I hate drugs.
Yes, I have a daughter who is able to function because of two powerful drugs, but I still hate them.
When we drove home from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh that day in March with a bag of prescription drugs beside me and a daughter seizing behind me, I kept rolling options around in my head. The neurologists and my reams of paperwork both mentioned a diet known to control seizures in some children. I decided to look into it. Maybe we could put Tarica on the diet instead of the drugs.
When I researched the ketogenic diet, I learned that it was strict. Strict as in, weigh every gram of food. Strict as in, measure the carbohydrates in the toothpaste. I learned that the diet was high in fat, low in protein, and virtually nonexistent in carbohydrates. As I read, my heart sank. (I know that’s a cliche, but honestly, it best describes my feelings.)
I saw we had a problem.
When our first child was born, I intended to teach her—among many other idealistic goals—to enjoy a wide variety of foods. As soon as I started her on solid food, she slurped up pureed peas and beans and squash as if they were candy. As she grew older, she devoured lettuce salads and broccoli and many other foods frequently hated by toddlers.
Along came daughter #2. While my ideals had taken a hit with daughter #1, in food I had not wavered. What worked for the first child would work for the second, especially since this daughter was unopinionated and easy-going in ways our firstborn never was or would be.
I could not have been more wrong. Our easy-going, unopinionated second daughter stopped going easy and developed unshakable convictions when a plate was placed in front of her.
When I say she was picky, I don’t mean she turned up her nose at the usual toddler-shunned broccoli. I mean she abhorred apples, cake, grapes, potatoes, corn, peas, pumpkin, all types of beans and greens, carrots, various meats, pineapple, pizza sauce, certain kinds of cookies, rice, and innumerable other foods lost to the mists of frustration. She suddenly refused to eat meatloaf after enjoying it unreservedly, and it took us a year to learn that she started hating it after seeing me put a teaspoon of mustard into the sauce poured over it. She disliked every new food on principle, and if a hated food was put into her mouth, she gagged and retched.
Mealtimes were battles, and I was determined to win. But she was determineder. She went on hunger strikes rather than eat food she disliked or suspected she disliked. I soon learned that while I could sometimes get food into her mouth, I could not make her swallow. Punishments and consequences made no difference. Not even outright bribery worked.
We couldn’t live with the constant warfare, so I reassessed the field and found ways we both could compromise so peace could be restored. With time, she learned to like some foods she had hated, and I had many opportunities to practice patience (or not, I’m sorry to say).
And now this same daughter had been diagnosed with a disorder that could perhaps be controlled by a strict diet containing foods she hated and foods she didn’t recognize, none of which she’d eat willingly.
Could I drag her into such a diet? Could I turn our mealtimes into battles again? This time, the consequences of her refusal to eat would be, could be, staggeringly high. I would need her cooperation, but we had battled too long for me to hope she would suddenly change. She was only four, not old enough to understand the implications of refusing her ketogenic lunch, but old enough to be entrenched in her likes and dislikes. Ha. She was entrenched in her dislikes before ever I put a spoon in her mouth.
God, I said, You picked the wrong daughter. Jenica, now, she would enjoy the challenge of a unique diet. She would like most of the foods. She would cooperate. Tarica won’t. What on earth were You—?
The audacity of questioning God’s thoughts stopped me mid-scold.
God knew Tarica’s story before it began. He knew I would reach this point and ask these questions. He knew, but still He allowed her to have a palate as discriminating as the black-footed ferret’s. I had to trust He knew best, even if it made no sense to me.
Could I put Tarica on the ketogenic diet? No, I can’t, not until she is willing to cooperate at the table. Perhaps if she grows old enough to want seizure control more than her food preferences, perhaps if we run out of options, perhaps if God modifies her taste buds or her food-related stubbornness—perhaps then we may consider it. (At this point, we are hanging our hopes on brain surgery; if she qualifies and it is successful, then the diet will not be needed.)
I also learned that children on the ketogenic diet frequently are on seizure medication, too, so my idea of the diet instead of the drugs wasn’t a guarantee. In addition, only 10-15% of children on the ketogenic diet become seizure-free, so it’s not a miracle cure for everyone. I’ve read some amazing success stories, such as Autumn’s at Keto Joy. Stories like hers make me want to try it, but until my daughter and I can do it together, side by side, both fully invested in making it work, the ketogenic diet isn’t for us.
That didn’t stop me from demanding a sign from God, but that’s a story for another day.