Most moms dread the time of year when the kids bring home a stomach bug. No one likes throw up. But, I’m a mom with Emetophobia or the fear of vomiting.
I’m terrified of the stomach bug and it controls my thoughts this time of year in a way that does not fall into the normal realm.
Trigger warning: I will be using words that may be triggering for those suffering with emetophobia, so please proceed with caution.
A large portion of my worries about getting sick stem from being afraid of people throwing up around me. I also hate throwing up myself. I was diagnosed several years ago with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and OCD, so I guess I come by fear somewhat honestly. But, being a mom with emetophobia is not something I ever imagined.
And, when you’re a mom with small children, the fear of vomiting can rule your life and control your mind.
When did my emetophobia start?
Growing up, I remember throwing up a fair amount for a kid. I even remember that my parents had a bucket in the car because I frequently got car sick. But, I never remember having the fear of throwing up as a young child. For me, it started when I was pregnant.
We lived in a Philadelphia and with big cities, come a lot of people, and the chances of me seeing someone throw up near me at some point was pretty much a given.
We lived downtown and I walked to and from work every day and also took public transportation often.
My fear nestled deep inside of me sometime during pregnancy. I saw three people throw up in front of me in just the span of a few weeks. I’ll spare you the details. But, it was enough to trigger the fear of vomiting in me.
With an anxiety disorder already in play, and having a new baby, I was ripe to become an emetophobe.
Throw in a little dash of motherhood, and an anxiety disorder and it’s like the perfect storm brewed to create a mom with Emetophobia. When I explain my fears to someone it usually comes out that I’m a germaphobe because that just seems easier. But, really, it’s mostly about vomit.
I jokingly tell others I’m a germaphobe, but really it’s mostly about vomit.
So, what’s it like being a mom and having this fear of vomiting?
If I’m being honest, it’s miserable. And, it’s probably equally miserable to be my friend sometimes too. 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. That was the first sign that I might need help, because I created a routine to help myself cope and keep from having emetephobia panic attacks.
As a result of my emetephobia, I’ve created rituals or ways to cope with my fear of vomiting. While this is not an emetophobia quiz, it might help you gauge whether or not you are struggling with this too.
First, 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’m sure I make people uncomfortable asking question after question, but it’s a coping mechanism to help me calm myself.
If I know for sure someone in your house has been sick with the stomach bug, I’ll avoid you as long as I can.
I don’t consider it safe to hang out again for at least a week. If I can stretch it out longer, I will.
When my kids were younger, I had more playdates with them and I have been known to not go to certain activities when I know a stomach bug is going around the community. High touch areas are definitely a no go like playgrounds, and museums.
If I find out after we’re together that you were recently throwing up, I’ll obsess for days over every little ache and pain with my kids thinking they are getting sick.
I tend to tell my kids constantly to avoid kids that have been sick.
My kids know about my fear of vomiting, and they let me know when a kid they know has been throwing up. I try to tell them to keep their distance at lunch, or recess, or to make sure to keep their distance from them. I’m worried constantly that I am passing on my fear to them.
You can live a million miles away from me, but if you announce your stomach bug on social media, I’ll still worry.
Maybe you live in another state, or hell – even another country, and my emetephobia will still kick in when I see your status update of a kid of yours throwing up.
I’ve ghosted friends that I know are too relaxed about it.
You know the ones, the friends that announce casually at the playground that their kid was up all night puking. No ma’am, that is NOT cool. I’m not sure we can be friends anymore if I can’t trust you to keep your kids home when they’re sick.
Before something important, I become obsessed about whether or not we’ll all get a stomach bug.
We travel fairly often as a family, and while I love it, my emetophobia causes me to panic about hypothetical situations like all of us being sick in a hotel room. I become super strict about hand washing and avoiding others. Sometimes I even find it hard to enjoy the trip itself because I worry all night that a kid is going to throw up, and therefore, I get almost no sleep.
I think about my emetophobia all the time.
The awful thing about being a mom with the fear of vomiting, is that you will always worry about it. For me, night time is my biggest trigger. Why do kids always seem to throw up at night? I wish I knew the answer. But, since I’m constantly worried one of them will be sick, I am attuned to every little noise they make.
I have had emetophobia panic attacks.
When a kid in my house is sick, I have a complete panic attack. My heart starts racing, and I cannot sleep, and sometimes I have trouble breathing. I go down the rabit hole of trying to track who touched what, how often someone vomited, what time it started and when it ended. I feel like a person keeping statistics and score for a sports event. We quarantine, I obsessively clean and I count hours and days until I feel we are safe to move on with normal life.
However, I never really feel like we’re in the clear.
I ask questions about stomach related issues a lot.
If your stomach makes a funny grumbling noise, or if you don’t feel like eating, I will automatically assume that a stomach bug is headed our way, and the fear of vomiting takes a hold on me. I will start with the rapid fire questions, and ask everyone how they feel to the point that they get annoyed with me.
When you’re a mom with emetophobia, you don’t do well when your kids say their tummies hurt.
This part breaks my heart, because I hate myself for doing this. Most moms know that kids say their tummies hurt a lot. That tiny question causes me immense amounts of stress. My kids especially say it almost daily.
At the height of my emetephobia symptoms, I was always looking for sick people.
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. I’m always the first one to notice when someone is acting off.
My friends know that I have this fear of vomiting, and they try to be supportive, but it’s hard for other people to understand sometimes.
The good news is, with time, I have overcome my emetephobia to a large degree.
I think a lot of factors have gone into me being able to do better with my emetephobia. It is possible to find relief from this horrible fear, and live more at peace. I’m proof.
First, I take medication.
I’m not afraid to admit that I take an antidepressant. Although this doesn’t eliminate my fear of vomiting, it significantly reduces the panic I feel when someone around me is sick. I’m able to control my thoughts better and stop my spiraling, and control my breathing.
Second, I am a mom with emetophobia so my kids helped me get over it (mostly).
I think a lot of my feeling better just took time. Being a mom with emetophobia, it helps that my kids are older, throw up less often, and can in large part make it to the bathroom and take care of themselves. When you have little kids and you have a fear of vomiting, it can feel so paralyzing because kids will throw up literally everywhere and anywhere.
My daughter threw up in the mall, while riding a train once with my husband. That was not a fun day.
However, as your kids get older, they are able to communicate better how they’re feeling, and learn to understand their bodies enough to generally make it to the bathroom with less mess and chaos. That has helped me tremendously to deal with this fear of vomit.
Last, I’ve been to therapy for emetophobia
I never did exposure therapy for emetephobia, but I have been to therapists that have helped me learn to control my breathing, slow my thoughts, and cope better overall with the situation. Exposure therapy can also work wonders for people, too. I know many people that it has helped.
How common is emetophobia?
I have had numerous moms reach out to me after reading my articles on the subject. It’s always a relief to know that you’re not the only one struggle with such a debilitating fear.
We all want to know that we’re not alone, and if you have this fear, I can assure you that you’re definitely not the only mom with emetophobia.
According to this source, the occurrence of emetophobia is about 0.1% of the population. While considered rare, that is still one out of every one thousand people. My guesses based on the feedback I’ve gotten from other women, in moms, it has to be more common than that.
Being a mom with emetophobia is lonely.
I know better than anyone how embarrassing it can be to have this fear when you’re a mom. Stomach bugs and vomiting are just a normal part of motherhood, and sometimes when you admit this fear to other moms, they look at you like you have three heads.
They’re probably even thinking, “Wow. What’s the big deal?”
While lonely and isolating, I am sharing my story because I know it will help other moms feel less alone. There is hope, though and I promise you’re not the only one.
How to overcome emetophobia and resources to help
As always, consult first with a doctor if your fear is affecting your day to day life. I’m no medical expert, I’m just a mom that has the same fear as you. But, please know that you don’t have to suffer from this fear and it can get better. Below are some places you can go for help:
Emetophobia severity scale
First, you can use this scale to discover the severity of your emetophobia and know if you need to seek professional help. My guess though is if you’ve read this far – you probably do need help. And that’s OK.
Overcoming Emetophobia Article Psychology Today
My goodness I can relate on so many levels. This fear can be debilitating. I have had this fear since around 8 or 9 years old. I had a traumatic experience and it’s stayed with me since. Now, I’m dealing with it at 43 years old and fear that I’m only passing it on to my daughter. She’s already showing signs of this phobia. She had a traumatic experience herself around the same age and boom it’s me all over again as a young child. Especially this time of year, I’m a neurotic. The stomach bug is in full swing. If we were out around a handful of people, I count down 48 hours from being with them. Reason being is because,after exposure it takes between 12 and 48 hours to become sick. I constantly have to tell my daughter to keep her distance from people and keep her hands away from her face. I tell her to flush with her foot and not her hand so she doesn’t have to touch a dirty toilet handle. If she just ate and I see her jumping around, I tell her to stop, because I fear she’ll become sick. I wash my hands with scorching hot water around this time of year if I think I was exposed. Only scorching hot water kills the stomach bug’s germ. I know I’m not doing right by her by being so nuts, but it takes control of me. Nighttime is a nightmare when the bug is going around, because vomiting at night is 100 times worse in my eyes. If my daughter says she has a tummy ache or ate a little less than usual, I panic within. What am I doing to myself and most importantly……what am I doing to the little girl who keeps my heart beating?! I feel ashamed I really do, but I need to speak up about it and how severe it is to a professional. I’ll be damned if I see my daughter grow up like this. What upsets me too is when people know how you feel and they joke around about it. It’s real and it’s not funny. God and my daughter get me through, but I still need all the help I can get. Thank you for this article. I am exactly like you. I’m sorry you suffer as well ❤️
I relate 100% to you and the writer. I wish I knew you personally and could be a support! I long for people who understand the daily worry and pain involved with this. I have 2 daughters and I constantly fear that I will cause them to develop this phobia, or they will hate me for what I’ve held them back from (ex. playing at the playground). I see other parents at church, at the mall, wherever, and I wish “why can’t I be so carefree like them”? It’s heartbreaking, but it won’t leave me. I will pray for you that your fear would lessen over time and that you would feel God’s mercy and comfort daily.
Thank you for your article! I needed to just hear someone else’s story and feel like I’m not the only one. I had a experience as a child which instigated this and now I’m almost 40 and still living with it. I can’t believe there are others who can understand the daily questions and fears I also struggle with. Although I wish you didn’t have to deal with it, I am glad that I’m also not the only one. Being a parent has helped me face it head on versus avoiding life, but it’s extremely difficult. I thought one child was hard to keep track of, but with two, it’s really stressful. I can’t enjoy life, because my focus and attention is checking my surroundings, keeping tabs on what has been touched, etc. Thank you for sharing your story, because it has helped me tremendously.