Parenting with emetophobia

Just as a warning, I don’t censor “trigger” words in here.

I’m going to link first, because these women said it better than I will:

Emetophobia, children, and me

My two biggest parenting challenges so far

Confessions of an emetophobic parent

I have been emetophobic for at least 30 years.  The phobia made me reach a dangerously low weight when I was in the 5th grade (I was afraid to eat because I figured I had a better chance of NOT vomiting if I kept an empty stomach).  It also stopped me from purging via the “northern route” when I had an eating disorder because I was too afraid to even attempt.

My parents offered to pay for me to get treatment for it as an adult, but I declined.

Over the course of my adult life, I got better at putting out of my head the fear of getting sick, or of someone getting sick in my presence, but worse about seeing it on television or in movies.  I still am more relaxed when it’s not norovirus season (May – September are fairly “safe” months).

I think I got worse about television and movies because I had to deal with other situations in order to function and work (I’m a teacher), but my ex was very protective of me at home.  He always found out about movies from a reliable source before we saw them, and he was always ready with the TV remote so he could mute as I went fetal, closed my eyes, and plugged my ears.

Emetophobia is a part of the reason I hesitated about having kids.  Yes, I know you’re signing up for vomit when you have a kid, but it would be horrible to let that get in the way of having a child, right?

Knowing that doesn’t make a phobia go away.  By nature, it’s not something that’s cured by an epiphany or logic.

And now, I don’t have someone to take over if I get overwhelmed.  Don’t get me wrong–my ex is actively involved with his daughter, and he spends much more time with his daughter than the average divorced dad.  But she sleeps here five nights a week, so I’m usually the one who’s with her when it happens.

One of the reasons I was looking forward to his fiancee moving here is that he wouldn’t be traveling 5 hours away once or twice a month anymore, so I didn’t have to lose any more sleep thinking about what I’d do if I got a stomach virus and had to parent alone while so physically debilitated and panicky.

I’ve been very lucky so far.  My daughter doesn’t vomit often.  When she does, she mostly makes coughing sounds.  I think I find the sound the most distressing thing, although I admit that much of the time, when I think it’s coming I throw down a blanket, tell her “mommy just has to grab something from the kitchen,” and then I scoop up the blanket and throw it in the wash.

Yes, I feel terrible about finding an excuse to leave the room.  I don’t always do it.  Sometimes I just put her on my lap and face her away from me.

At 4 am today, she (who still sleeps in a toddler bed sidecarred to mine) woke me up by saying, “Mommy, I’m wet.”  Turns out she had vomited in her sleep.  I stripped all the linens, her pajamas, and threw those in the wash with her stuffed animals.  I gave her all new stuff, put her to bed, and then had a shot of vodka. I also made arrangements to stay home from work.  An hour or so later, she started coughing.  I had in earplugs, so I just waited until she was done, then I repeated the cleanup process.  After that, I fell back asleep.

So far so good on me getting the illness (knock on wood…I know there’s really nothing I can do about it, because I’m always snuggling up on her and kissing her, and stomach viruses are contagious before symptoms appear).  I’m trying not to think about it, trying to tell myself that I would have gotten it by now, trying to tell myself I’m being brave for handling it.

She made it through the whole day keeping small amounts of fluid down, but this evening, as her dad was talking to her on the phone, she was smacking her lips, and I thought “oh, no. Her mouth is watering.”  Sure enough…she did it again.  I did the “I’ll be right back…I just have to grab ____ in the kitchen” trick.

Yes, I know it’s terrible.  Realizing that doesn’t stop the panic process.

Yes, I’m writing about it now and making my daughter’s sickness about me.  I might even talk more about how lonely it is to realize no one gives a shit about my phobia.  No one’s asking me if I’m okay with it or patting me on the back for “surviving” what is a scenario that has kept me up at night with anticipatory panic even when she’s perfectly healthy.  I need someone to pat me on the back, be proud of me, so I’m doing it.

After everything was cleaned up, I told her I had an idea to try.  I said, “I think I could tell that you felt like you were going to throw up before you did.  If you start feeling like that again, tell me, and we’ll go into the bathroom.  You can do it in the toilet, and then maybe you can try throwing up in the toilet?  She said okay, but she suggested the sink.  I told her that would be great, and I put her potty stool in front of the sink.  A couple times, I asked if she felt sick. She said no, and I said, “Okay.  Just make sure you tell me if you need to throw up, and we’ll go to the bathroom together.”

I think I would have stayed in the bathroom with her, I do.  I may have stood behind her and plugged my ears, but I do think I’d have come through if it was a step toward her vomiting independently.

I’m good with everything else that’s gross about parenting.  Nothing grosses me out except this.  Boogers and snot?  Very satisfying to get out. Blood?  Fine as long as much girl is okay.  Poop and pee?  I make a lot of poop jokes, but when it comes down to it, someone telling me that they had diarrhea the night before elicits the same level of disgust in me that hearing about a headache would.

Except for this.  And I was thinking to myself as I did another load of laundry tonight:

(1) Thank God for how this has gone compared to how it could have gone;

(2) I am so lucky to have a washer/dryer in my place;

(3) I am so lucky that my daughter doesn’t get sick in an extravagant manner (so far);  and

(4) Why can’t I just treat this like any other “gross” bodily function that has basically no emotional/psychological effect on me?

I don’t understand it. I can sit with her pooping, clean up poop, dislodge boogers, and it’s NOTHING.  Why does this have to be otherwise?  Why does it make me panic?  Why can’t I just close my eyes, stay next to her as she vomits, and then clean it up as I would a spilled drink?  It seems that it would be so simple.

It would be, but simply knowing that doesn’t get me there.

When I panicked before and during pregnancy–or when someone dropped a condescending question on how I planned to deal with my phobia once I have kids–I told myself that parenting would be gradual exposure therapy.  First, I’d have spitting up, which is much less gross than vomiting.  As my daughter got bigger, vomiting would get grosser, but in time she’d be able to do it in the toilet, and then the worst would be over.

Maybe that is what’s happening, but maybe I’m just going to spend weeks after this having flashbacks and worrying about the next time it happens. Maybe I won’t get to a point at which I have the presence of mind in the moment to force myself to stay in the room, as I must do any time she gets a throat culture and will inevitably gag.

Maybe she’s done vomiting with this particular illness. Maybe it’ll be a long time before it happens again.

The only things about which I am certain are that leaving the room when my child is vomiting makes me a cold mother, and a desire to find myself at point Z (vomiting as a neutral bodily function) one day does not bring me any closer to it.

Dumb update:  I just took her in the bathroom to throw up.  I plugged my ears, I was shaking, nothing ended up coming up, but I didn’t leave.



One thought on “Parenting with emetophobia

  1. Hey I’m a parent who also struggles wish this stupid Phobia it freaks me out so much maybe we can stay in contact?? (480)353-8997 my name is Jessie and I’m actually awake with my child that this just happened too

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