What It Feels Like to Parent with a Phobia You Can’t Escape

Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Most moms are afraid of the stomach bug. I am not one of those moms — I’m TERRIFIED of the stomach bug. And not in your typical I just don’t want my whole family getting sucked into a cycle of sickness kinda way.

I have a severe aversion to vomiting; a little-known phobia that you’ve likely never heard of: It’s called Emetophobia.

To be perfectly fair, I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and OCD tendencies. So, it’s not ALL about vomiting with me; but a large portion of my worries do stem from being afraid of people throwing up around me. And, when you’re a mom to small children, it’s a fear that can literally rule your life and control your mind.

I wasn’t always like this, though. In fact, I can pin point when it all started: It was around the time I became pregnant with my first child and witnessed three people throwing up in front of me in public in just a few weeks. While I can’t say for sure that’s the exact cause of my fear, I don’t remember having the extreme worry surrounding throwing up before that.

Throw in a little dash of motherhood and an anxiety disorder, and it’s like the perfect storm arrived to turn me into an Emetophobe. I jokingly tell others I’m a germaphobe, but really it’s mostly about vomit. It rules my life in ways I’m not proud of, and I create rituals and routines in a desperate attempt to control the uncontrollable.

So, what’s it like being a mom and having this fear? It’s kind of miserable. And, it’s probably equally miserable to be my friend sometimes, too.

Here a few of my “quirks” (as I like to call them) that are a result of my Emetophobia.

I ask a lot of questions.

If you even mention someone has been sick in your house, you’ll hear a string of questions from me. What do they have? How long? When was the last time they threw up? I can’t help myself.

I’ll avoid your family for as long as possible if I so much as hear that you’ve been throwing up.

I’ve been known to say no to play dates for my kids for up to a week after one of their family members has thrown up. If I can avoid you longer, I will. I’ve also been known to avoid going to activities, playgrounds, and museums when I know a stomach bug is going around. If you tell me after the fact that someone started throwing up after our kids were playing together, I’ll obsess for days after until I know we are in the clear.

I coach my kids constantly to avoid kids I know have been sick.

My kids tend to confess to me when a friend has been throwing up, because they know about my fear. I then tell them to try not to play with those kids at school that have been sick and stay away from them for a few days. But yes, I’m scared of passing on my fear to them, too.

I worry in the middle of the night that every little noise is a kid about to get sick. And, every night that we’re in the clear, I feel like I dodged a bullet.
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If you announce you have a stomach bug on social media, I’ll worry about it for days.

Even if you don’t live near me, I’ll think about it and worry that it’s just that time of year when everyone will be throwing up. You could live in another state, and a post about your vomiting family will stress me out.

I’ve been known to drop friends because they are too relaxed about it.

I envy your ability to not worry about germs, but if you announce in my presence that one of your kids was throwing up last night, I don’t think I can hang out with you anymore. In my eyes, it’s just becomes hard to trust you.

I become obsessed with not getting sick before trips and family visits.

I love to travel with my family, but I worry about us all being stuck in a hotel room throwing up. Before trips, I become super strict about washing hands, and avoiding sick people, and I worry about guests at my house getting sick. It’s hard to enjoy my trip, or family visits because the worry almost overwhelms me.

I think about it all. the. time.

Because I have three kids, I’m constantly worried one of them will be sick in the middle of the night. I hate to admit it, but almost nightly I worry in the middle of the night that every little noise is a kid about to get sick. And, every night that we’re in the clear, I feel like I dodged a bullet.

And when a stomach bug does hit? I panic. Literally. I have been known to have full-blown panic attacks when a bug is in our house complete with heart racing and inability to sleep. I keep track mentally of who touched what and when and count how often they vomit and how much, when it started, and when it stopped like a person taking statistics for a sports almanac. I quarantine whoever is sick, and obsessively clean and wash hands. I count hours and days until I feel we are safe to move on with normal life. But I still never really feel in the clear.

I will question you if you’re not eating or if your stomach makes a weird noise.

I sound like a lot of fun to be around don’t I? My husband has a noisy stomach, and I am always peppering him with questions. If he doesn’t eat, I ask if his stomach is upset. I do this to my kids too. I can usually control my questions like these around strangers, but if you live in my house, you’re guaranteed to be asked these questions a lot.

Most of the time, it feels very isolating and lonely.
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I get extremely worried when my kids say their tummies hurt.

Most moms know that kids say their tummies hurt a lot. Mine do it almost daily which contributes to my stress. Usually they are gassy, or constipated, or hungry and it’s not a bug at all, but I’ll have a nagging worry in the back of my head if they mention it.

I constantly feel like I don’t have control over my surroundings and am always looking for sick people.

Just recently, I was touring an elementary school and a little boy walked in covering his mouth. I knew what that meant and felt panicked. I couldn’t run away like I wanted to, but I couldn’t not react either. I seem to be a magnet for hearing someone throw up in a public bathroom or overhearing someone talking about the stomach bug. I’m probably a magnet because I’m so afraid.

Those are just a few of the quirks that I try to keep a secret. But the truth is, I have an even longer list of related issues that stem from my fear of vomiting.  My close friends know that I suffer from this, and try to be supportive, but it’s hard for most to understand the severity of my worry and fear. Most of the time, it feels very isolating and lonely.

And trust me, I’ve tried to analyze what exactly it is that I’m afraid of. But while therapy and medication have helped some, I often feel like no one can quite understand how hard it is to be a mom and be terrified of a common childhood occurrence — one that all parents have to deal with pretty regularly.

Luckily, I have learned to find the humor in it where I can, and have managed to relax a little more over the years, thanks to therapy. But if you’re a mom, and any of this sounds familiar, believe me when I say I know how you feel. (And I promise to never bring my sick kids to your house!)

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