Saturday, December 30, 2006

Gluten: the bane of my existence

If you didn't already know, my little Hannah has a gluten intolerance. Lost of people ask me if that means Celiac Disease. The answer is, I don't know. She's never been tested. The only reason I know not to feed her gluten, is my nutritionist, Dr. P, told me so.

If all started when I got pregnant with Audrey. Hannah was only 8 months old and I was still nursing her. To my credit, I hung in there three months. It. Was. So. Hard. I was sick, tired, cranky, and Hannah became a fan of pinching and squirming. So, when she was 11 months, I gave in. I told my nutritionist that I felt I needed to wean her. He agreed with me, and gave me instructions to find raw goat's milk. A little of that, a little gluten-free rice milk and some water in a bottle. Hannah LOVED it. NO problem weaning whatsoever. And for a while, she seemed even healthier than before. I don't think I had much milk left at that point.

Fast forward six months. Close friends and family members started remarking that Hannah seemed kind of yellow. Her stomach, which had always been kind of round, seemed to get bigger every day. I started to worry. Her moods were very explosive and she was not an easy kid, especially before and after meals. Finally, we took her to Dr. P. He tapped on her stomach, testing to see how bloated she was. Very. "Take her off the goat's milk." He said. Easy enough. She got a ton better within a couple weeks. Then, one day, a friend was feeding her son pretzels and offered Hannah one. Her stomach became extremely swollen again within hours. I didn't understand yet, so I called Dr. P. "You have to keep her away from gluten." Okay, great... What is that? After LOTS of research, I know a little about it finally.

Basically, it's the protein in wheat, rye, and barley. In someone with intolerance, gluten causes the person's immune system to attack their own small intestine, damaging the lining. This damaged lining can then no longer absorb nutrients and break down foods. This creates a domino effect, making the person really, really sick. At this point in time, the only known treatment is a life-long avoidance of gluten.

Most people who have problems with gluten can tell when their body reacts. Hannah is too little to tell me yet. Therefore, the only way I have to know we're doing okay is whether her little tummy is round or flat. It's miserable. And according to adults who do have celiac disease, any tiny trace of gluten can cause a reaction. We're talking about food cut on a cutting board with bread crumbs on it. One lady told a story about getting sick from kissing her boyfriend who had just eaten bread. This is serious, people. And it takes about three days for the reaction to go away.

I suppose there are good things coming of this. For one, I'm learning to cook. My family has always eaten out a ton. It is something my mom, especially, loves to do. Now, eating out is a gamble. There's just no way to tell somebody at Cracker Barrel, "please don't let this come in contact with any..." what should I say? Most people don't know what gluten is yet. It wouldn't even be fair to cause the issue, I feel like. I can order Hannah grilled chicken and steamed carrots, but it doesn't mean she won't be exposed. And if she is, there's no way to tell but by looking at her tummy. But she'll be cranky, and I'll know she can't absorb nutrients for a couple days.

To add insult to injury, Audrey has some issues as well. Since I'm breastfeeding her, Dr. P suggested I stay off gluten to help straighten her out. I've been trying SO hard. For about three months. But sometimes, I just need to have some chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant. Or a bite of thanksgiving pie. Or cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning at my parents'. It is so easy at home, and so impossible as soon as we leave.

I've been eating carefully for 9 1/2 years, and it was nothing compared to this. I get really discouraged sometimes.


  1. I'm sorry you're going thru this. I sympathize with you...and I'm glad (in a sorta weird way)to know that I'm not the only one struggling with this. I'm here for ya if you need any encouragement. :)

  2. Thanks, Liz. It's an encouragement just to know you really get it. :)