ChicMe WW

'I gave up being vegan to save my baby'

By Jo Abi|

I grew up sucking the marrow out of steak bones, so nobody was more surprised than me when I decided to try veganism.

I was in my early twenties at the time, and had just started my first real job as a breakfast radio announcer. My co-host was vegan, and I was immediately fascinated by the life choice and pumped him for information.

The cook in me was also interested in being vegan. Fruit, veggies, legumes, grains...all of my favourite foods.

It was extreme, but I was desperate to feel better.

After waking up at 3.30am for the past year or so I was so tired and lacking in energy, not to mention totally reliant on coffee and sugar to get me through.

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Except getting through wasn't enough.

I wanted to feel well, and veganism sounded good to me.

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One day I just woke up and did it, clumsily at first, but still, I was vegan.

I learned quickly -- almond milk in my coffee and cereal, lots of different kinds of tofu instead of meat, dried fruit instead of other treats -- and it felt great.

Until the cheese cravings began. It was my only vice.

I didn't have a problem giving up any other dairy or eggs or meet, but I missed cheese so much that I would let myself eat it occasionally, justifying it to myself with the thought that it could be made without killing animals.

Not that it was about animals for me at that point. Eventually it was.

Then I fell pregnant, and was told veganism wasn't a good idea, so I switched vegetarianism.

'The first time I gave up being vegan was during pregnancy.' (Supplied )

I was vegetarian for the entire pregnancy and planned to go back to veganism once my son Philip was born in 2004, but it took longer than I planned to be able to return to it.

I was trying to breastfeed and raise my son and I was tired and depleted so decided to delay veganism for a little while longer, when my son suffered his first of many severe allergic reactions called 'anaphylaxis' which lead to endless hospital visits and months of tests during which we discovered he was allergic to eggs and nuts.

As a vegetarian I was already eating a massive amount of eggs and nuts, but as a vegan my life revolved around nuts and nuts spreads and nut pastes.

At first we didn't know exactly which nuts my son was allergic to. It took years to find out the ones he was actually allergic to.

The first time he ate an allergen -- eggs -- he was only five-and-a-half months old and had grabbed my hand and licked it. In just minutes he was crying, then he was screaming, then he turned bright red and then was covered in hives.

It looked like I'd dropped him in boiling oil.

We raced him to hospital where he was treated.

Philip's next allergic reaction was at home, once again to suspected egg ingestion. Then at pre-school.

And there have been several more incidents since.

I've since been told that the reason it was so difficult to breastfeed Philip and why he threw up most of his feeds wasn't due to suspected reflux, but his severe food allergies. He was ingesting his allergens through my breast milk from the nuts I was eating each day.

At first it was incredibly scary to manage Philip's food allergies, but he is older now and understands his allergies more, but when he was a baby and a toddler there was obviously no way to make him understand.

'All of my children are aware of Philip's food allergies and we take care of him together.' (Supplied )

I was forced to remove eggs and nuts and any products including them as ingredients from my home, fearing my now-toddler would pick up something I'd drop onto the floor, shove it his mouth - as kids do -and end up in hospital again, or worse.

I wouldn't even let people bring eggs and nuts into the house, in case the tiniest crumb fell on the floor and ended up in Philip's mouth. It was so scary to see him in such distress, and after learning that anaphylaxis involved the immune and respiratory systems and could quickly become life-threatening, I became terrified to the point of paranoia.

Once I wasn't able to eat eggs and nuts, I realised being vegan or even vegetarian would be impossible.

So I slowly began reintroducing eggs and some meats such as tuna and chicken into our diets.

'I became terrified to the point of paranoia once Philip's food allergies were diagnosed.' (Supplied )

It was hard. Chewing meat felt horrible. The texture and flavours had become foreign to me.

It took time to enjoy them again.

I was never able to return to eating red meat and still struggle with other meats.

I could have tried to remain vegan or vegetarian by preparing separate meals for myself, but it's always been important to me to eat the same foods as my children.

Since they began eating solid foods, we've pretty much been eating the same meals and that remains the case to this day.

Philip wasn't able to eat birthday cakes for years and I wasn't a great vegan desserts cook for a long time, so I would bring an alternative treat for him to parties.

'At first we didn't know what his exact allergies were.' (Supplied )

As my kids get older I'm eating less meat and will most likely return to veganism in my later years when the kids are older and cooking their own meals and feeding themselves.

It's a choice I originally made for myself and my health, as everyone is entitled to make their own choices about their own lives and health.

With cheese remaining my biggest challenge, unless I can make it myself.

November 1 is World Vegan Day.?Share your story by sending an email to


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