Being a mom is hard. We never get a day off, and are usually the default parents, expected to manage all manner of domestic difficulty no matter what else is happening in our lives. Moms are amazing at stepping up, rising to the occasion, and handling all sorts of crap. From poop to boogers, whining and tantrums, PTA meetings, volunteering at school, supervising play dates, and tween heartbreak, moms often deal with the lion’s share of it, and most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.
But what if an inevitable aspect of motherhood caused a physical reaction, making it difficult, if not impossible, to step up? What if you had a sort of mommy kryptonite? Turns out, I do. Puke. Vomit, barf, upchuck. I know, nobody enjoys puke, but for me, dealing with puke is not just unwelcome, but a true anxiety that affects my ability to do my job as a mother.
This anxiety has a name – emetophobia – the intense and irrational fear of vomiting, vomit, or anything vomit related. This phobia is quite common but doesn’t get a lot of attention, as it hasn’t been researched extensively. In fact, up until last year I had no idea this fear of mine was a true phobia, and was convinced I was just crazy. I thought I was weak, and could control it if only I would stop being so silly. This feeling was often reinforced by my husband’s reaction to my fear, which could include eye rolling, sighing, and saying things like, “oh come on, it’s going to be fine.” Yes, it is going to be fine, but phobias and anxieties don’t work that way. You don’t simply tell yourself it’s going to be fine and POOF! – You’re good to go. Anxiety is a bitch. It pops up at the most inopportune moments, like when your kid is sick and needs your full attention. It wreaks havoc on your mental and physical abilities. In my case, all it takes is three little words – “My tummy hurts,”- and I find myself cramping up and running for the bathroom. Yes, it is that fast and yes, it is that real. I end up on and off the toilet until 1) It becomes clear that the child will not in fact be vomiting, 2) I have sufficiently emptied myself out and have nothing left to lose, or 3) The child starts vomiting and I have no choice but to get in the game and help that barfing boy.
As a rational human being, a scientist no less, I understand with complete clarity that statistically speaking, the likelihood of my child barfing on any given day is extremely low. In fact, over the past nine years of motherhood I have had to deal with full on barf-fests only three times. That is an average of once every three years, which ain’t much compared to all the other stuff us mothers have to deal with on a regular basis (think whining, back talk, bad attitudes, stepping on Legos, snotty noses, making lunches, and other annoying stuff). I know I will survive it when it happens, because I have before. But emetophobia is not rational. I think about barf every day of my life. Some days it is a fleeting thought. Others, I find myself wasting real time worrying. If my son isn’t hungry at dinner I fear he is sick. If he poops more than once a day I worry he has a bug. It is utterly exhausting and completely ridiculous, and I have absolutely no control over it.
Last weekend, my nine year old got hit with a stomach virus. He woke me at midnight to tell me he wasn’t feeling well, and by 1 am he had vomited all over his bed, down the side, and on the edge of his nightstand, splatter hitting the wall and making its way to the far recesses under his bed. I had never seen so much vomit. My husband slept through the whole thing (because for some reason dads don’t seem to hear this stuff happening the way moms do). And somehow, in between my own trips to the bathroom, I managed to clean it all up, and spent the entire night sitting with my sick kid, rubbing his back, emptying his barf bucket, reading to him, and being his comfort. This may sound silly, but it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. By 6 am, my poor baby dozing in his bed, I was exhausted and on the verge of tears. But I wouldn’t have changed a thing. See, I want to be there for my kids, no matter what, especially when they are sick. I know what it feels like to be waiting to vomit and feel scared, and I don’t want my boys to go through that alone.
And so, this emetophobe pushes herself out of her comfort zone, and finds a way to function in the face of her kryptonite. This doesn’t mean I am special. It simply means I am a mom. And the next time one of my boys says those three little words, I will no doubt panic, hit the bathroom…and get on with the job of being there for my sick kid.