No One Ever Said It Would Be This Hard

Something I never prepared for as a parent was routine sickness. I don’t mean chronic or terminal illness, I haven’t had that experience, and I don’t want to misrepresent the post. Also, if stomach virus symptoms make you queasy, don’t read on.

By the time this blog is published, my rough night will be a few nights behind me. Hopefully that’s the worst it gets. All three of my kids have been sick this month. At first it seemed they would get sick one after another, in a daisy chain of vomit and diarrhea. My oldest got better, then my middle, then my youngest.

I was woefully unprepared for the next two weeks. My middle child’s symptoms came back. Again and again. The same pattern kept repeating over and over – he would vomit at night, have diarrhea in the morning, and this would go on for 3-4 days. He would seem to get better for 2-3 days, then the cycle would repeat.

Photo by Keira Burton on

The fourth time through, nearly three weeks after he first got sick, my youngest tagged back in. With my 1-year-old and 2-year-old both sick, I spent the bulk of the night cleaning up puke. It came every 45 minutes like clockwork, from midnight to sometime after 6 am.

My middle child can talk, and he would cry, telling me his tummy hurt. After I finished cleaning him up he would sob and thank me at the same time for cleaning him off. It was heartbreaking.

Photo by Arwan Sutanto on Unsplash

My youngest can only say a few phrases. But the combination of “Mommy” and “help me” spoken with panic in his tiny, toddler voice as he looks at me, wide-eyed with fear and confusion, mouth open, retching as his stomach tries to expel its contents is burned forever into the back of my eyelids.

Every detail on his face screamed What is happening to me? Mommy, make it stop, please! as he bawled, heaving and gasping. He was confused and scared, and I couldn’t do a thing.

I learned a lot the hard way as a new parent, as trial-by-fire seems to be the most common method of entering parenthood. I had to figure out how to be comfortable leaving my son in someone else’s care, how to balance time with my kids against time taking care of myself, how to let them make mistakes or fall while they’re learning a new skill. In fact, I could write an entire list of things I’ve learned that I didn’t realize I would encounter, or thought wouldn’t be difficult.

Past all of it is a whole other level of parenting I hadn’t reached. The helplessness I felt trying to soothe my son was almost incapacitating. I cleaned him off, changed the sheets, and at this point I had given up on pajamas. I held him and rubbed his back, covering us both in a blanket, as I sat at the edge of the bed, trying to figure out my next move. The youngest would finally fall asleep, only for the cycle to repeat. All night long. With both children.

It was one of the longest and worst nights of my life.

I never want to experience it again, and yet I know I have years of this ahead of me. I tried to calm myself with the thought at least he will be able to talk soon, to tell me what’s wrong but even as I repeated it in my head like a mantra, I knew. My middle child could talk, and it didn’t make a lick of a difference.

Sickness is unavoidable; a normal part of life. I know rationally they will build immunity by fighting off a virus like this on their own. But watching them endure it, unable to do much other than clean them up, hold them, or hug them, ate away at me. I’m a sensitive person, and I’d rather suffer than watch my kids suffer.

This experience is not over, I know we will have to ride this stomach bug out. I just wish I’d been prepared. For now, I will follow the doctor’s recommendations, keep them hydrated, clean, and hopefully comfortable. I just hope the insecurity and helplessness I’m feeling isn’t written all over my face.

“Every challenge you face today makes you stronger tomorrow. The challenge of life is intended to make you better, not bitter.” – Roy T. Bennett

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