By Carrie Saum Dickson
This guest post shares the feeding journey of 16 month of Echo as told by his mother. A breastfeeding, pumping, allergy story of a little boy with a bright spirit and a mom and dad with steadfast hearts and commitment. Their story is beautiful, inspiring, challenging, humbling, educational, and so very raw. Be sure to go on to read part 1 and part 2 of their story as well.
Shortly after birth, my sweet little boy, Echo, had a stroke. We struggled to breastfeed and I ended up exclusively pumping for him. But that was hardly the extend of his feeding difficulties. You see, my son can’t eat. For a while there he couldn’t eat anything, now he has a few safe foods. But he still really can’t eat. He’s 16 months old.
My son’s name is Echo and he has FPIES.
What is FPIES? According to The FPIES Foundation:
Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES) is a type of food allergy affecting the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Classic symptoms of FPIES include profound vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. These symptoms can lead to severe lethargy, change in body temperature and blood pressure. Unlike typical food allergies, symptoms may not be immediate and do not show up on standard allergy tests. Furthermore, the negative allergy evaluation may delay the diagnosis and take the focus off the causative food. Nonetheless, FPIES can present with severe symptoms following ingestion of a food trigger.
I will tell you this: I’m a fierce mama bear. I will not let my son be defined by a stroke or FPIES or anything else over which he has no control. He is a strong, charismatic, people-loving, joyful being. He walks confidently into a room full of strangers, waving and smiling as though the world has been expecting him all along, and is ready to receive him. He is so much more than a diagnosis or cluster of symptoms. Echo is pure light. We do our best to make the world safe for him. Sometimes we fail. With every trip we’ve taken and guest we’ve hosted, Echo has experienced acute reactions each time despite our vigilance. But we walk a very fine line between taking calculated chances and raising Echo in a bubble.
This. This new normal. Echo, at 16 months old, has two handfuls of safe foods and resists eating, all while laughing and giving kisses and shaking his head “no”. Me? I’ve made peace with the pump. Peace with my life in this moment, with the ever-changing new normal. My son has one constant and safe food source that he never turns down (mommy’s milk!), and it brings me great peace of mind. We’ve learned to keep participating in life, even when my mom innocently asks if there’s a mute button for the pump motor, or when Echo enthusiastically licks the trash can and we know we will be up all night. I’ve learned I can do anything for ONE MORE DAY, which in this case adds up to almost 500 days. Especially if it’s for my son. I’m grateful and proud that my body still impossibly provides most of what Echo needs. The dark clouds of survival lift and retreat when I remember this: I am lucky to be his.
Here are three things I want you to know from my experience:
- FPIES scary and effing HARD. Have you ever tried to keep a toddler from eating food? It’s impossible. And sad. And no matter how careful we are, Echo often manages to find something and then we hold our breath until we know he’s okay. Leaving the house is stressful, play dates are almost impossible, and no space (except ours) is safe for him. Leaving him with a sitter is always a test of faith and competence. Finances are continuously tight. As it turns out, shipping donor milk, taking the max dose of Domperidone, (which insurance does not cover), and keeping up with medical bills all require quite a bit of cash. Also, it really takes a toll on a marriage, even a solid, seasoned one. Many families don’t make it through these rigorous trials with chronically ill children intact, even with proper support. Try not to judge us when we all seem a little fragile.
- FPIES is exhausting. When Echo experiences a reaction, he is in continuous pain, nobody sleeps for two days, and we have to take extra care with him. It requires total gut rest and a diet of only precious breast milk for days. I hate that he suffers so much, and it takes us all about a week to fully recover. We get little sleep and even less respite. We are hyper-vigilant everywhere we go because food is, well…everywhere. So, if you see Lance or me getting hyped-up when Echo gets food on his finger or there are crumbs on the floor or freak out when you pull out the goldfish crackers, please don’t think we’re crazy. And please don’t take offense when we start cleaning up after your kid or respectfully wiping their hands and faces before they play with Echo.
- FPIES is a real thing, and it’s rare. I’m part of online support groups where moms have been diagnosed with Munchausen Syndrome when they take their very sick children into the ER after an especially bad reaction, and some parents have had their children taken away because the doctors don’t even know what FPIES is or believe the parents when they explain it. (The parents eventually get their kids back when the doctors and social workers see that the reactions happen no matter whose care the child is under.) Although I refuse to dwell in fear of this happening, it is still something that happens. And the only way it stops happening is if you guys know about FPIES.
For more information about FPIES, visit these websites:
The FPIES Foundation
From the American Journal of Pediatrics: The Mother of All Food Allergies