Parenting and Sympathetic Puke
March 12, 2018 9:33 PM   Subscribe

My partner (M, mid-30's) and I (F, mid-30's) are negotiating having a child. We agree on almost everything and seem to be prepared and on the same page except for one thing that makes us both concerned: We are both sympathetic pukers. WARNING: DISCUSSION OF PUKE INSIDE.

When I say "sympathetic pukers," I do not mean that we are emetophobic. Neither of us are afraid of puke or have anxiety around puke. Rather, both of us will puke reflexively at the sight, sound, or smell of puke. This has been the case for both of us since we were children ourselves, as early as either of us can remember.

For example, if I see vomit (fresh, old, whatever) on the street, I puke. If I watch a movie and there is a vomiting scene, I will puke. If I hear someone retching in a public bathroom stall, I will puke. If I am sick and puke into the toilet because I have food poisoning, I have to flush the toilet I puked into immediately/as I am puking or it will set off a cycle of puking until I have no strength left to puke. It is reflexive, my partner is the same way. I discovered to my horror when friends started having kids that baby spit-up elicits the same reflexive response.

However, we would like to be parents. It is apparently not an option to order up a kid who doesn't puke. My partner is more circumspect about this concern (though acknowledges that it is serious) and says that "maybe the worst that will happen is that one of us throws up on the kid, and they won't remember it anyway." This might be true? I don't know. If this were a phobia I would enroll in therapy yesterday. But I am reticent to bring a kid into the world just to barf on it, you know?

If you are a sympathetic puker, how did you handle having a baby? Were you able to build up a tolerance? Did you traumatize your kid by puking on them? Something else? Please share and help ease my only serious anxiety about starting a family.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is a single datapoint, but I was a sympathetic puker--until I had my kid, and it was like that part of my brain just switched off. I'm so unbothered by it now that I read and answered this question while I'm eating lunch, and it didn't even register with me as a thing to be worried about.

And, honestly, even if that part of your brain doesn't switch off, well, so what? You puke. Maybe some gets on the kid, maybe not, but either way, they're not scarred for life or anything. Kids do all sorts of disgusting things--fingerpainting with diarrhea, eating cat litter, whatever. I'm not arguing that these things are great or super healthy for them, but they're common. If the worst thing that happens to your kid is that a loving parent got sick on or near them, that' know, that's doing pretty ok, in my book.
posted by mishafletch at 10:06 PM on March 12, 2018 [15 favorites]

Mishafletch is right. I thought I would gag at what comes out the other end (I certainly did with every other baby I came across) but biology is a weird thing and for some reason, it really IS different when it's your own. You're so concerned about just making them comfortable and happy your own issues with bodily functions don't even enter into it.
posted by Jubey at 10:17 PM on March 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Baby vomit is less horrible than just about any other vomit. Baby poo is pretty horrible, but you get used to it - I guess it's desensitization. It seems most of them of the time, especially when there is breastfeeding, mums end up dealing with the grossness more, which means dad doesn't go through the [somewhat difficult] desensitization process, which means at some point, dad can truthfully say it bugs mum less than dad. Please don't let this happen - it multiplies: gross pus from ear infections, diarrhea all the way up the back of the onesie to the neck, toddler poos in the tub, preschool dislike of beans vomit on a dinner plate. Look, it's going to suck, but it won't be as bad as it is now, or if it is, you'll develop techniques to deal.

Also kids memories don't seem to go back before 18 months AND they don't have the sensitivities we have - most likely baby response to being puked on is laughter.
posted by b33j at 10:32 PM on March 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Me too. And while it didn't go away, it got better. And as they get older, they can help. Heck, the last time my youngest puked, my oldest cleaned it up before he even told me about it.

One side, but oh so relevant note: most "tummy flu" and "tummy bugs" are some sort of food-borne illness. I've spent most of my adult life working at least part-time in food service, and I'm a constant handwasher, especially around food. Tummy upsets, as a result, are extremely rare in my household, and almost always come directly after my kid(s) have been at one relative's house that are NOT good about handwashing or putting food away in a timely manner. Save yourself a lot of those and WASH YOUR HANDS A LOT.

And you have my best wishes and hopeful thoughts --- let's just say it's a good thing it was my second child that I had months of morning sickness with, or my oldest would be an only instead of having three sibs.
posted by stormyteal at 11:05 PM on March 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I‘m sorry! This question is making me laugh, but I do sympathize!
Okay, so, once you have kids, the most terrific, hilarrible things are going to happen to you. Things like being spray pooped at a distance of two feet. Things like having to call poison control because the kid licked the urinal cake.
Having all three of you throw up on each other would be exactly in keeping with this tradition and would make a terrific story to tell the kid‘s first girlfriend/boyfriend when they come over for dinner.

Seriously, embrace the horror, because it‘s coming anyway. (And maybe come up with a strategy so you‘re not all puking ad infinitum. Take turns or something.)

Take heart! Everything will be fine, and if not fine then at least impressive.
Signed, parent of a 4yo and 6yo.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:45 AM on March 13, 2018 [19 favorites]

My kid hardly ever puked, even as a baby. So it might not come up super often. Not all kids are puke machines. And yeah if yours is, you will probably get desensitized eventually.
posted by emjaybee at 1:59 AM on March 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I personally have seen very little puke. Yes it happened a few times but I will save the epic descriptions for another time. It will happen to you and I guess you will puke too then. In my experience spit up is a lot different — you turn around and all of a sudden your kid has some “yogurt” on his bib and mouth, that’s it.

Overall, I believe you will encounter unknown unknowns that are more challenging than this.
posted by friendofstone at 3:12 AM on March 13, 2018

When my oldest was a toddler and I was pregnant with his brother, I puked several times every day, often near him. Sometimes bits got on him. Once I puked about 20 times on an eternal trans-Pacific flight while trying to entertain and manage him in the next seat. None of it was a big deal (okay the plane thing sucked for me but even it was not a big deal to my kid). My kid just thought puking was a kind of normal thing.

My point is that puking all the time near your kid is not a huge issue, certainly not such an issue that it should affect your decision to have a baby. Even if your kid is the pukiest puker that ever did puke, and you both puke alongside them, it will not be a big deal. You will just bring your own puke bucket along so that when the kid pukes, you can puke too. It will just be a thing that you manage, like all of the other weird things that come from having a kid. Please don't let this stop you from having a child if you really want one.
posted by forza at 3:13 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I, too, am a sympathetic spewer. Other people's baby poo and/or vomit made me balk constantly but by some weird quirk of nature I very rarely spewed when it was my own babies. I sometimes did, though. Luckily my kids have bad memories and don't remember anything about my weak stomach. I figure it's similar to how other people's farts are revolting and horrifying but your own can sometimes be kinda fun. Nature is amazing!
posted by h00py at 3:23 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Babies don't so much puke as periodically produce cottage cheese orally (and the amount and frequency varies wildly amongst them, so you may wind up with a non-spitter anyway--we did). That's really not the same as actual puking, you won't even register it. Older kids do occasionally have a tummy upset, and for a few years they're too young to manage it themselves, and during that time you just deal with it. If you have to go puke, go puke, though the effect that others report above where it really is different when it's your own is definitely real. And again, frequency varies. My kid has thrown up maybe...10 times post-babyhood? And then they get old enough to manage it in their own more or less.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:44 AM on March 13, 2018

Oh, and Douglas Adams was right. Towels are amazing. I used them to throw on horrible spews from toddlers, masking the nightmare and making the clean up much less fraught.
posted by h00py at 4:57 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

My mom is. If dad was home, he took care of it. If not, my sister and I were on our own. (After like, age 5) Mom would yell nice things from the other room and we'd tell her to stay away so she didn't puke. She'd just meet us in the bedroom after with some ice chips. So you just have to make it a few years, then kids can puke unattended while you have the tv turned up to avoid hearing it.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:32 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

When babies spit up, it's usually just milky spit. In our family, we didn't call it puking, we called it whoopsing. It doesn't smell like puke. An hour later, it smells like rotten milk when you are at work and discover it on the back of your shoulder. Babies have a great sense of humor.

Babies can be an astonishing amount of work, can deprive you of sleep for months, generate a lot of laundry for such tiny things. As they grow up, they are likely to rip your heart out a number of times, as well as give you great joy. If you really want to make a new person, for whom you will have responsibilities for 18 years and then some, have a baby. It might make you puke a couple times a week for a while; that's almost certainly the least difficult thing.
posted by theora55 at 6:48 AM on March 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

A couple of strategies that helped when my kids were small were:

* Have all the supplies you need to clean up puke or other bodily fluids in one place and easily accessible in the middle of the night, because this will happen in the middle of the night. Flylady recommends making a beach bag type of thing with towels, etc at the ready for these gross emergencies. Nothing worse than having something gross happen and having to search all over for paper towels and cleaning supplies while half asleep.

* Layers on the kid's bed. This is genius and I wish I'd discovered it earlier. Waterproof mattress cover on the bed, then a sheet, then another waterproof mattress cover, another sheet, for as many layers as you think you'll need. That way when someone pukes in bed you just peel off the top layer of sheet & mattress cover and voila, the bed is ready to be slept in again.

* Lots of cheap plastic trash bags generously lined with plastic bags all around the house so it's easy to grab one and puke in it quickly.

None of this actually addresses the sympathetic puker issue directly but it does minimize your contact with the puke at a time when you may be feeling vulnerable.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:59 AM on March 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Periods and the associated period shits are sort of gross, but you have just learned to deal with them (i assume) through the course of having to. Baby secretions are the same. They may make you puke or you may get desensitized, but you just learn to deal with it, but not necessarily like it, because that's how the human body goes!
posted by WeekendJen at 8:25 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I wrote this whole thing about how my kid was a puker from the start - threw up when he cried, laughed, ran, jumped, sat still, frowned - and that we coped by buying bulk medical grade emesis bags on amazon and stashed towels and lysol wipes and changes of clothes for everyone EVERYWHERE. He’s grown out of it.

But really what I wanted to say was that I know it's scary that it will push your particular buttons - vomit particularly pushes mine. But please know that there's something for everyone, you are not alone in being yucked out or triggered by something that your kid will sometimes do. If not vomit then something else I’m sure. In our Facebook group for Metafilter parents / expecting parents* we had a thread awhile ago on everyone’s grossest bodily fluid. I was surprised that apparently some people can deal w everything else but just CANNOT with their kids' SNOT. My husband just does not like saliva when it’s not contained in the mouth and this drooly stage for our baby is totally getting to him. And yet - we're all still plugging away, because it's all just a blip, really, a gross gross blip in the bigger project / reward of family having if that's something you want.

(Complaining vociferously to supportive and non-judgy peers really helps, so come join us whenever you're ready, by the way! You or anyone else reading this who's interested! Just memail me and i'll add you to the group)
posted by sestaaak at 8:28 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

My partner and I are both completely grossed out by puke but when you have a kid, you just kind of deal with it and move on. Baby spit-up is just milk and it's not gross. Stomach bugs, you just give them a pot and rinse it out without looking too close. Only thing that really sucks is when they puke in the carseat because having to take apart and clean one of those fuckers is the wooooorst. So, try to avoid that and you'll be fine.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:35 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Look at it evolutionarily- sympathetic puking is ideal. Keeping your offspring alive, equally evolutionarily ideal. This means kid puke won’t register as puke with you. As your own hair in your own toasted sandwich is annoying, somebody else’s hair in your sandwich is bloody disgusting. Same with your kids puke. Your own is annoying but totally ok . Any other kid is an affront and must be nuked from space. The whole child, not just the puke.

I say this as someone who pukes at their own puke. It’s soooo bad when I’m drunk puking. Not that I do any more. I’m totes grown up. Ahem.
posted by taff at 9:11 AM on March 13, 2018

Most* babies who spit up often have some sort of food intolerance going on. If you pay attention to that aspect you can basically eliminate baby vomit from your life.

My 6yo has thrown up 2? 3? times in his life. Two spectacular instances that I can remember, one was illness related and one was food related that if we'd been paying attention would not have happened. My 2yo has throw up once, illness related.

All that to say, kids don't really throw up as much as exhausted parents may have convinced you they do. I'm not discounting your anxiety, and yes I retched too when it happened to us, but in the moment you rush yourself to the restroom and then you get back to parenting. When you're the only adult in the room you just figure out a way to get things done.

*yes, I know there are outliers who just spit up every day no matter what, but usually those kids have a specific medical issue or again, food intolerances that are not being addressed.
posted by vignettist at 9:17 AM on March 13, 2018

I don’t have kids, and I can’t find the source right now, but I remember reading something about how, when a woman gives birth, something changes with her hormones(?) and makes it so her disgust reflex is weakened. This is to help deal with the inevitable gross that comes out of baby. It seems like biology/evolution might have your back on this one.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:00 AM on March 13, 2018

I mean, in my experience as a parent you go from “ew vomit gag” before kids to “please puke in my cupped outstretched hands rather than the car seat, child” after kids.

It really is like a switch is thrown in your brain and it does exclusively apply to your own kids.
posted by lydhre at 11:04 AM on March 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm basically a non-puker, but I am emetophobic, and while I understand we are definitely not coming from the same place, I certainly had puke-related questions before becoming a parent myself. I basically just have two things to pass along:

1. You're right, you can't order a puke-free child, but they don't all puke all the time. Mine did spit up about once a day for a few months (often when babies spit up it's like a teaspoon of liquid) but he's only actually thrown up twice in his life, and he's 4 years old. So, it's not universally true that kids get tummy bugs all the time.

2. You may adapt easily (as some commenters have said), but who knows. In case you don't, you need a plan. I had a plan for how to be a good parent despite my emetophobia, and it involved talking to a doctor well before my son was born and asking for a prescription for Xanax so that if he got sick, I could suppress the panic attack and be a functional parent until my husband could bail me out, basically. I carry 1 pill with me everywhere. I also have a large bucket of emergency cleaning supplies stocked specifically for stomach bug situations. Plus, my husband is the designated handler of all puke-related problems in our family. In return I handle anything related to household pests, which he can't stand. I understand both you and your husband have this issue, but nevertheless, I'm sure you can make some kind of coping plan so that if you do puke all the time while your kid is young, you can be prepared and make it less of a big deal.
posted by Cygnet at 11:19 AM on March 13, 2018

Disclaimers: am/was emetophobic, am not a parent. However, there was a time when my mom started throwing up at my house, and I managed to not throw up and even deal with it. It's pretty much a "no choice, I'm an adult now and nobody else is here to deal with it but me" situation. If you both puke along with the kid, who is going to clean up the mess? You gonna call your parents to do it? Or a maid? I doubt it, so you'll just...end up sucking it up.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:19 AM on March 13, 2018

Most* babies who spit up often have some sort of food intolerance going on

Actually, my understanding is that it is developmental -- some babies do not have tight muscle tone in their esophageal sphincter leading to the stomach until they are 3, 4, or more months old, and a full stomach just leaks backwards. This is not "puking" in any medical sense and is not a sign of any illness or food intolerance or the like. They just grow out of it. My son regurgitated regularly (we called it "cheesing"} until he was I think 4 months old, and he was healthy as a horse! The regurgitated contents also do not smell -- at least not for a long time after being ejected. So as someone else mentioned, quick cleanup is a must.

More gross sort of stuff happens when they get older. Toilet training is kind of weird, as a for instance. But as a parent you just deal with it. And if an older child is actually ill and vomits in an adult sort of way and it makes you gag or puke sympathetically -- well, no biggie. Just part of life.
posted by RRgal at 11:26 AM on March 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

My husband is a hardcore sympathetic puker and it's not been a huge deal. I mean, it's certainly not ideal, and I usually end up taking not one but many for the team whenever our daughter gets a stomach bug*, but if it happens when she's under his watch, he dashes off to the restroom, does his thing, and runs back to keep taking care of her. He has never, to my knowledge, ever puked directly on her or next to her or basically even in the same vicinity as her. He also saw me through two pregnancies that each included quite a lot of nausea and vomiting all the way up through the 20-week mark, so...all I'm saying is that you may have some time to acclimatize to vomit being a regular thing in your life before the baby even gets here, and by then baby spit-up will almost assuredly seem like nothing at all.

As others have mentioned, car seat puking is the one to AVOID AT ALL COSTS OMG OMG OMG SO GROSS OMG. Keep some bags or old towels or whatever in the car at all times (useful for way more than just puke!). Everything else is so very easily managed by contrast.

And yet...while I'm sure the posts in this thread are the stuff of total nightmares for you right now, it's really all just minor background noise in the grand scheme of parenting. Like, I had to dig back really deep in my brain to remember how often our kid has had puke-related illnesses. The car seat thing is only really fresh for me because happened less than a month ago and I'm still a bit scarred, but that too will fade! Good luck to you!

* two times that I can recall in more than four years, neither lasting more than a few hours
posted by anderjen at 1:58 PM on March 13, 2018

I have three children with a variety of things that have oozed, spilled and ejected even past the toddler stage. I did not get desensitized per se but became more strong in handling it. As a parent you will know the machinery of your child's gut and be in wonder how something so small can contain so much STUFF and smelly stuff at that, but you know, you just get good at it. You will become an expert on your child and a professional at handling child hazmat. One of the things that you will want to stock up on is enzyme based pet deodorizers which came way handy during potty training and any laundering issues on the furniture. Also get quality mattress protectors so that ANY mishaps at any age can be handled with laundering and get the best stain removers like Zout or something that again, is enzyme based because butteric acid lingers unless treated on clothing. Finally, auto detailing is amazing and those folks KNOW how to deal with the child hazmat.

Remember, that all things pass. Hugs to you and yours.
posted by jadepearl at 6:40 PM on March 13, 2018

This is a single datapoint, but I was a sympathetic puker--until I had my kid, and it was like that part of my brain just switched off.

Not puke related but this is the way things are with many aspects of having a kid, at least for us. Two items come to mind right away, co-sleeping and not-waking-up when the infant is crying.

I feared that both would be problematic due to me being a toss-turn and *heavy* sleeper (alarm clocks, you have no power here!). This was brought up well ahead of time with our midwife who, surprise, was firmly on the 'co-sleeping is good' side of the fence and, when I voiced my concern about being a heavy sleeper, she simply gave some coping strategies/positions/pillow tips and said "You won't have a problem when you are with your child, trust me. It's different when it's your kid. As long as you are not under the influence of drugs or other intoxicants or REALLY, REALLY exhausted (which happens with newborns) then you'll be fine co-sleeping." On the topic of me not waking up she essentially said the same thing, "You'll hear your kid crying and you'll go to them."

And she was right on both counts. Co-sleeping was great until we tapered it off into a crib and I was up like a rocket when my kid needed it.

Back to bodily orifice output(s), I have a pretty strong stomach and if a kid off the street came up and said "Change my diaper" it'd be weird and I'd struggle and maybe gag a bit. But my kid? Shooooot. I'm like a diaper changing ninja. Ditto for pukes.... You'll be fine. Good luck.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:11 PM on March 15, 2018

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