Birds of a feather flock together: it’s an expression most of us are familiar with. I’ve found that, when you are going through something difficult, it is also the case. In my experience at least, it seems as though God allows friends and family members to come out of the woodwork who have encountered something similar so that you have someone to walk alongside in your trial. Gina has been one of those dear friends of mine and, though our stories are different, I wanted to give her an opportunity to share hers here. Gina's story is inspiring to me; her story is one of incredible, self-sacrificial love. So, whether you take it as “ah, finally someone who has been through what I’m going through,” or simply a profound story of one mother’s determination to do whatever it took to take care of her child, I know Gina’s story will encourage you:
Hey Gina! Thanks so much for meeting with me to answer a few questions about your journey with food issues and how it has affected both you and your family.
Gina: Thanks so much for having me!
First off, since many readers don't know your story as closely as I do, let's give them some background. You're a mom (among many other things) to an adorable 3-year old named Isabella.
Gina: You’re right; I’m a mom, wife, businesswoman, and someone who has struggled with weight, food intolerance, and gastrointestinal issues my whole life.
Before you became pregnant, what was your typical diet like? I mean you're Italian, so we can start there, but what was a typical breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and dessert like on a daily/weekly basis?
Gina: I am Italian, which means everything revolves around the kitchen and food :) I have had gastrointestinal issues my whole life. I had my first colonoscopy at 20…that is not supposed to happen. When I was 16 I was diagnosed with IBS, then at 20 had ulcerative colitis. Then they thought Crohn’s. Nothing worked, and nothing helped. It wasn’t until I got pregnant that all of my symptoms went away.
But to answer your original question; I love cereal, so every morning I had a bowl of cereal (Crispix®, Honey Nut Chex®. Frosted Flakes®, Puffins, Honey Nut Cheerios™, I love it all). Lunch was soup or sandwich, snack was an apple or granola bar, and there was always dessert; I love, LOVE chocolate.
I didn’t have a fabulous diet, but it was fairly healthy, usually because I was watching it very closely because of my weight. No matter what I did, what I ate couldn’t keep the weight off. My thyroid actually tested borderline and I was put on medication until I started trying to get pregnant.
When you became pregnant with Isabella, did you notice any new food cravings/intolerances/allergies during your pregnancy?
Gina: In all reality, being pregnant had me feeling better than I ever had. I could eat anything and nothing upset my stomach. I was able to workout and, for whatever reason I didn’t put on a ton of weight. (And I know every person is different, but because of my past history I didn’t think this would be the case). I ate pretty healthy, and didn’t overeat, but I enjoyed some extra ice cream. :) The only “craving” was to keep snacking throughout the day, if I didn’t I would get a bit woozy.
When Isabella was born and you began to breast feed, Isabella was experiencing some health issues. Expand on that.
Gina: That would be an understatement! I knew I wanted to nurse her and she took to the breast immediately. She was a great little feeder. And then, at about 6 weeks everything changed. She was screaming through feeds and didn’t want to eat. Her poop changed color, she started to get cradle cap, and I knew something was off. I called the lactation consultant and she was awesome. She told me to try to eliminate milk, nuts, and gluten from my diet and see how she does. She would get better for a day or two and then it would all come back. She then said I should go see an allergist who immediately thought she was reacting to something in my breast milk. But, because of her age, she didn’t want to do a blood or skin test. We did a naturopathic test and it came back she was reacting to almost everything:
· All nuts
· All melons
· All berries
· Shell fish
Basically…the only things I could eat were apples, rice, pork, turkey, and potatoes!!!
So, after finding out that Isabella was allergic/intolerant to almost every single food, what did you do then, as a mom, to make sure your daughter was well nourished in the best way possible? I can insert this word, because I know that it was, so what kind of sacrifices did you make for your daughter's health?
Gina: I wasn’t ready to give up breastfeeding; I loved it too much. So, I eliminated all of these foods from my diet and got to work. I went to Whole Foods and found recipes and foods I could eat. It meant a lot of work, and put a lot on me, but I was willing to do it for her. It made eating out & ordering food really hard, and because I work outside the home and travel for work, it was crazy. But I have an extremely helpful family who all pitched in and started making food for me. We found recipes, and we got to work. When it is for your kids, it’s amazing what you can do.
What did a regular weekly menu become? How did you cook? What did you do at parties and restaurants? How did trips to the grocery store change?
Gina: I found cereals I could eat for breakfast and used rice milk. I made my own gluten free, dairy free, egg free bread (using egg replacer & rice milk) and put turkey on the bread for lunch and then dinner was something involving meat and veggies. I brought my own food everywhere I went because I didn’t want to hassle anyone else.
Ha, I can relate :)
Gina: Once I got the foods down that I liked, grocery shopping became easy again.
I loved the King Arthur GF mixes, they worked really well with all of the substitutes I need to make: cookies, breads, cakes and so forth.
Were there any moments where you really struggled to maintain this diet? Any moments where you wanted to cave or even did?
Gina: Traveling for work was the hardest. Over and above the fact that I had to pump in airport bathrooms, there was never anything I could eat. So I had to bring my own and if my flight was delayed and I didn’t have enough it wasn’t easy. I have to say I never caved because I knew it would directly affect her…if it was just me I probably would have.
When we first found out all of the things I could have, I cried, I prayed, and I asked for help. I was overwhelmed, but my friends, family, and God got me through. We figured it out day by day.
I can also relate to that, especially the crying, bit :)
How did this affect you emotionally? Spiritually? Physically?
Gina: I was up and down and everywhere in between. It was a time when my hormones were raging; I was tired, elated, and trying to do everything right for the only person who mattered. I would walk through fire for her.
Now, Isabella is not as sensitive to as many foods as she was when she was firstborn. What is she still allergic to?
Gina: When we had her tested at one, she was only allergic to eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts!!! It was such a great feeling. She loved milk and has been really great ever since. We had her re-tested (blood tests each time) and at two and a half all of her levels went down, which is really great news!
After you finished breastfeeding and were able to eat "normal" again, did you experience any "food issues" when you reintegrated certain things? Spare or share as many gory details as you want here, but what were some difficulties you had physically with reintegration? What about spiritually?
Gina: I started to realize shortly after I gave birth, that my stomach issues were coming back. When I went back for my 6-week appointment with the Dr., I talked to him and he said, “Women like you with ‘auto immune’ issues always feel better pregnant. The reason being, pregnancy suppresses your immune system, so all the issues go away.
I realized my big intolerance was to gluten and that what I really had was IBS with constipation, so the medication Linzess has been a Godsend.
You obviously sacrificed and changed so much about your diet and cooking habits for your daughter, which, I think I can also insert, was an incredible way of honoring God with food, as it was an incredibly self-sacrificing, act of love. What are some ways you connected with God during this season when either eating or preparing meals?
Gina: I leaned on people more than I have in a while during this time, and it felt good to be in community. I had people praying for Isabella and me and I felt loved. It felt good. It was very aware of what I was doing and whom I was doing it for. Isabella is first and foremost God’s daughter too, and I was just trying to do what any parent would.
What are some ways you felt totally attacked by the Enemy and just wanted to give up?
Gina: Well, pumping in airport bathrooms will make you think the devil is alive and well! Seriously, who makes women do this?!
That being said, there were plenty of times when friends wouldn’t ask me to go out to dinner because it was just to hard and I would sit there and not eat, which was difficult and depressing. I would eat stuff I loved, and that was hard. I realized, especially being Italian, food is social! And when you change the way you eat, that changes your social circle, and that was very difficult and made me feel isolated.
I can empathize with that. You don’t realize how social eating really is until you have to completely change that part of your life.
Are there any foods you've continued to abstain from, whether because you're still sensitive, because abstaining brought a new sense of enlightenment about what foods are best for your body, or because you simply don't crave them anymore?
Gina: I do not eat gluten anymore. IT is something I realize makes me bloated, my stomach upset, and overall it is totally uncomfortable. Bottom line: I need to feel good day in and day out, and that is the end of it.
The good news is, if I do eat it, without knowing it, the medicine keeps my symptoms to a minimum, instead of me being out of commission for three days, it is only a few hours of discomfort.
Overall, how did this experience of altering your diet for a time affect your relationship with God?
Gina: Having a child will do a lot of crazy things to you, and bring you closer to people and closer to God. I see so much of what He did for us in His Word, and realize it is a parent talking to a child. It is a parent trying to keep us safe, healthy, and helping others. And isn’t that what food does? It brings families and communities together to be social, interact, and share. Kind of brings it full circle, right?!
With Thanksgiving a few days away…I’d have to agree :)
If Gina’s story has impacted, or encouraged you, please let her know in the comments below. And if anyone would like to ask her further questions about her experience, or just bug her for recipes, she has given me permission to share her contact information.