Raising a Son with Multiple Severe Allergies: Author of a Food Allergy Memoir Shares Her Story
This article was written exclusively for PeanutAllergy.com by Susan Weissman, the author of "Feeding Eden: The Trials and Triumphs of a Food Allergy Family." Susan shares what inspired her to write a food allergy memoir and discusses how her memoir has helped other families with food allergies.
Like many parents who have shared their stories on this site, my family lives with food allergies. But I have another story to tell here – my journey publishing a memoir about discovering and managing my son’s multiple food allergies.
My son Eden is allergic to seven of the top eight food allergens. We discovered his allergies slowly as he reacted symptomatically throughout his first year of feeding and then all at once, as he had his first anaphylactic reaction at one year old.
Then, when Eden was eighteen months old, we were vacationing with another family. The father, who was a fellow English teacher and a writer, observed my family’s hyper vigilance in real time. He listened as my husband and I discussed Eden’s every bite, cooked his food from scratch, read labels and worried aloud. At one point he said to me: “Sue, you can write. You need to write about this. I don’t think people understand how crazy it is to live with food allergies like this.”
I didn’t give it that much thought. I just started writing, and immediately it helped make sense out of what was happening. Ever since I was a teenager I had written for myself – not to publish. But after I achieved some rhythm, I raised my sights a bit. I decided I wanted food allergy families to know that they were not alone. And I wanted families, teachers, grandparents, even doctors and nurses, to understand what the food allergy life feels like.
From English Teacher to Food Allergy Writer
It took a long time to write "Feeding Eden." I began when Eden was 2, using my notes from different doctor appointments. I remember the day that I pulled out my date books from his first two years of life and stared at all the pages filled with jottings about food Eden had eaten and reactions or symptoms he had shown. That’s when I realized that one crucial theme of my book was going to be that parents must have the right doctor and an accurate diagnosis. So, in the first chapter of my book, titled "Searching for a Savior," I describe how I bounced between specialists like a ping-pong ball, waiting for one of them to “save” Eden from his symptoms.
Frankly, as Eden grew older, our story unfolded and I acted as a documentarian. Another chapter’s theme was the challenge of eating as family (especially since we have a daughter without food allergies). Another chapter was about my feelings of isolation as a mother. I wrote about some events right after the fact. For example, I published a story in Allergic Living Magazine about a time when Eden and I were confronted with an over the top cake during what should have been a low-key second grade celebration. That essay was cathartic. Other parts of Feeding Eden were painful to write, like when I had to recall in detail Eden’s first anaphylactic reaction.
Feeding Eden ends when Eden is eight years old. And during those six years, I kept drafting, revising and publishing short pieces on online publications and maintaining a website of my writing. I also read every single memoir I could get my hands on – to understand the genre. I just kept sending pitches and manuscripts to literary agents and, though I received many rejections, I was encouraged by the consistent feedback that my writing was strong. Finally, a wonderful literary agent wanted to champion food allergies, and she signed me.
The Food Allergy Story Continues
What I wasn’t quite prepared for after Feeding Eden was published was that so many parents would reach out to tell me that they felt like they were reading the story of their allergic family and their parenting experiences. I was also shocked when I received emails from other parents telling me that they cried while reading Feeding Eden because it felt so close to their home. In fact, I had tried to let a sense of humor come through since that helps me in real life.
Now, I post my thoughts about food allergies and parenting on SusanWeissman.com. I’ve blogged on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, and I contribute as guest writer on Asthma Allergies Children, amongst others. I also speak on the topic of food allergies and visit classrooms to teach children and adults about food allergies.
A special thanks to Susan for sharing her story with us!