On Thursday, our family had one of those days where time becomes irrelevant, and all of your focus is on your child. Danny caught a cold, and within hours, was pale, struggling to breathe and his lips were a distressing shade of blue. We took him to the doctor, who called an ambulance before he even examined my child, which sends your heart into a faster rythymn and you feel yourself gathering your resources, your focus becomes crystal clear, and everything else falls away.
But this isn't about my first born, the child that I worry about, with whom I have a big heavy bag of historical trauma that floats to the surface every time he suffers.
This is about my second child. The one that I don't worry about, the one who still has my heart responding in a normal, typical way to any issues. The one who is frequently forgotten in the panic.
My son was out of hospital by Thursday evening, needing rest and recouperation.
And on Friday, I forgot to go to my daughter's special Kindergarten family lunch. All the other mom's were there, and I came to pick her up after school, and she was only one of a handful of kids waiting to be picked up. And when I realised, I just broke down in tears for this little second child, with her good health and her forgiving heart.
She forgave me the moment she knew I wasn't coming, because that's how she rolls.
But I wanted to spend some time on her story today, because she has had an amazing journey of healing too, and while the comparison with Daniel shows that her issues were not so extreme, when compared to most kids, she actually has a more powerful testimony.
This is because, according to us before we started the GAPS diet, she was perfectly fine and didn't really need any healing. She is an example of so many kids who have ailments that we dismiss as NORMAL, when they are in fact COMMON, but far from normal or acceptable (read a post on this topic).
Here is Edie Jean's story of recovery.
My baby girl is BEAUTIFUL. She has a gift of humour, language, music and physicality. She is fearless, but very sensitive to other people's moods and responses. She says sorry straight away, she is a peacemaker. I have such high hopes for her impact on people when she is older, and I delight in her impact on people already.
When she was born, she was sensitive to dairy and wheat in my breastmilk. Because I was expecting this, having had a traumatic learning experience with my first born, I simply removed certain things from my diet, and she was fine. No reflux, no sore tummy, slept beautifully through the night. We delayed starting solids, and when I stopped breastfeeding at 8 months, she moved onto the same hypoallergenic formula as her brother (as recommended by our allergist, who looked after both my kids).
This was all before we had found GAPS, so I thought that this was a perfectly good solution, and it seemed to be working. Her health was fine, except that she did have a swollen belly...and she was quite pale...and that cradle cap and those skin spots never really seemed to clear up...and then there was her focus, she struggled with that to a worrying degree... but compared with Daniel, these were all minor issues that would no doubt resolve in time.
As Edie grew, the comparison continued. Her issues were steady, while her brother declined. In 2013, he declined to such a degree that we knew that we couldn't carry on like this anymore, and this decline helped us to make the decision that we would move off the doctor's symptom management plan (Formula, Nexium for reflux, Steroids and antihistamines for allergic reactions, Ventiliin for wheezing, epipen in case of anaphylaxis), and try to fix the root cause of the problem through a very specific food protocol called the GAPS diet. So use food as medicine.
Where was Edie in all of this? She was growing beautifully, but tended to pick up every cold going around, she was prone to ear ache, and the 'focus' issue was not getting better. I grew up around people who had ADHD symptoms, and I was starting to suspect that Edie was moving towards an eventual attention deficit diagnosis. She is exceptionally bright, but there were many many days when I would ask her to follow a simple instruction, and I would have to hold her face in my hands, repeating myself up to 10 times, while her eyes couldn't make contact, and her mind couldn't hold onto the words. She couldn't repeat to me what I had asked of her, and she would get distressed. She also had real trouble sitting still. Now, I know toddlers struggle to sit still, but also know the difference between average toddler distraction and acute distraction: I grew up surrounded by acute distraction, and I recognised it immediately. For example, she would stand up and sit down in her high chair about 50 times during a simple meal. NOTHING I said could induce her to sit still, and when I lost my temper, she would look at me with those big blue eyes and say: "Oh mummy I keep forgetting!" and then promptly stand up again, oblivious to the irony.
Despite all of these red flags, she was not as bad as Danny, so I just didn't see the point in putting her through the massive dietary changes. She was my healthy child!
But she knows her body, and on the day that Danny and I were to start the GAPS Introduction Diet, my husband prepared the first meal of butternut broth soup and lamb chops cooked in broth, and Edie was ALL IN. She would NOT accept that she was to be left out of this endeavour, and she squealed and cried until my husband served her up a plate of GAPS stage 1 food, which she devoured.
I was gobsmacked, and kept waiting for her to demand her 'normal' food. It never happened. (Although there was a funny scene on day 3: they were watching Playschool on ABC, and the presenter was cutting up an apple on screen, and both kids simultaneously burst into wailing sobs that would break your heart: "AAAAAHAHAHPPLES!! I want an APPLE!!!")
Here's where it gets interesting:
During the first week of GAPS, you all tend to suffer what is called 'die-off' or the GAPS flu. It is the process of large amounts of bad bacteria dying off, and releasing their stored toxins. They die off because they no longer have the food they require to sustain them (grains, starches or sugars). Children in this first week are so clued in to their bodies, that they often choose to fast, drinking only sips of broth and water for days on end. It can be distressing as a parent to watch, and boy do you question yourself, but it is actually THE critical event that switches the body from a 'maintenance' mode into a 'healing' mode, which then continues for the lifespan of the GAPS diet. Once the body moves into healing mode, the appetite comes back with a vengeance, and you find yourself shoving highly nourishing food into these open mouths ALL DAY LONG until they start to settle down into a more manageable state of eating. Their bodies are starved of nourishment, because their bodies have been too busy fire-fighting daily food reactions and inflammation to even THINK about using food to nourish. It is one of the most spectacular, mind-opening things I have ever witnessed, and I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it for myself.
What was even MORE incredible was that my eldest suffered a bit, but my little Edie Jean had by far the hardest time: in the first week, she vomitted on day 2, she became constipated, she fasted, she was lethargic and unenthusiastic, she slept a lot... it was then that I realised that she had a really big gut issue, primarily the candida fungus, and finally the penny dropped that she was NOT as healthy as I had thought. Perspective had arrived, thank goodness!
Throughout this journey, my son has had remarkable healing, where my daughter, while having amazing behavioural improvements, has really suffered through the discovery process. We have unmasked her true symptomatic issues, namely a candida overgrowth, and a casein intolerance. Her sensitivity has been incredible: she went through months of not being able to touch fruit or honey (I'm talking about not even a slice of fruit or a couple of raisins) without suffering from a yeast infection, or the cradle cap flaring on her scalp, or suddenly wetting her undies and her bed at night. Hers has been the belly that swells up at the drop of a hat. And really, this unmasking process has been very hard!
But just recently, through persistence and a belief that God was guiding us, her symptoms of candida overgrowth have subsided. I can't quite believe it, but I think we have beaten the yeast beast! It has also taken me AGES to realise that she is not tolerating yoghurt, butter or cheese very well, even though she has been telling me this for months: her tummy always got sore after our GAPS shake in the morning, but I thought she was just drinking it too fast, or it was too much food for her.
I recently switched dairy yoghurt to coconut yoghurt, and her body CRAVES it, she begs for it! She never begged for dairy yoghurt...
The weirdest thing happened on about day 21 of our Introduction Diet journey. Edie ate an egg shell. I mean polished it off. And begged for another one. I asked about this on a GAPS forum, and the advice was: "Her body is craving the calcium, it will settle down." Which duly happened.
She had other days where she would eat a whole pot of liver pate, licking the bowl, desperate for more. One night, I went to check on them before going to bed and she was talking in her sleep. I leant in to hear what she was mumbling, and laughed out loud when I heard: "Fatty lamb chops! I just want ONE MORE fatty lamb chop..." Kids KNOW what they need, it is amazing! Adults have learned to switch this voice off, and we could all learn something from our kids!
My daughter is no longer anywhere NEAR an ADHD diagnosis. She is able to focus, complete tasks, sit still, play on her own, play with her brother, make full and meaningful eye contact when she talks. Until recently, we had this incredible improvement, and I started to notice that her behaviour would deteriorate on certain days. I kept a food diary, and whaddaya know, it was the days we were having cheese, or yoghurt more than once a day. We took dairy out (except for ghee and sour cream, which has almost no lactose or casein in it after fermentation), and within a week, her cradle cap cleared up, and her inability to control her bladder resolved.
What a revelation she has been to me about what our society accepts as 'normal' issues, which in fact are just worryingly 'common', but FAR from normal. She is now the child that I worry about, her healing journey has been harder by far than her obviously sicker brother, and it has challenged me and my analytical skills FAR more than I expected! It has taken us ages to work out the true root cause of her symptoms, and I think this is because I was far more 'happy-go-lucky' in my approach to her health issues.
But we are getting there! She is now a flat-tummied, focussed, energetic, peach-coloured little ragamuffin who knows no fear and sticks up for herself with surprising eloquence.
I wrote this post to speak to the hearts of mothers who have health concerns about their kids that are frequently dismissed as normal, and who maybe feel that it is easier to accept this than to make changes. If Edie had been my first or only child, I would not have pursued the path we took so readily, and Edie would have been the worse off for it. It is SO WORTH IT to feed your children food that will set them free from the prison of common epidemic health issues that our generation of kids are suffering from. They are the canaries in the coalmines, and we need to be better at recognising the signs. The most important thing to remember is that our bodies tell us what they need, and when we don't listen, they will just scream louder. That is what our symptoms are for.
Also remember that healing is just a matter of doing. And I urge you to do it.
If you need any help or advice, please feel free to contact me. If you need ongoing advice, I am now offering a monthly email service, or you can sign up for a Skype session, or if you are in Brisbane, sign up for a coaching session where I can teach you how to make the basic healing foods so you can start your journey. See here for details.