Throw Up

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Emetophobia is an intense, irrational fear or anxiety pertaining to vomiting. This specific phobia can also include subcategories of what causes the anxiety, including a fear of vomiting in public, a fear of seeing vomit, a fear of watching the action of vomiting or fear of being nauseated. (via Wikipedia)

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When I was around 14 years old I became a little nauseated and it didn’t go away for about 5 years. With that, I became irrationally terrified of throwing up – especially in public. Every place I went I was sure to know where the bathroom was just in case I needed to throw up. (I never once threw up during this time period). I went to the doctor once or twice – they suggested that I had an eating disorder (I didn’t) and prescribed me some over-the-counter Maalox that I’d carry in my backpack and sip on throughout the day. I can still taste the chalky cherry flavor. I would only eat certain foods that I knew wouldn’t make me feel gross – like brownies, milk, and frozen waffles.

Even after the nausea went away I was still so repulsed by the idea of throwing up, or even seeing someone throw up, that I avoided staying too late at parties with alcohol. In college an acquaintance of mine let his friends pay him a dollar to throw up on him. The concept that someone would accept a dollar to be thrown up on didn’t disturb me nearly as much as the idea that someone would actually PAY money to throw up. In fact, I was just asking Jeremy if he was there and he kind of laughed and said “No, but I saw some of the video.” Of course there was a video.

When I was a teenager and we were all still living at home my brother used this fear to his advantage by making dramatic dry heaving noises in his throat when he wanted me to go away. It worked. My brother is a sideshow performer as a profession and funny enough, his name is Donny Vomit. His acts include The Human Blockhead, fire eating and sword swallowing. We lived together in a little apartment near campus when he was learning how to tame his gag reflex with a coat hanger before he graduated to swords … I all but moved out.

Both times my sister was pregnant she spent all 9 months throwing up multiple times a day, every single day. I remember at the time praying to a God I didn’t even believe in to please, please, please not make me sick if I should one day find myself pregnant. I felt really crummy at times, but not once did I throw up during my pregnancy with Fox. Thank you, God.

A few months ago I came down with a really vicious stomach virus. Every time Fox would nurse and I would let down the rush of endorphins would make me go cold, bust out in sweat, and start excessively salivating. I would have to hand him off to Jeremy and go puke. There have been a few times in the past when I’ve pushed down a stomach bug with distraction and sheer will – the kind of will this sleep deprived mama doesn’t have. So there I was throwing up into the toilet and reminding myself that I’m a warrior mama – that I labored and pushed a baby out of my body. That I got this… but really I had no choice. I spent the whole night sick. It was also the first and only time Fox has ever slept through the night.

I use to worry that my extreme fear of vomit would keep me from having a baby – because babies throw up. Fox has had a couple of stomach bugs that usually result in me holding and comforting him as he empties the contents of his little clown-car stomach onto my chest. (So now here I am being thrown up on and not even getting paid a dollar for it.) I try to reassure him, “It’s okay, mommy’s got you.” After he’s done he’ll cry for a little bit and then go limp – he’ll get this almost euphoric expression on his face. I’ll stroke his hair with my hand and check the temperature of his forehead with my lips.

I wish I could end the story there and I want to tell you that I’ve conquered my fear. That letting my baby throw up on me is better than Christmas – but it’s not. It’s sad and gross. In the moment I’m a super cool, warrior mama with only my baby’s comfort and well-being in mind. Truly. But after I’ve got him changed and am in the shower washing his puke out of my cleavage I get a little scared… Is he going to throw up again? I think I heard him cough – is he throwing up? Is he okay? Am I going to throw up? I think I feel a little nauseated… But all I can do is line the bed with towels, cuddle my baby, and make secret bargains with God.

  1. Kelly

    Hey girl. Thanks for writing such a brave post. It’s hard to talk about fear. I totally empathize – I hate throwing up and haven’t since I was in high school. I’m pregnant now, and luckily morning sickness has included nausea but not vomiting. But even so.

    *gentle hugs* and all good vibes as you work your way through these difficult feelings.

    • Hey, thanks! I would say the height of my phobia peaked in early college and has subsided quite a bit since then. But being sick is still the pits!

  2. Emily

    I never knew how much time I’d spend with pukey cleavage as a mom, nor how many times in just 3 months we’d have to wash All the Things on the bed. Pre-mama me would have been super whiny about that. But mama me just deals with it… then stays in the shower til the hot water runs out.

    • Right!? I’m glad I had the foresight to purchase a mattress protector!

      Hang in there, momma!

  3. “Clown car stomach” is the perfect description for these little baby guts.

    Bless your warrior mama heart <3

    • Haha, right!? 5 ounces of milk looks like nothing in a bottle but when it comes back up all over your bed it feels like a tsunami!

  4. Corey

    oh my gosh, I am emetaphobic and I am terrified, absolutely terrified of the time I will throw up again. It has been about 15 years. I learn every little detail of people that have gotten stomach viruses around me to figure out how to believe I won’t get it, I would take a flu shot if it would promise no throwing up ever again, etc etc etc. I am terrified of getting pregnant for morning sickness but even more so because of the years that follow. I was just thinking today how different my life might be if I did n’t have this phobia. I didn’t go to parties and I still don’t go to large gatherings on holidays because I am afraid of being around it. Thank you for sharing, at least I’m not the only one.

    • Oh Corey – I totally feel you. Funny enough, just a day after publishing this post I came down with a stomach flu and totally resisted throwing up! I know the fear is real. I will say this… in my experience, the anxiety of not getting sick is far worse than the actual act of it. Also, sometimes when I feel sick I just pretend like I’m an animal. I know that might sound funny but animals don’t care if they get sick. They don’t cry or attach emotions to it. Those are just a couple of things that have helped me!

      I will also say – if you do want a baby try not to let this fear (which I know is huge) hold you back. In my experience, I feel as if I’ve been armed with some biological and spiritual strength I didn’t have before having a baby which has totally allowed me to cope. I hope that helps. You’re definitely not the only one!

      • Clio

        Totally resonated with that line…the anxiety of not getting sick is far worse than the actual act of it.

        Sick and the act of getting sick is one of the only things I truly hate…so much so that if a public bus or train car smells of it I have to psyche myself out the entire ride to convince myself that just because I smell it doesn’t mean I’m going to puke. Haha. Also I totally have those fears about having a baby (not that it will stop me, I love babies!) too.

        It’s funny how we think these things are so personal but so often they are totally universal.

    • Jessica

      I am emetophobic as well, have been since I was a little one. It recently got really bad as I started dealing with a panic disorder that caused me to gag when I have a panic attack. SO FUN! I found out about this therapist in Canada (Anna Sophia Christie) who does Skype sessions to treat emetophobes. She is a recovered one herself, she uses the protocol she developed for her treatment. I had to wait a year to get an appt with her but wow has it helped. I can now look at pictures of people vomiting, I’ve just now started watching videos. She has all of the resources available for free on her website http://www.emetophobiaresource.org. You can use with or without a therapist. I highly highly recommend her. As someone who OBSESSED about vomit for 20+ years, I can tell you I’m starting to feel freer as the time passes. The biggest things that have helped me(which she recommends) are learning relaxation & recognizing that the fear may never completely go away(as it’s likely hardwired into our brains at this point) but that it all how we react to it. She has mp3s of guided mediations, or of course there’s a million elsewhere. Basically you practice this for 90 days straight, until you have trained your body that when you breathe deeply, it starts to relax. Then if you get that “jolt” of anxiety-whatever it’s from-you immediately start breathing & consciously relaxing. Sounds crazy & impossible at first, but I promise you, it works. At the height of my anxiety I couldn’t leave the house for 3 months, I woke up having panic attacks. I’m so so much better now, largely due to this practice. It’s really hard work, but it’s so worth it. You’re not alone!

  5. Allison

    i remember when I first heard what emetophobia was and I was like “woah! That’s me!” My phobia peeked in my early twenties and has lessened since then. But it’s still definitely there and rears its ugly head every now and then. I used to think this meant I would either avoid motherhood, or be terrified throughout it. But as time has passed, I’m less afraid. I’ve come to a place where I know I can do it, and sometimes it’ll be really difficult, but I’ll get through it. Thanks for sharing your honest story, it’s encouraging!

  6. Heather

    Ugh, I feel for you. I don’t have a fear of throwing up, but I will do anything and everything to avoid vomit in general. I often have to ask my husband to clean up the cat’s vomit just because I’ll start gagging. Blech. And then you have kids, and you must face all of the vomit that comes along with it. On the plus side, babies don’t seem to care all that much when they vomit despite it being ridiculously frightening (to me anyway) when it comes out ala exorcist style, but I have to somehow reassure my toddler that it’s okay and not to panic (while also trying not to show how grossed out I am).

  7. Steph

    Omg! I had a similar mystery nausea for a few years in my 20s, and I’m pretty terrified of nausea and throwing up because of it. *fistbump* Somehow, other people puking doesn’t bother me so much, though. Guess I lucked out there.

  8. Maria Guerriero

    I just want to say Thank You for being so honest and sharing. To you, Kathleen, and to all that have added a comment. I, too, have struggled with this, and generalized anxiety. As I combat my anxiety, this fear has gotten better. Kathleen, I appreciate what you have to say about “being an animal” when it comes to this stuff. So true. I am grateful that there are other people out there who know how I feel. Thank you for this!

    • It’s funny Maria because as I was writing this post it didn’t feel big or scary to share this fear (maybe because I’m so open about it in real life) but now that I’m seeing really honest comments roll in I realize that maybe not everyone would be so candid about their fear of throw up. I’m glad I shared! Thank you for reading.

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