I have thought really, really hard about the food that I give Squidge.
My mum died of cancer, and in the last couple of years of her life she did a LOT of research into the harm we cause ourselves inadvertently through the food we consume. Some of the articles she read were maybe a bit hokey, but lots of them were very much grounded in scientific research. She changed her diet because of them. She felt that if she’d known all these things earlier, maybe she wouldn’t have developed cancer in the first place.
Now, I’m not a scientist and I don’t have anywhere near enough knowledge to know whether or not she was right in thinking this. But I do know that she has left me a legacy of questioning the food I put into my body, and for this I am grateful. I make conscious choices about the food I buy and consume: I always check food labels; I research things I’m unsure about; and I am sure that my diet is healthier for it.
I’ve been doing the same with Squidge’s food. His paternal grandad has coeliac disease, which is caused by a reaction to gluten. I have therefore followed advice to keep Squidge’s diet gluten-free until he is at least a year old, to reduce the chances of him developing the same problem. Being gluten-free means that Squidge consumes quite a lot of rice products as a substitute for wheat – gluten-free pasta, for example, usually contains rice flour. I’ve also been giving him miniature rice cakes as snacks on a daily basis for the past few weeks, in a bid to increase his independence with finger foods.
So you can imagine my absolute horror at reading this article in the Guardian last night. Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have found that more than 50% of baby rice products contain levels of arsenic above the legal EU limit, with some brands of baby rice cakes (unhelpfully unnamed) among the key culprits.
As a mum, this was pretty hard to read. As a mum with anxiety, it was bloody hard to read. My thoughts went a bit like this:
- Oh my god, I’ve given Squidge loads of rice cakes.
- Oh my god, Squidge has had WAY more rice products than a typical baby because of his gluten-free diet.
- Oh my god, Squidge has eaten rice or rice products pretty much twice a day for the last four months.
- Shit shit shit, what if this gives Squidge cancer?
- Oh god, I wish I hadn’t done the gluten-free thing. I wish I had just given him wheat like every other baby. Shit shit shit, what if my choices have increased Squidge’s risk of cancer?
But although I had all those thoughts, interestingly, I didn’t get the full-on physical symptoms of panic that I usually would. My heart wasn’t racing. I didn’t feel (very) sick. And once my thoughts had calmed down a bit, I wondered why that was.
Why, when I couldn’t think straight for fear of the very unlikely scenario of Squidge being brain-damaged by the solvents in the superglue I’d used for five seconds while he was nowhere near me (see this post), was I not having a complete meltdown about this very real risk of arsenic exposure?
The conclusions I reached were that I wasn’t panicking so much because:
a) I couldn’t have foreseen this news article happening. Yes, it was my choice to put Squidge on a gluten-free diet, but I did that out of full consideration of his health and his best interests. I didn’t intentionally expose him to arsenic. It wasn’t lax parenting on my part. Crucially, it wasn’t my fault.
b) It has already happened. Squidge has already eaten a lot of rice and I can’t take that back. I have no control over the past. I can’t time travel back and take those rice products out of my shopping trolley, or remove the spoon from Squidge’s mouth. He’s eaten them, and all I can hope is that there won’t be adverse consequences. I will be careful in future to limit his intake of rice, and that is all I can do.
I think this was a valuable lesson for me in accepting that, despite my very best efforts, Squidge is going to be exposed to risk. I can’t protect him from absolutely everything bad in this world (although I would like to!). He will eat things he shouldn’t, scrape his knees, get his feelings hurt, and although even the thought of him coming to harm makes my stomach squeeze up, I know it’s not realistic to expect him to sail through life untouched.
I am wondering whether, the next time I have an anxiety episode about something to do with Squidge, I will be able to refer myself back to this incident. I will ask myself:
Could I have foreseen this?
What can I do to avoid something like this happening in future?
I hope that in this way, I will be less likely to give myself a hard time about mistakes I have made, and will instead be able to view them as a learning experience – part of my apprenticeship as a parent.
We’ll see 🙂