If you had told me seven years ago, when I was pregnant with my first son, that on this day in May 2010 I would be standing in my kitchen making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on gluten-free bread I made in my own bread maker–well, I don’t think there’s any way I would have been able to imagine that reality. There are a lot of things I would have been able to imagine in the spring of 2003: that my husband and I would have more children (our second boy was born in 2005), that I would leave my job in the publishing industry to focus on motherhood and freelance writing (I did) and that we would eventually move back to California (we were, at the time, living in the Chicago area). But being gluten-free? Never.
Who am I? I am an East Bay mom of two and I have been gluten-free since July of 2009. My younger son, who is four and a half years old, has been gluten-free since shortly after his first birthday. With the exception of our diet (which, let’s be honest, can be inconvenient at times) we are a normal family. I am a freelance writer and editor and I also volunteer in my boys’ schools. I have known my husband since we were in high school together in Fresno, California. I run marathons. I read with my kids. I love Disneyland, children’s and young adult literature, coffee, 30 Rock, Lost, Doctor Who, Pixar movies, The Beatles, the Central Coast and (gluten-free) cupcakes.
I was only vaguely aware of celiac disease–an autoimmune disorder in which the body cannot process gluten–before November of 2006, which is when my younger son was diagnosed with the condition. A family friend and my cousin had both been diagnosed as adults a few years prior and were already adhering to the gluten-free diet celiacs must stick to. While symptoms of celiac disease may vary, the symptoms we noticed in my son were gastric distress, a tapering off of his growth, fatigue, irritability and lack of interest in meeting typical toddler milestones. It was our pediatrician who recommended we have him tested for celiac disease. The positive result came as something of a relief: relief that it was not a more serious condition, relief that it was something that could be controlled by diet, relief that he did become healthier almost immediately after we cut gluten out of his diet. As of now, the only treatment for celiac disease is 100% adherence to a diet free of gluten (gluten is found in barley, rye and wheat).
So when I was diagnosed with celiac last year (after presenting with very different symptoms), I was already something of a pro at reading labels and preparing gluten-free meals. At shopping for gluten-free ingredients and navigating restaurant menus. At dealing with being gluten-free in the world (try explaining to a three-year old that he can’t have birthday cake with everybody else) and answering all those questions about our “weird” diet. Fortunately, as more people are being diagnosed with celiac disease (the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness estimates 1 in 133 Americans have celiac disease–17% of those being people who have an immediate family member with the disease) and others are eliminating or cutting down on gluten for other reasons, more people understand and accept that this is the way we eat.
If you or your child has been diagnosed with celiac disease, or you simply want to better understand the dietary needs of the growing gluten-free community, this is the place for you. I write about the gluten-free lifestyle, gluten-free products, cooking gluten-free and local gluten-free events and companies. Feel free to ask questions or suggest topics for future posts–I want this to be a resource for families both new to and familiar with the gluten-free lifestyle.
Is this where I imagined myself seven years ago? No. But I also didn’t imagine myself driving a minivan. And yet…