True Life: I am a Mom With a Vomit Phobia

Parenting with a phobia is hard. Parenting with a phobia that is almost directly related to kids is really hard. 

I have suffered from the “irrational” fear of vomiting, emetophobia, since before I can even remember. (I can call it irrational because by definition, that is what a phobia is.) In my mind, it is anything but that. 

Neither I, nor my therapist can pinpoint exactly when it started, but my parents believe it stems from my brothers’ leukemia diagnosis and the results of him receiving chemotherapy. Chemo makes you vomit, kids tend to vomit a lot, so combine chemo and a little kid and you have a perfect equation for lots of yuckiness. Pair all of that with an anxious personality and you have created the perfect storm. 

My hatred for all things vomiting runs deep. I’ve tried therapy, medication, exposure, hypnosis, more medication and more  therapy. I treated adolescents with anxiety disorders and studied CBT, yet, I can’t escape it. Heck, I even play therapist and force myself to clean up after our dogs when they are sick to try and desensitize myself but to no avail. 

I avoided college majors that involved working with people who may vomit including all professions dealing with kids. I ironically ended up in inpatient medicine as a social worker, but managed to run out of the room the second someone looked pale or reached for the emesis basin. 

 I have lived thirty years with this phobia. THIRTY YEARS. 

 Having kids has somewhat helped me and somewhat completely ruined me. 

You may question why I decided to have kids, but the truth is, it was never a question for me. I knew it would amplify my phobia and I knew it would involve a lot of vomit, but I never questioned whether or not I wanted them. I knew I was meant to be a mother and whatever came along with it, I would face it. Or so I thought. 

So what does parenting with Emetaphobia look like?

I will ask lots of questions

If you mention your stomach hurts you better believe I will follow-up with 100 questions. “‘Are you nauseous?’ ‘Do you feel sick?’ ‘Are you going to throw up?’ ‘Do you need to leave?’ ‘Do you need zofran?’ ‘Why don’t you leave?’ ‘Please leave.'”

I will avoid you and your family for weeks if you’ve had the stomach bug

If I hear you or a family member recently had as stomach bug, I will avoid you for a minimum of two weeks, and if I might have touched something that you breathed on, I will scrub my hands profusely. Want my kid to come over and play? No way jose. Pukey-pants McGee is NOT getting anywhere near my child. 

I hate holidays

I know, Thanksgiving and Christmas are supposed to be the happiest time of the year, but you know what else they are? The pukiest time of the year. You better believe that Aunt Sally’s “food poisoning” is going to spread like wildfire when we all sit around and hug and share food all night. 

I avoid public transportation

Want to travel with me? Think again. My husband actually has said that he used to enjoy traveling until he married me. I suck the life out of traveling. Airplanes? nope. Buses? nope. Cruise ships? HEEECCK nope. 

I avoid amusement parks

Thinking about asking my family to your summer vacation to sixth flags? Think again. I’ll ruin that also. 

I drive my children & husband crazy

If my child won’t eat his favorite meal, sleeps too long, doesn’t sleep enough, wakes up in the middle of the night, asks for a drink, grabs his stomach, looks pale, etc., I’ll assume he is sick and break out in a cold sweat and panic. I check the monitor religiously throughout the night, making sure no one has vomited. When I wake up and go to my toddler’s room, I turn on the lights and pray I don’t smell or see anything resembling his dinner. I consider it a success when they wake up unscathed. Same goes for my husband. Stomach ache? Pale? Not eating dinner? Tired? I’ll assume he’s caught the latest stomach bug and stay up all night listening to his digestion. 

The decision to have kids was not one I made over night. I knew that it would be a challenge. Kids vomit. A lot. And usually without warning. But you know what I’ve learned? Your love for your kids is stronger than any fear. You will go to the ends of the earth for those sweet faces, even if they are covered in the contents of their stomach. And you know what? If I can do it, you definitely can. Just close your eyes, say a prayer, and remember, they won’t always need you. 

What is your biggest challenge in your Motherhood journey?




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11 Responses to True Life: I am a Mom With a Vomit Phobia

  1. sarah April 15, 2017 at 9:08 pm #

    It’s SO incredibly comforting to know there are others out there as NUTS as me when it comes to this phobia! I could have written this and said pretty much the exact same things! I HATE that my mind goes there under so many normal circumstances but it is truly out of my control. A few years back it was so severe I was thinking/worrying about it over 1000 times a day. If I make this meal, what will that be like when someone gets sick later. Or, why is my neighbor’s car home in the driveway? He must have a stomach bug…UGH, so frustrating to have this! Granted the severity of that was during extreme stress and OCD episode. A year of medicinal treatment and self help did get me through and although I think less frequently, it is still a daily situation. Someone coughs and I get startled…a prenatal woman in my office looks slightly off and I am SURE she is going to gag in my office…GOD forbid the kids even mention a tummy ache! After 39 years of this and it only worsening, I don’t see it as something going away completely, but I sure am relieved to read this and see myself in every word and comforted knowing there are others like me that will avoid even the bestest of friends if they have had a bug within the last 2 weeks or jumped out of a moving car because someone was getting sick… The hardest part is seeing some of my behaviors rub off on my kids…I don’t want them to have the worry I do when 99.9% of the time is never comes to fruition. Anyway, thanks for sharing and now you know too that you are not alone!

    • Brittany
      Brittany June 26, 2017 at 6:08 pm #

      Sarah, I totally am with you!! My kiddos also BOTH get carsick and I dread car rides with them, and it makes me so sad. I never want any of them to develop this phobia but it’s so difficult to hide the natural reaction. Hugs to you!!

  2. Natalie May 3, 2017 at 3:18 pm #

    Oh my gosh, I could have written this. I’ve lived with this phobia since grade school and pregnancy seemed to amplify it! My husband and I just had a stomach bug-he vomited and felt better-but I was unable to. I’ll go to the end of the earth to stop myself from vomiting. It’s horrible, especially when you have kiddos. I take comfort in knowing I’m not alone though.

    • Brittany
      Brittany June 26, 2017 at 6:09 pm #

      Same here, Natalie!! I haven’t vomitted in 22 years. We had the stomach bug THREE times this winter and I never vomitted, but everyone else did. It’s really a magical power. Hugs to you! You aren’t alone

  3. Melissa Bowers May 4, 2017 at 11:48 am #

    I’ve suffered from emetophobia for over thirty years, too. When I showed your article to my husband, he shook his head in amazement and said, “This is definitely you.” I’ve seen more and more writers discussing their experience with this phobia, which is heartening; it’s so helpful to feel understood and less alone. Thank you for your openness!

    • Brittany
      Brittany June 26, 2017 at 6:11 pm #

      Melissa, it’s crazy how many people have contacted me (people I NEVER suspected had this) and told me the exact same thing. I hate that others suffer from this, but it made me feel so supported and not crazy to know I am not alone. I debated writing this because I thought no one would get it, but it has been shared over 1200 times on facebook which means it’s WAY more common than I ever dreamed

  4. Cindy B May 4, 2017 at 11:34 pm #

    Great read.I am afraid to vomit. I don’t even like that word, I would rather say throw up. I think my fear has come from it happening only one time in my 46 years of life. I was 5 and I guess I was sick. I almost did when I was 14, also sick but it did not come to that. I have 2 kids, both adults now but each threw up about 4-5 times in their lives. I cleaned it up, I took care of them, I prayed loudly each time that it would stop and no one else get it. I freak out when I see people talking about having the stomach bug on Facebook, like I am going to get it from them through the computer. These people don’t even live near me. Now, that is stupid I know, but that is how my mind is. I have panic and anxiety and I found I could make myself feel sick with a click of the switch in my mind, so I have learned to click that switch off just as fast because no body needs that stress and worry! Unfortunately both my girls have this irrational fear, I am sure I gave it to them.

    • Brittany
      Brittany June 26, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

      Cindy, same here!! I try and avoid facebook in the winter because I can’t STAND people saying their kiddos have the bug. It sends me into a panic and i’ll ask my husband repeatedly if anyone at work has had it. I hate it so much. I haven’t thrown up since I was 8, and I even had three years of daily chemo as a teenager. Our minds are incredibly powerful!

  5. Liv May 5, 2017 at 5:51 pm #

    I know it’s not vomit related, but I saw your profile blerb and I have two beautiful boys, one in June ’14 and one in August ’16. Same but opposite. You are not alone. Thank you for sharing. I have friends with this phobia and it is a difficult path to travel.

  6. Vanessa May 6, 2017 at 7:59 am #

    Please, Please do not buy into thinking you will always have Emet I notice a few here say and feel that way. I did think that too for countless years I was a basket case and off the scale BUT finally after trying many therapists I found someone who specializes in extreme phobias and Emet and OCD.

    I am finally totally free 2 1/2 years now Its in the skill set of the therapist and one may well have to find and try a few and right fit….The therapist who was able to cure me (that many others were not able to do over 23 years) He works with about 30 – 50 emetophobics a month. he does mostly via skype video session intensives as clients are all around the world plus he does lot of complex PTSD for military former veterans, emergency first responders and trauma victims. he is hugely skillful amazingly fast – he does highly personalized taylor made program for every individual.

    Anyways, people out there can seriously help you Try your local areas find a therapist, insist ask your doctor or likely youl may well have to go private therapist and so people reading this,
    ****use google such as type;
    Emetophobia expert (or specialist) help UK, USA, Australia, etc
    Or even emetophobia skype specialist USA, UK and so forth.

    ** Sure these type of super therapist and their skill set are not cheap BUT nor is having emetophobia! The best therapist can be hard to find and one has to invest and pay. . They are not cheap but compared to what… it is all relative and subjective.
    There are as I learned and we all know great bricklayers, teachers, builders, and therapists and not so good. It is the skillset of that person.

    That said for others have been lucky found great help via their Doctor/GP and a good therapist referral which often cbt and can take a long time this approach, however can for some work and be very helpful.

    Do not give up hope, people can make good, and incredible changes, & other have overcome their emet I am not saying is not an easy ride – and you still have to take responsibility and play your part in any Therapy.

    • Brittany
      Brittany June 26, 2017 at 6:14 pm #

      Hi Vanessa, I have done therapy, medication, hypnosis, you name it. The only thing that has helped me is having kids that throw up a ton (both get carsick) and exposure is the only thing that has somewhat helped. I will likely always have it, but I pray that I can learn to cope. God has a funny sense of humor:)