What It's Like To Be A Parent With Emetophobia

by Annaliese Dolph
Originally Published: 
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I have a vomit phobia. It’s called emetophobia — it causes overwhelming, intense anxiety related to vomiting. I am afraid of seeing vomit, hearing someone vomit (the worst), or vomiting myself (actually less anxiety-producing). I have no idea why. One of my brothers barfed a lot when we were kids, but I don’t have any particularly gross memories like him vomiting on me or me puking in a really embarrassing situation.

Obviously, this is a tough one as a parent. Forced exposure has helped in some ways. I appear fairly calm to my children when in this situation. I have even cleaned up vomit when the unthinkable has occurred and one of our kids gets sick in my husband’s absence.

But in most ways, parenting has made it so much worse because the greatest anxiety is the anticipation — one kid gags on some food at the table — are you going to throw up? They say their tummy hurts — oh no, will they throw up? Riding in the car, riding the bus on a field trip, flying … God forbid going to an amusement park! All of these are anxiety-producing events.

When we were in San Francisco visiting my husband’s family over the holidays, our oldest felt a little sick after consuming a large amount of gelato and then running around (go figure). She calmed down after a few minutes and did not puke on the sidewalk (thank God!). However, #2 (our biggest puker) was suddenly convinced that she was going to throw up. We went back to our hotel and she hung out in the bathroom for awhile, but did not get sick. After an hour, I was not convinced. She shared the bed with her daddy in the separate bedroom, and I slept on the foldout couch with our other two — with a white noise app running on my phone, just in case.

Then, today, the same child woke up with a “funny feeling” in her throat. Shortly thereafter, she was retching in the bathroom upstairs as my other two ate breakfast. Thankfully, the universe ensured that this terrifying event occurred on a morning when my husband was present and not rushing off anywhere. So we did our dance. I keep myself and the other children as far away as possible, regularly asking, “Is she OK? Anything I can do?” (Which really means: Is anything I can run out to the store for so I don’t have to be anywhere near this?)

My husband has grown more patient with my phobia over the years. But, no, he doesn’t understand why I sleep with earplugs when a kid is sick, or why I stop eating as soon as a kid feels faintly nauseous, or why I slept in the closet the last time #2 was sick in the middle of the night.

While scouring the Internet for any miracle cures that will prevent my entire family from ever puking again, I came across a story of a woman who almost didn’t have children because of her emetophobia. Oh, honey. There will be so many more non-puking times than there are puking ones. They learn how to make it to the bathroom. Takes some longer than others…I am looking at you #1 child who puked all over the living room within the past year! And some puke less than others. And they come to understand that the pukey kind of sick is not the one that mommy is best at.

I don’t have an answer here. Just letting others with emetophobia know they are not alone. You can parent through it. But it will likely not be your best parenting moments.

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