A mother intuitively knows to protect her young. It’s only natural to be a Mama Bear when it comes to protecting a child with food allergies. A recent video of a Black Bear ‘chasing’ Yellowstone Park tourists on a road, with her cubs just a few feet behind, made me pause to reflect.
Beyond fear, the video shows our naivete about their habitat and a mother’s relationship with her cubs.
Some may say Allergy Mamas like me are too much of a Mama Bear. The side eye glances and comments from others like, “you can’t put her in a bubble” are just snapshot common experiences among some food allergy parents.
Every parent wants to keep a child out of harm’s way. And it is that Mama Bear protective instinct we share in common as mothers. Well, until a Mama Bear questions the risk of cupcakes and ice cream at a classroom party. Then you become the only Mama Bear in the room and possibly that Black Bear in Yellowstone Park.
The first year of a cub’s life is spent learning its survival skills from the mother before going out into its habitat. The strong will of the mother to protect her cub actually lessens as a cub prepares to leave the den – in a year. Now, let’s consider the habitat of our children.
A cougar or coyote is an easily recognized predator to a black bear. The habitat of food allergic children is vastly different. The predator is food that may contain an allergen. Not as obvious as a cougar, but the bite and exposure can be fatal.
Wherever children explore, may it be at school, field trips, restaurants, playgrounds or the home of family and friends – a food allergen threat lurks. May seem dramatic until you consider the consequences of anaphylaxis, a severe life-threatening reaction that requires immediate administration of epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen). The signs can vary from stomach pains, vomiting, coughing, skin reactions to trouble breathing.
Without a cure or treatment, the only way to safely explore is complete avoidance of any allergen – and this makes the habitat dense with uncertainty. Some food labels lack necessary specific details of cross contact risks; this same cross contact risk can happen for home or restaurant prepared foods.
The survival skills Mama Bears must teach include avoiding certain allergens, to inspect and question any foods (including reading complicated labels, calling manufacturers) and to carry medication.
All of our children explore habitats filled with risks, uncertainties, but also with meaningful possibilities and social experiences. The only difference for kids with food allergies is a food allergen predator is always around. We can all do our part as Mama Bears to help each other protect our young through respect and understanding the survival skills they all need before leaving the den.