her severe allergies in the safest way possible.

When Natasha was a toddler, we always had two EpiPen Auto-Injectors in her diaper bag—which we luckily never had to use. Once she began elementary school, Natasha carried one in a fanny pack, one was kept in the school office, and we always had two at home. In high school, Natasha started carrying an EpiPen in her purse and we continued to keep one in the school office. Now that Natasha is in University, she carries it in her purse or backpack at all times. As she got older and more independent, I had to find a balance between parenting and preaching. Like most teenagers, she tested her limits by wanting to be like her friends and didn't want to carry her EpiPen.

I had to remind her just how serious her allergies were.

You see, Natasha has had several anapyhlactic reactions over the years in which we have had to administer the EpiPen. In 2002 she had three anaphylactic reactions due to mislabelled products. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and I got to know one another very well that year and we were responsible for three national food recalls. I questioned everything I knew as a parent and was very afraid that I was not competent to keep my child safe! That year, Natasha was in grade 2 and saved her own life by alerting the teacher that she was having an anaphylactic reaction. Her EpiPen was administered by her Educational Assistant and her life was saved. 

Having a child with severe food allergies affects our everyday life because, well, we eat every day. It is interesting to find dairy products in all types of food—even hotdogs! Bread can be challenging too. However, I must admit that there are way more dairy-free products than there use to be. We're still looking for a decent-tasting dairy-free cheese and a restaurant that actually has dairy-free dessert other than Jell-o or fruit!! Through necessity Natasha has become an amazing cook and we can adapt any recipe to be dairy-free. We read labels religiously, eat only the foods we have prepared in our kitchen, and live carefully when away from home. 

As a mother, I will always have a heavy heart for all the foods that my child cannot eat or ever taste, but I am proud of who my daughter is. We have taught her to take responsibility for the food choices she makes. It is not easy living in a world without chocolate, ice cream, or pizza but it can be done! Natasha has a dream of one day owning a restaurant that will make amazing dairy-free chocolate, ice cream, and pizza.

I believe she will.

Severe allergies are on the rise in Canada.
We teamed up with EpiPen so you can arm yourself with information and be prepared if a life-threatening allergic reaction occurs.
You can find out more about life-threatening allergies and read stories from other parents on our A Parent’s Guide to Dealing with Kids with Severe Allergies page.

Married 22 years, I have 2 beautiful daughters. Occupational Therapist. Love romance novels and Cheetos. New to blogging, wish me luck!