When Pauline Osena’s son was first diagnosed with food allergies, she was “completely unprepared.” Pauline recalls: “I felt very isolated. No one else in my family and none of the new parents in my community had children with food allergies. They did their best to empathize, but they really could not relate to the stresses of living with food allergies.”
Pauline found an allergy support group meetup, listed on the Food Allergy Canada website. Support groups across Canada have meetups to discuss living with food allergies and anaphylaxis. Some groups feature guest speakers and have a formal style, others are more informal chats (Learn more about support groups in your area).
In Pauline’s group (which is for parents), a typical meetup involves some regular members as well as newcomers. Babies are welcome, and it’s not unusual to see a mom nursing her baby while talking to other moms in the group about introducing new foods and the host of issues that accompany a new diagnosis. Sometimes a parent will show up whose child recently had a serious reaction, just to talk about the experience with others who have been there. The meetup model ensures a free flow of conversation, and topics on a given night may include school and daycare, family, clinical trials and allergy-friendly products and recipes.
“Finding the allergy support group was such a blessing to me,” says Gauvin. “It allowed me to remove my filter for just a few hours every month. I was finally able to talk to people about my experiences without feeling like an educator, or like I was being judged or pitied.”
Gauvin has since gone on to launch the allergy-related website hypefoodie.com and to write about food allergies for Huffington Post Canada. From her early days of seeking information and support, she is now a mentor and educator for other moms and dads — and continues to learn and share information through her local support group.
“Other allergy parents can relate,” says Gauvin, noting the strength of the support-group model. A support group meetup also offers something different than online groups, which tend to be larger in scale and more virtual. For a list of local groups, see the link below. And if you don’t have a support group in your area and would like to start one, contact Food Allergy Canada and we can get you started!