By Jana Pollack
Apr 3, 2023
Almost a decade ago I wrote something online that angered moms of kids with food allergies.
At the time I thought they were overreacting.
Now my own son has food allergies, and I understand what made them so upset.
In 2014 I was hired at BuzzFeed as a branded-content writer. I was 29, with no career to speak of, and I was excited about this new opportunity — which in practice was to write listicles that resembled classics of the BuzzFeed style but were produced with the brand that had paid for them.
My first client was a food brand that wanted a post called "50 Thoughts Every Mom Has at Snack Time." I wasn't a mom, but I figured I could improvise. So I started simple: "The kids will be home soon, and they'll be hungry."
I kept going like that, with gems like "Um, why do all these recipes take so long?" But with so many to get through, I had to mix things up. "I hope they don't bring their friend with allergies over," I wrote. "I never know what to feed them."
Then, proud of myself for thinking of all those thoughts, I sent the post to my editor.
Moms of kids with allergies were angry
The post was approved and scheduled to be published just ahead of Christmas. But on Christmas Eve, I got an urgent email. Something was wrong. The allergy moms had discovered what I'd done. And they were commenting en masse.
The hits kept coming. They felt that the food brand had published something unforgivable, something that confirmed their worst fears about how other parents viewed their kids. They wrote that the post had left them in tears. They called the author "insensitive" and even "an inconsiderate asshat."
We removed the offensive thoughts and added an apology. I felt relieved that I hadn't been fired, but I didn't take it too much to heart. I mostly forgot about it.
Then I had a kid with food allergies
In 2020, I became a mom. I had a boy named Lou in October of that year.
In April, after he tried some hummus, his face swelled and his body exploded in hives, and I called 911 in a panic. The truth rolled in: I had a child with severe food allergies.
Now I tense up when I see a joke about allergies in a TV show. Lou is only 2 ½ years old, but I worry about his presence being a burden on the parents of his future friends, and I hope he'll meet people who are understanding, compassionate, and careful. Imagining a fellow mom thinking "I hope they don't bring that allergy kid over" makes my stomach drop.
His allergies are always on my mind.
If I saw my own post online today, I'd react just as those moms did.
At the time I thought they were exaggerating. What I understand now is that, at baseline, being a mom is absolutely terrifying — but being an allergy mom adds another intricate layer of fear.
Lou's allergies are always on my mind — they affect the choices we make about his childcare and the way we plan our days. The last thing I need is a reminder that to much of the world, this scary thing my son was born with is nothing but a punchline.
I often wonder whether I sealed my fate the day I hit publish on that post. Did something in the universe shift, ensuring my future kid would have allergies to milk, sesame, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and the ever present soy?
I can never know. All I can do is say I'm sorry, years too late, to the tired, worried, bursting-with-love-for-their-sweet-children allergy-mom community — now my own community.
Your kids are welcome over any time.