- Jacks Food Journey

personally, i never liked milk. as a baby, i was started out on cow's milk formula like most babies born in the '70's. my teenage mom thought i was too skinny, so she added pudding to all mine. i had the usual number of ear infections and colds & diaper rashes, but seemed like a healthy enough child and toddler, according to my mom. as i got old enough to make my own assertions about what i ate, i completely rejected milk and meat. i have a couple of traumatic memories of family members forcing me to ingest one or the other (once the milk was spoiled and boy was my grandma sorry she'd tried to force that down - we both ended up wearing it a couple minutes after it went down!) i was a vegetarian until i was 28 years old and pregnant with my own 1st child.

i thought i was automatically eating healthier because of the omission of milk & meat. which means i lived on canned spaghettios, top ramen noodles, veggie pizza & nachos & quesadillas ! i loved cheese and ice cream and other forms of dairy, it was just actually *drinking* the liquid from another mammal's body that always gave me the heebie-jeebies. not to mention the early memory of drinking it in the rotten, clotted state.

i was always very athletic and fit with a very fast metabolism and great health as a teen and young adult. i never seemed to pay the price for my enormous appetite and poor food choices. i never thought much at all about what i ate besides the 2 self-imposed restrictions. and when soy came out as the new health food and i included it in my diet whenever possible, i really thought i'd stepped up my food fitness . who knew that soy is NOT a health food ? the chemical processing by which it is derived alone is extremely toxic. not to mention the adverse hormonal effects the phytoestrogens can have on humans when too much soy is ingested. there have been studies linking today's high rate of infertility to hyperfeminization from too much soy formula as infants. there are articles and studies about 2 year old girls experiencing menstrual spotting when ingesting 64 oz or more of soy formula per day, of young boys developing breast buds. i experienced my own menstrual related abnormalities during my soy phase, but never linked it to what i was eating back then.

when i got married, my husband and i jokingly agreed that he would always be the cook and i would always keep the house clean. my specialty meal was spaghetti with lots of veggies thrown in the jarred sauce, or the huge fat quesadilla loaded with 4 cheeses and sour cream that had lured me my best friend when i was 15 ! ;-)

neither my husband nor i ever thought twice about our food choices back then - we were young and active and physically doing fine. true, he had regular bathroom issues and seemed to take waaaaay too long in there and never have a normal stool, but from what i gathered, most men weren't as efficient as women in that deparment - and my particular husband drank cow's milk like it was going out of style and i noticed even back then it always gave him cramps and diarrhea, but he wouldn't stop.

it wasn't until i got pregnant at 28 that i began to think about what we ate. i gained 100 lbs in barely 8 mos. i was shocked. i was going to be one of those cute little pregnant women out running and riding my bike & working long hours right until i went into labor. instead i was put on bedrest at 4 months, had to leave my career well before maternity leave kicked in (and therefore lost it) and was so swollen it literally made my skin hurt. i developed preeclampsia & had to have the baby 5 wks early.

the whole scare of his birth and needing to stay in nicu jump-started the attachment parenting instinct in me. i had planned to 'wing it' with breastfeeding and see how it went. i thought i'd do it maybe 12 weeks and then see if it worked out with trying to go back to work. i had formula samples in the house, ready to use if needed. but once he was born, so fragile and dependent... i started reading all the parenting books and the 1st time i read, 'breast is best' i decided, "then that's what he'll get and nothing else!" i threw out the formula at home and refused to let the hospital give him even a drop of it there. i pumped for him while he was there but i was physically w/ him so often, they only had to give him 2 tiny bottles of my expressed milk. only i could feed him what was tailor made for him and would help him overcome his birth hardships the best and i felt it was the least i could and should do.

from there, that instinct carried me into bedsharing and slinging him and cloth diapering and many other attachment parenting practices. my only and biggest regret from this time in my life is that i didn't know enough about circumcising to oppose my husband and father-in-law's insistence that it be done. i was told all the usual things, that it would be healthier and reduce his chance of cancers, more hygienic, he wouldn't feel a thing, no nerves there yet... well, he felt it all right and so do i - til this day. it remains on of my biggest parenting regrets.

as he grew, had only a cpl ear infections, no diaper rashes and was rarely ill. he changed my view on what 'normal' childhood ailments should be like. i r/m him eating his 1st food at 11 months and it was avocado. i knew on some level that ramen pride and spaghettios in a can were unhealthy and i didn't want to give them to him so young... but that was about the extent of my resolution for how i would feed him. after all, i grew up in a generation where babies walked around sucking bottles of soda and kool-aid, 5 month olds were given mcdonald's french fries to suck on and almost all babies and toddlers went to sleep with bottles of something sweet to drink throughout the night - i thought i was way ahead of the game ! i remember giving him the veggies out of a can of campbell's 'alphabet soup' and thinking how healthy it was ! and instant oatmeal, i was proud to feed him that, too.

as i had more children and grew more intense about breastfeeding and attachment parenting and began to be labeled, 'crunchy', people began to point out that i should care more about how i fed them. i remember my mom saying once, "you nurse them until they're 5, you never let anyone else take care of them, you only put the best cloth diapers on them, you never put them down... why don't you want to feed them healthy, too - it doesn't make sense !" and i remember my best friend saying, "it seems like you would be all organic, you do everything else to the extreme best for your kids, why don't you want to go organic?"

i didn't even really understand my own resistance. i felt overwhelmed just thinking about it. where do you start when you didn't even really know how to cook ? how could we afford it on one income? how did you give up a fast food lifestyle of convenience to do something that would feel like drudgery that probably wouldn't taste as good, anyway? so i buried my head in the sand and consoled myself that all my other endeavors would surely make up for not cooking healthy. i breastfed my first 2 boys until they were 5, surely this was giving them untold benefits to cancel out the minor issues instant/convenience food could cause. it's not like i was giving them taco bell and mcdonald's every night - they got lots of fruit and veggies, no juice or cow's milk (esp because i knew by now that if a child gets human milk until age 2, they never need another form of milk again for the rest of their lives), almost never any candy, never any caffeine - but everything i made came from a box or bag. lots of mac & cheese (but i threw frozen peas in to make it healthy!), spaghettios, butter noodles, frozen chicken nuggets, fish sticks, pb&j's... and they were really healthy without out an ounce of fat on them !

then my 2nd son - bo - weaned and began having bowel problems shortly thereafter . he would get constipated and not go for days. when he did go, it took hours and was very painful. i quit letting him eat cheese and it seemed to get better for a while. then one day he kept trying to go and was really suffering, he just couldn't go, but couldn't get off the toilet. i called the pediatrician and they said he was probably impacted and to take him to the ER. i will never forget trying to prepare my 6 yo to have his bowel manually disimpacted by a strange dr. he was so brave and tried so hard to understand that this simply had to be done even tho it was such a private thing... i will never forget his little white face looking up and me and holding back the tears as he said he could be brave if only it would stop hurting after.

that was my 1st wake up call that dairy wasn't for us. the GI dr. said we didn't have to give it up completely if we put bo on methylcellulose (miralax). i tried it initially, but then wondered if natural fruit juices
would be better. we ditched the miralax and bought a $400 breville juicer and the philosophy that more natural foods might be better began to take seed and sprout in my brain. i insisted hubby (who had now begun exhibiting symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome but refused to go to a dr. about it himself AND was having excruciating periodic kidney stones from too much calcium intake) give up cow's milk and ditched all the cheese. then i joined weight watchers and began to learn how to cook and eat more healthy and finally lost 65 lbs.

i had thought i did so much as a mother already, i was entitled to slide a little on the food preparation stuff, which i really hate doing. but my kids were the ones paying the price. we went on for a while living on weight-watchers-ish meals and then my 3rd son - jonah - weaned and began having terrible eczema and ear infections constantly. the eczema turned septic several times and the ear infections migrated into sinus infections so prolonged they caused scarring up in the sinus cavities near his brain. i can't believe how long it took me to realize it was his way of reacting to how much dairy we were still getting in other foods. i wasn't checking labels, just avoiding actual cheese, ice cream and milk. meanwhile, in 1st grade, jake was suddenly developing fluid in his ears that wouldn't drain and losing his hearing as a result. he suffered through 40% hearing loss for 3 months before we finally gave in and let the ENT surgically puncture his eardrums. i can't believe how long it took me to realize this was *his* way of reacting to the dairy i was continuing to expose them to. even though i'd reduced the big forms of dairy, they were still getting it in other foods and growing more and more sensitive to it. to this day, if we let jake have pizza and ice cream at a party, it's like clockwork: he feels pressure and crackling in his ears within a few days after and the dr. reports fluid again. we prefer to use chiropractic care first to help dissipate the fluid. more times than i can even count, the fluid is gone w/ 2 wks of daily chiropractic adjustments and resumed total elimination of dairy.

my 4th child -jovie - was born and had an anaphylactic reaction to peanut butter at 11 mos. i had to start reading labels and i began to realize how many things dairy was really in. non- dairy creamer ? it's dairy based ! soy cheese ? loaded with dairy ! all breads and crackers (except sourdough)- dairy! and if you want a dairy alternative, it's soy - but usually soy with some dairy ! i was already learning about the issues w/ soy and not too happy about that as the main alternative to dairy, but hadn't researched much further for other options when my 5th child - elijah - was born. i'd really fallen off the weight watchers wagon this pregnancy - we got our first del taco fast food restaurant in the area right after i became pregnant with him ! i was so busy with so many kids... it was so easy to justify just grabbing del taco a couple times a week - after all, they slow cook their beans all day - they don't come out of a can! it has to be healthier than taco bell, right ? so i gestated my last baby on macho fries, shredded beef and bean burritos w/ extra cheese and macho ice cream shakes.

and when he was born, my mom finally came to attend her first homebirth (unexpectedly breech! more excitement than she bargained for!) and i told her my most heartfelt desire for this last baby's birth was for her to make her home cooked favorites of mine. so we ate her heavy cream based potato soup in her homemade bread bowls, oooey-gooey double decker grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup...veggie laden lasagna... homemade cheese and beer bread, my mom does it old school and from scratch but 'low fat' or 'dairy free' have never been on her menu!

elijah stooled blood for 7 days straight right from birth and the pediatrician diagnosed dairy allergy. i was devastated but knew i'd give up my legs before i weaned any child of mine, so i'd commit to cutting out all dairy, 100%. by 7 mos, he was getting hives after nursing and the pediatric allergist tested him and he came up dangerously positive to eggs. as i read labels and learned what was really in mass-produced foods, i thanked my lucky stars he wasn't allergic to wheat. he became allergic to wheat. i told my husband i could handle wheat and dairy, but if there was really a God, please don't let him ever become allergic to soy. he became allergic to soy. i told hubby after a while that i was getting used to the other restrictions, but the one and only thing that really might make me consider putting this baby up for adoption was if he were to become allergic to corn. he became allergic to corn. and i didn't give him up. anyway, nobody would have taken him by then with all those allergies.

by 11 months, he was allergic to: dairy, egg, corn, wheat, soy, peanuts. by 14 months he added cat, almonds and all commercial laundry detergents. by 18 months he added dog, catfish and salmon. by 2, it was also most beans, lentils and sesame. the only thing that made sense to me was to cut all these foods out for all of us, as much as possible. i couldn't imagine him growing up with the temptation of things he couldn't have around him. plus the nagging guilt i'd had for yrs over the various symptoms my other children had, told me this was the best for everyone. 

this is what elijah was like before we successfully eliminated everything: screaming, crying, not growing, losing weight, diagnosed failure to thrive, constantly covered in eczema, rashy, raw, red, swollen. didn't sleep at night (my 1st experience w/ a baby that didn't sleep all night right from birth & if he'd been our 1st, we woulda only had 1 !) - just absolutely miserable. before we diagnosed the food allergies, the pediatrician was sending us to the hospital all winter for testing for cystic fibrosis, leukemia, lymphoma, celiac disease, metabolic diseases, genetic disorders. it was terrifying. when one specialist asked me about his quality of life, i told him if elijah were a cat, it would be time to put him to sleep.

i was so scared for his health, i was almost glad to cut out all those foods if there was any chance it would help. i learned very quickly corn was the worst - as far as being in everything and what it did to him. it simply isn't possible to eat out of our home and avoid corn with rare exception. it simply isn't possible to buy anything mass-produced without corn in one form or another. it's even in all children's medications - tylenol, benadryl, motrin and all tablets. it took a long time before i realized all the different names for corn and truly eliminated it. dairy was a walk in the park compared to corn. corn is in table salt, vanilla, baking powder, skin care products. i had to learn to cook completely from scratch but couldn't use most of the traditional ingredients you need to bake with. and when ppl commented that they'd wean him rather than go through all this themselves - because obviously if he can't eat it and i'm nursing him., i can't eat it - it made my blood run cold to think what would have become of him if i'd put him on formula. he was allergic to dairy from birth so we would have quickly put him on soy. which he also became allergic to, so we would have had to switch him to a very expensive elemental formula like nutramigen or alimentum. which is based on... corn ! if i'd stopped lactating during that time, we couldn't even find another woman's donor milk for him because who else would have restricted all these foods ? it turns out my incredibly uncompromising stance on breastfeeding was absolutely vital for this one's survival - funny how things can work out as they were meant to if you're trying to do the right thing.

i learned to use bean-based flours instead of wheat . i learned to use coconut milk whenever possible instead of milk or cream for a recipe. the coconut is amazing - it is the one food a human could survive indefinitely and thrive on if there were absolutely nothing else available - it has many vital fats, oils and proteins, some of which are similar to those found in human milk. it actually has healing properties for the gut and gi tract and i've read that in a real emergency, it can be used as an IV solution for people!

i use applesauce instead of butter and coconut oil instead of soy oils. we use hemp milk on his cereal and give him crispy cereal made from rice. elijah and i can't eat anything unless it was made in my kitchen and i've turned into quite a proficient health-food cook. the most common thing i'm told by people who try my recipes is that i should publish a book of my recipes or open a restaurant. not to toot my own horn, but my cookies are almost famous in the neighborhood - even people who don't have to eat this way ask me for them for holidays and birthdays instead of a traditional gift! i still hate cooking, but i like giving people the gift of a healthy alternative. i've also finally lost almost all the weight from all the babies (tho i nurse multiple children long-term simultaneously, so my body tends to hold onto weight pretty stubbornly until they really start to wean...) and all of us are so much healthier. we catch contagious illnesses *much* less often and when we do, the severity and longevity is greatly reduced.  

jake only has ear problems when he eats cheese and dairy-laden foods for special occasions. at 10, we let him make the informed choice and deal with the natural consequences at his own choosing. bo and jonah have not had any recurrence of their health problems and love the elimination diet choices more than jake, so rarely stray from it. jovie has never had an ear infection or bowel issues. elijah has finally reached baseline (gaining consistently, growing fairly well tho still not on the charts, no rashes, happy, sleeping at night, etc..) just over the last few weeks... yes, it has taken me almost 2 yrs to get this diet right, to truly eliminate all corn. it's even in stickers, plastics, kids' fake tattoos... but my baby's mischiveous smile and bright, happy eyes make it all worth it.

i'm also noticing that our dishes are so much easier to clean - no heavy sticky foods stuck to them anymore ! then the peds dentist asked me what we're doing because none of the kids have plaque anymore. my dentist said the same thing. i'm hoping if eliminating all these foods does this for our teeth & dishes, it will also do it for our arteries and hearts. our dr.s were both impressed with our bloodwork and cholesterol numbers at our last physicals. especially as hubby has a long line of paternal forebears who have died way too young of massive heart attacks.

i definitely wasn't heading down this road of my own free will and don't tend to find people any more open to it than *i* was at first... so i don't usually waste my time encouraging or talking much to people about it. at best, people sympathize with us and feel sorry that we have to live and eat this way - at worst, they think it's a faddish notion and that i choose to feed us this way the same way i once chose to be a vegetarian. let me tell you, as many times as i have slipped and made my baby sick by eating something i shouldn't have and had to live with the guilt - if this was just a choice based on a political or cultural or even animal rights ideal, i'd be a saint. because the only thing that got me sticking to this diet was knowing my baby's life & children's health depend on it. i keep hearing news stories about mercury being linked to the skyrocketing rate of autism and mercury being found in high fructose corn syrup. of melamine being found in some dairy and candies... of tainted batches of peanut butter ... and i always end up saying, "hmph! looks like this diet prevented another risk for us." elijah's issues may end up being a blessing in disguise for us - even though i hate the drudgery of cooking, i love the feeling of knowing i'm keeping my kids safe and healthy.

i felt pretty disheartened and isolated for a long time - but the more i look around at the moms i help to breastfeed their babies and the moms i socialize with in various parenting groups, the more i am seeing this is becoming a growing issue. i've only just now found the time to do this blog with nancy because for the last 2 yrs, i've been so busy trying to get my baby healthy. but now that i can stop and take a breath, i'm realizing there might be other reasons this is happening to our children more and more frequently. GMO foods, overuse of corn in everything, overuse of preservatives and fillers that aren't even fit for human consumption... now that i've gotten my head above water w/ this issue in my children, i'm looking forward to starting to look and around and see what i can learn about why it's happening more and more often- and to help other moms along the way who might be dealing w/ the same thing and not know where to start !