Motherhood isn’t a piece of cake. Especially when your child has allergies.

When is a cake, not a cake?

When you have to cook that cake for your daughter’s much-anticipated 3rd birthday without most staple cake ingredients, including wheat flour, eggs and milk.

Add to that the fact you can’t use most pre-packaged gluten free flours because they contain corn, which is also off the dietary list. And none of this almond meal business to moisten the results, nuts – of course – aren’t allowed.

child reflux
Is a cake without wheat, flour, eggs and milk a cake at all? Image via iStock

The cake is subsequently not a cake, its either a crumbling mess or a pile of mush, hardly something to slice up for a room full of eager little people. It’s the challenge we were facing as we rapidly approached Amelie’s birthday. And as her special day came near, I felt increasingly guilty that I wouldn’t be able to bake her and her friends a lovely, chocolatey, sugary, bouncy cake topped with shiny icing complete with candles to blow out.

Would I be robbing my daughter of a traditional childhood rite of passage? That’s certainly how I felt.

The motherhood guilt trip began when Amelie was two months old. As a cranky baby who would not sleep, Amelie was diagnosed with silent reflux at the age of two months old and was given a daily proton pump inhibitor to help with the burning pains. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

We started looking at foods as the cause of Amelie’s distress. At one point there were more than 10 suspect foods on the blacklist: was it the gluten that caused the constant crying, or the soy that shattered many a nights sleep into four fitful hours?


Contrary to advice, why had our baby not settled when she turned three months, five months and then six?

I remember one Saturday morning my husband Justin and I fronted up at the doctors, absolutely exhausted from another distressing night. We were physically broken from the lack of sleep, and emotionally broken from not being able to comfort our screaming baby. We were at our wits end and desperate to stop Amelie’s mysterious pains. Thanks to a sympathetic doctor, we immediately got a referral to a paediatric gastroenterologist and reflux expert in Brisbane, as no one was specialising in this area in Darwin at that time.

He recommended an endoscopy, which we agreed was necessary to confirm the reflux and if more could be done to settle things down.

Michelle Coleman and her daughter, Amelie. Image supplied.

The results confirmed the reflux: inflammation was so bad there was a red lifesaver-like ring around her oesophagus. A biopsy showed a small number of white allergy cells in her stomach, but couldn’t pinpoint what foods were to blame. Soon after the scope, I suffered a frightening emotional and physical breakdown, brought about by extreme sleep deprivation, the stress of seeing my little baby girl go under her first general anaesthetic, ineffective food elimination diets and what seemed to be a never ending investigation into what was wrong.

My exhaustion manifested in an extreme state of anxiety, and in a cruel twist of fate for the sleep-deprived mother, crippling insomnia. I was devastated at my breakdown. I had always been strong: a successful journalist and a positive person, yet here I was, failing dismally at the job I had most of all been looking forward to.

I now realise, you do not choose the situations you are placed in, and sometimes they can take you to breaking point. It was just a matter of time for me. I still bear scars from that period in my life, haunted by the fear of insomnia returning. Yet, most days I’m back to my resilient self, and I know, respect and trust my instincts a lot more, especially when it comes to Amelie’s health.

These days, I know if she’s going through what we call a ‘flare up’. Even now, at the age of three, if Amelie eats something as innocent as a jelly snake or a french fry from a restaurant, she will suffer awful pains in the night. I know the next day will be horrendous; we’ll be stuck at home, rage after rage, shut off from the outside world. It’s very real, and extremely isolating. It’s not her fault, nor is it mine, and I explain that we will get through it together.


And when good times come, we cherish every moment; the house is filled with happy imaginary friends, not scary ones, and Amelie is happy to play and explore with her toys instead of clinging to me like a bear or constantly exploding into extreme anger. These moments are golden and fuel me through the difficult days.

Thanks to a successful medical trial of a low dose of steroids and antihistamines, we have just come through a dream month, the highlight of which was her third birthday.

Amelie’s 3rd birthday celebration was a particularly special one for the whole family. Image supplied.

The celebration was made all the more wonderful by her beautiful godmother, Aunty Nicola, who baked her a cake. Not just any cake, a Dolly Varden cake, heaven on a plate for any little girl. Nicola had worked as a chef for many years in some of Adelaide’s best and most demanding restaurants, so if anyone could pull off a wheat-free, egg-free, milk-free and nut-free cake, it was her. The secret ingredient was quinoa flour, a super food packed with nutrients, which is also a lot moister than other flours. To my surprise, another key factor was the lengthy cooking time for quinoa flour, something I would never have guessed with my basic cooking skills.

As the family sang happy birthday to Amelie, the Dolly Varden arrived in all its glory; a beautiful princess with a full skirt of delicately piped white icing and garnished with bows and chocolate hearts. Lit by the glow of the three little candle flames, Amelie’s face was the epitome of joy, as she stared at this wondrous barbie doll cake before her.

Perhaps she wouldn’t have known what she was missing had her godmother not made this very awesome effort. And perhaps in 10 years time, she won’t even remember her Dolly Varden cake at all. But maybe it’s one of those long-held memories, a brick in the cornerstone of a happy childhood, a feeling of joy that’s stored away in some secret compartment of the mind.

Amelie’s dolly cake. Secret ingredient: Quinoa flour. Image supplied

Motherhood isn’t a piece of cake, and perhaps if you knew how hard times could get, you’d be less likely to take the plunge. But you’d walk over hot coals just to see your child happy and healthy, and when you do, there isn’t a better feeling.

For the record, the cake was amazing. There wasn’t a crumb left on Amelie’s or anyone else’s plate, and our night was pain free, only interrupted by a happy little girl climbing into our bed in the middle of the night for welcome cuddles.

Do you have a child with allergies? Do you remember the times when the allergies have seemed like too much to handle?