after eliminating all of the things my son was allergic to for almost 2 years, baseline continued to remain an elusive dream. i *knew* he wasn't allergic to the things he was eating still, because there were no direct cause and effect reactions happening when he ate the different things on our menu. conversely, if an accidental exposure to an allergen did occur, he would have an immediate and traceable reaction to that exposure.
he was finally sleeping through the night, which was a HUGE improvement, not crying and whining and scratching all day, not nursing for comfort as much... but he still just wasn't quite right. he had dark purple rings around his eyes, he had a very light rash with redness at the creases that i was barely keeping at bay with raw organic shea butter applied as needed and he was still clingier and fussier than my other children were at almost 2.
the answer finally hit me when a good friend convinced me to come and visit her and stay in her home, which is about 4 hours north of mine. i'd been so overwhelmed with the food allergy issues, i'd been afraid to accept her invitations before. i decided to go for it and packed enough of our food to last most of a week, though my stay there lasted 4 days.
within 24 hours of being there, my little guy cleared up completely. i got my first look at what he would be if he were 'normal'. his fair white skin glowed and shone like a pearl - it was completely unblemished by bumps or swellings or redness. the circles around his eyes were gone. he didn't scratch once. he wasn't camped out at my breast constantly - he ran and played and explored the new house.
we both keep our houses pretty clean and dust free, so i knew it wasn't a difference in dust mites. we have the same area rugs on wood floors almost exactly, so i knew it wasn't wool allergy. she does have well water and we have city... and we have a dog and they don't. so i now knew to suspect either the water or the dog. i can't even express what a relief it was to rule out our foods for sure. i lived (and still do!) in fear that he is going to become allergic to something we rely heavily on - like rice or tomatoes.
when i returned home, i took him in for an allergy test for dogs and it came back positive. he is also very allergic to cats and i had to find a loving new home for my kitty of 13 years because his reaction became so severe. however, we got the puppy after we knew elijah is pretty much allergic to everything and therefore chose a very low-allergen producing dog w/ very short hair that sheds minimally - a great dane. so i felt i could manage his exposure to the dog allergen.
i now slather him in raw organic shea butter immediately upon exiting the shower to seal and nourish his fragile skin. i clothe him in the longest layers weather permits as well as socks before letting him go out into the rest of the house. i vacuum the one common area rug we have and the dog's bed almost daily, sometimes twice daily if he is experiencing his minimal shedding. these final steps are what finally got us to baseline.
it got me thinking about how very allergic children can also be so sensitive to things in the environment and how we parents are left to sort it all out. in thinking about this, i realized i've had signals for a very long time now that some of my other children have chemical sensitivities and allergies, as well and have been automatically adjusting our habits and routines to accommodate these.
7 years ago, in july, my 2nd son turned one. shortly after his birthday, i was hanging cloth diapers on the clothesline and he clamored to join me outside. i only have 2 children who did not get my olive skin and darker hair. they are my 2nd and 5th, both born as white as pearls and with white blonde hair and sky blue eyes. (i think they got it from a recessive gene on my husband's side, he jokingly notes that the UPS man is blonde with blue eyes).
this was my first very fair baby and his first summer being mobile and wanting to come out into the strong sunlight. i practice elimination communication in a more laid back manner by leaving my children naked constantly as soon as they become mobile so we can both watch for cues to potty and if missed, they can see the cause and effect of going to the bathroom without a diaper distancing them from the process. so bo was naked this day. if it was my firstborn, jake, i would have simply brought him out naked for the 15 or 20 minutes it took for me to hang the laundry and not worried that his swarthy skin and darker hair couldn't handle it.
i decided this was the kind of baby and situation that sunscreen was made for. I've never used the stuff myself, but my husband does and bought some for babies when it was on sale at costco. i found it and slathered bo from head to toe in it. there was even a spray to protect baby heads and a stick that was much stronger protection for noses and cheeks. i used it all. i carried him out and stood him up against the picnic table as i returned to hanging diapers. within a few minutes, i heard him making a strange choking and gasping sound. i ran over to him, thinking he'd eaten something he found on the ground.
i found him hunkered over the bench, as red as a lobster from head to toe. he had thick ropes of clear mucous hanging down to his belly from his nose and foamy drool coming from his mouth and his lips were turning blue at the corners. he was gasping and wheezing and i could see his belly sucking in to expose his ribs as he labored to breathe. my first inane thought was, "how did he burn so red with all the sunscreen i put on him?!" and my second one right on the heels of that was, "he got stung by a bee, this is an anaphylactic reaction!"
i scooped him up and began to run with him into the house as i swept my hands and eyes all over his body for any signs of an insect or stinger. i could find none and began to panic as his lips got bluer and his eyes closed. my mind raced to recall everything he'd eaten, everything he'd come into contact with that could be doing this as i grabbed the phone and called the pediatrician's number and told the receptionist it was an emergency. even as i was waiting for the dr. to get on the phone, i realized the only thing new was the sunscreen. i ran for the bathroom, phone wedged between my ear and shoulder, baby in my arms.
at this point his body went limp and he burped and peed on me and i realized he'd lost consciousness. i jumped into the shower and turned it on full blast, dropping the phone by the drain. i began to rinse and scrub at bo frantically, pumping handfuls of baby soap to get all the sunscreen off. the water was cold and the vigorous rubbing seemed to revive him and bo woke up and began crying in big, whooping gasps.
it was my first terrifying experience with any kind of allergic reaction. when i took him in to the pediatrician and we went over it all, she said it was a rare anaphylactic reaction to something topical - some chemical or fragrance in the sunscreen. she advised me to avoid sunscreen completely for the boys until they were a few yrs older and then we would think about doing a test trial on his arm or something to see if he'd outgrown it.
i learned to put long light layers on bo and find the best lightweight, wide brimmed sun hats. he even swam and played in water in his sun hats and long sleeves and never had a sunburn. we had to limit our time at public water parks and pools because all the sunscreen in the water would make his eyes swell and his face go blotchy, but he never had another reaction like that first one again. (of course i realize now i also probably put way too much on, never having used it before). he is 8 now and won't wear the sun hats at pools anymore, so we've discovered pure zinc for his nose and ears and long-sleeved rash guards with board shorts for the rest of him. when jake was 3, we almost had a similar reaction when i was slathering him with mosquito repellant, but i saw his skin turning red as soon as i rubbed it on and swiftly got him into the shower to rinse it off.
these incidents showed me early on that the skin is the largest organ in the body and if you put harmful chemicals on it, they can swiftly start harming all the rest of the organs. i'd never really thought about things my children could touch -or that could touch them - harming them like this until i saw it firsthand.
here are some of the things i do to try to minimize the exposure my kids get to toxins and allergens in products around the house:
i use natural soaps to clean surfaces and linens and clothing whenever possible.
i love Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps for bathroom surfaces and tile and linoleum flooring. it's also great for occasional laundry use and washing animals, hair, hands and body. (be warned they contain real oils, however and the peppermint can be a bit zingy for sensitive parts and the almond could potentially trigger nut allergy). i use the aloe vera baby mild to wash our pets. i love the way the house smells after cleaning with the peppermint! the only thing better is when i combine it with lavender and eucalyptus for a vigorous scrubbing of the bathrooms after we've had a bug in the house. i don't use these soaps for wood floors or glass as they can leave a buildup due to the natural oils they contain.
i've also gradually eliminated almost all plastics from our kitchen as well as aluminum cookware and anything with teflon or other non-stick coatings. not only is there concern over the leaching that most plastics do, but i've learned that most are also made with corn. i use glass tupperware or stainless steel (like tiffins available in bento box sets). i use cast iron or ceramic cookware as well as stainless steel. the kids get stainless steel water bottles to drink from (that are uncoated - i was very concerned/upset to learn about the issues the SIGG bottles i'd been partial to before switching to Kleen Kanteens) and we all use glass or ceramic to drink form at the dinner table.
for laundry, i've had to get away form any commercially prepared detergents completely, elijah was allergic to something in them all. i now use soapnuts i get from NaturOli and am experimenting with all the different ways you can use the liquid soap you can make from them, too. i used to love cleaning with vinegar before the corn allergy - it's anibacterial, antimicrobial, germicidal and antiseptic. the liquid in soapnuts is a great replacement as it is a natural surfactant that leaves no residue, yet it leaves clothes incredibly soft and completely odorless. i order from this site because they send them in natural cotton bags instead of plastic bags other sites use that are made with corn.
for scrubbing toilets, baking soda and lemon juice works wonders & is also great for removing soap scum in showers. i also like method: home care and personal care products as they are toxicity free, biodegradable and not tested on animals. they also work great! i love their ylang-ylang daily shower spray for cutting through soap scum. a drawback to these products is that some of them may be too strongly fragranced for sensitive people. i tend to stick to the products that get rinsed away, so i don't have to worry about possible corn ingredients coming into direct contact with skin.
another thing i worry about is offgassing or outgassing. this is when you buy something new and it has that strong "new" smell for a while, like a vinyl shower curtain. what is actually going on is the chemicals it is made up of, are being released into the environment as it is opened up to the air. some of these chemicals can be very toxic or damaging to brain cells or developing respiratory organs - especially if outgassing happens in a closed space that gets hot. like a new car seat left in a car. studies with special chemical sensing equipment have recently revealed that there are clouds of chemicals outgassing around new car seats sitting in cars.
when i buy anything new that isn't made of completely natural materials for use with my children, i try to buy it in advance of needing it and let it 'air out' for a few weeks before bringing them into contact with it. for example, we bought a memory foam mattress topper for them to use as a nest to sleep on over the summer when they'd stay up all night watching movies. i put it in the basement, draped over the half wall for weeks before we actually brought it upstairs and let them use it.
when buying a new shower curtain liner, i do so in the warmer months and hang it on the clothesline outside for a few weeks, until the "new" smell is gone, before bringing it in.
luckily, my super sensitive allergy guy has had only hand -me -down car seats from his siblings to use. no new crib mattresses for my kids to possibly raise the risk of sids, as they all slept on our not-too- old to- be- germy and not- too- new to- be -chemical-y mattress beside us.
i only put clothing made from natural fibers on my allergy guy and i only use this soap for him: Vanicream Skin & Hair Care Products: Specially formulated for Skin Allergies and Sensitivities!
i have found nothing that heals and protects his skin as well as raw, organic shea butter. i used to buy it from this site: SensibilitySoaps - Nourish® but have since found it locally at a health food store for a much better price.
my policy has become to look for the most natural option available and if there isn't one, to let the item air out for a while after being opened before we use it. this feels like a middle-of-the-road solution we can all live with, as simply doing without some of these plastic and toxic items wouldn't be an option i'm prepared to work around.