It’s hardly irrational to be afraid of pregnancy and childbirth; we are talking about growing and expelling another human being from your body, after all.
But for some women, this amounts to something much greater than apprehension.
Instead, a woman might be so terrified that she’s unable to have children, abstain from sex altogether for fear of getting pregnant or even become depressed or suicidal.
It’s widely known as tokophobia: the pathological fear of childbirth.
What are the symptoms?
Tokophobic women tend to feel extreme anxiety or dread at the thought of pregnancy, and could experience anxiety attacks during pregnancy too.
They might also have extreme or obsessive fears about childbirth pain, miscarrying, being in the hands of medical professionals, death, being alone or trapped, or losing control.
What triggers tokophobia?
Generally, there are considered to be two types of tokophobia: Primary and secondary.
While primary tokophobia is the extreme fear of pregnancy in a woman who has zero experience of it, secondary tokophobia develops in women who do.
The latter might happen if a woman has had a difficult or traumatic birth in the past, while the former is thought to develop in women who’ve had another traumatic experience in the past such as physical or mental abuse.
Simply hearing about nasty births in the media might trigger it too, or listening to an unpleasant story from family or a friend.
Is it really that abnormal to be afraid of pregnancy and childbirth?
Well, no. While modern medicine has ensured it’s a totally different ball game to what it was centuries ago, pregnancy and childbirth are still intense experiences, and it’s natural to be nervous about what will happen.
In fact, the term “tokophobia” is controversial in the first place. While phobias are often considered to be illogical, being afraid of childbirth isn’t, so some don’t consider the term to be appropriate at all.
“Childbirth may be the safest it has ever been, and maternal mortality is extremely low in countries with advanced healthcare systems,” she said.
“But that does not mean every woman’s experience of birth is a walk in the park, or that they are daft to feel anxious – sometimes profoundly so.”
So rest assured that this “phobia” is not the same as being afraid of balloons or feet – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek help.
I think I might be tokophobic – what can I do?
If you think you could be tokophobic it’s a good idea to seek out support, especially if you want to conceive or are pregnant.
Firstly, be sure to talk to your GP or a midwife. Talking through the entire process with an expert could regain your sense of control over the situation, and dispel a number of fears.
It could also be beneficial to work through your fears with a therapist. This could involve undergoing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or EMDR, which involves making eye movements while recalling a traumatic incident.
You could also go to supported group discussions, or learn relaxation techniques.
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