Ginny was my second child. Her older sister had been a model baby, always smiling, rarely cried but she developed chronic asthma at age 8 months and required frequent hospitalisation. She was 2 ½ when Ginny was born.
From day one Ginny was a very unsettled baby, didn't sleep much and cried a lot. At 2 months of age I had to physically keep her awake between 6pm and 10pm so that I could feed her, put her to bed and (hopefully) get 3 hours straight sleep. By 4 months of age she had developed chronic eczema on her face, scalp, neck and creases of arms and legs.
By 12 months of age she had major ulceration on her bottom and an allergy specialist suggest we try soy milk as it could be a cows milk problem. At that time I had to get the soy milk through the chemist on prescription and it didn't really make a huge amount of difference. We tried the soy milk for 6 months and then went back to cows milk. She was getting more and more restless and would sleep for 1 hour and then wake up screaming. When Ginny was 14 months old I had child number 3. Gareth was the most placid, easy going little boy you could ever imagine. Sardi (the oldest) was still having major asthma attacks and hospitalisation. Ginny was still waking every hour on the hour - this went on day after day, night after night, month after month. Gareth developed croup and would have really bad nights where I would be up with him for hours with the steam running in the bathroom.
By the time Ginny was 2 years old, when she wasn't screaming through the night she was getting into mischief through the day or throwing dreadful tantrums because she couldn't get her own way. Climbing in dangerous places, falling up, through, on or off anything there was in sight to climb on.
A sixth sense woke me early one morning and I went into the kitchen to find her sitting on top of the oven. It was one of those stoves which had the oven and hotplates side by side with the controls for the electric hotplates at the back. She had climbed on to the hotplates and then up on the oven and had reached over and turned on all the hotplates. When I got there she was sitting looking at them glowing red and just laughed at me and said "look at the pretty colours, mummy".
She still woke every hour throughout the night and the only thing I could do to get her back to sleep was to give her a bottle which was usually filled with cordial, as the doctors told me not to give her too much milk and if I used too much fruit juice I had the nappies to contend with!
During our frequent trips to the doctor Ginny was always an angel. When I asked if it could be something she was eating, they just laughed at me and the doctor told me that I was overanxious. I came close to having a breakdown. When I wanted to get another opinion I was sent to the hospital. They wanted to put me in hospital to calm down. When I said "no", they asked me would I like them to put her in hospital to give me a break.
They said that she was just a naughty girl and to just let her scream as "she would stop sooner or later" and that she only screamed because I went into see her. Not very easy to do when she screams for 3 hours in the middle of the night and dad has to go to work the next day and the other two are awake and crying.. The doctors then decided to try Ginny on Vallergan to "quieten her down" because they believed she was just boisterous and I just was not coping with motherhood.
At age 2 ½ I was at the end of my tether and one day I picked her up and held her against the wall and started to shake her and bang her against the wall. I had tears running down my face and thank god something inside me said to me to put her down or I was going to do some dreadful damage.
About 2 months after this I read an article in a magazine which was talking about Dr Ben Feingold's book "Why your child is Hyperactive". It talked about the relationship of food colours and preservatives and children's behaviour. The article gave a list of about 14 symptoms and said that if you could answer 'yes' to any 6 of them, there was a darn good chance that food colours were playing a major part in the child's behaviour. We answered "yes" to 12 of the 14. The book was unavailable in Australia at that time and I had one of the City bookstores order a copy for me.
I read the book and then went to discuss it with my doctor and was told it was a lot of "maybe" and that nothing was proven. I discussed it with my brother (also a doctor) who told me that kids were being unnecessarily labelled hyperactive and it was predominantly a discipline problem. I tried to discuss it with others who just didn't want to know.
We still had Sardi going in and out of hospital with asthma and Gareth up through the night with bouts of croup. Their father was working late into the evenings (I think so that he didn't have to come home to the chaos) and by this stage our marriage was starting to collapse.
My husband and I discussed the diet recommended in the book and decided that it couldn't do any harm as things couldn't be much worse. The only problem was that the book was written in the USA and the diet was designed for the American market, so many of the products were not available here. I took the book one day and started to go through the pantry cupboard. I checked every label on everything in the pantry and filled 2 garbage bags with food. I went to the supermarket and read the labels on everything I bought. What I wasn't sure about I telephoned the manufacturers and asked them what the products contained. We started from scratch. I made everything we ate from scratch, bread, cakes, biscuits, ice-cream, icy poles etc. etc. We all ate the same food.
After 1 week, Ginny had started sleeping for 2-3 hour stretches.
After 2 weeks, she had stopped throwing tantrums
After 3 weeks, she was sleeping right through the night
After 4 weeks I had, for the first time, a normal child in the house.
After 3 months, her eczema had just about totally cleared.
"Coincidentally" (or not) her older sister's asthma had, by this stage, lessened to the stage where she no longer required frequent trips to hospital and was manageable to home and her brothers bouts of croup had stopped.
What really annoyed me was that about 4-5 years later the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne had adapted the diet and were using it as breakthrough treatment for behavioural problems.
As Ginny was able to communicate better and someone (usually a well meaning grandma!) would give her something nice like a red icy pole (and then send her home to me!) she would tell me that she had a "big head". As she got older, she later explained that when she had something off limits, her head felt as though it was going to explode.
Ginny is now 27 and has a 9 month old daughter. She still checks labels and she does all her own baking and cooking and rarely uses pre-packaged goods (although I noticed that the ones she tends to use are the same products I used when I changed our diet all those years ago) I have every confidence that her little girl will not have to go through the hell her mother went through. Even now, as her poor partner found out the hard way, she still reacts badly to Cherry Ripes! He would bring them home and she would occasionally eat them. Until one day when she had too many. He's now banned them from the house.
My message to everyone out there : I wish I'd had the benefit of Sue's book 25 years ago. Diet really does work. Hang in there - it gets better and better.
- Rosemary (Silly Yaks Bakery Café, Melbourne)