What do you do when there’s nothing you want more than to have children someday, but the thought of being pregnant or giving birth makes you fall into a pit of anxiety and depression?
This phobia is known as Tokophobia and can be extremely debilitating.
We would like to start this piece by putting out a trigger warning. We will be discussing topics surrounding childbirth, pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, pregnancy termination and sickness.
So what is Tokophobia? Let’s jump straight into it.
According to the Industrial Psychiatry Journal:
Tokophobia is defined as a pathological fear of pregnancy that can lead to avoidance of childbirth or more.
Two very different forms of tokophobia
Primary Tokophobia refers to the extreme fear of pregnancy or labour with no previous experience of either or. Which means, either you’ve never been pregnant before, or you are currently pregnant but have not yet gone through labour.
This severe anxiety that surrounds it can cause women to become obsessive about contraception in order to avoid pregnancy, decide to book in an elective caesarean, choose to adopt children over conceiving naturally, or in some cases choose to terminate the pregnancy.
It is said that the fear naturally stems from fear of pain, fear of something happening to the child, fear of being the cause of something happening to the child or fear of something happening to the woman during labour.
On the other hand, Secondary Tokophobia normally stems from a past traumatic obstetric event. This could be the labour itself, dealing with dangerous complications throughout pregnancy, past history of miscarriage or stillbirth, or a past termination of pregnancy.
A lonely experience
In a world where pregnancy tends to be displayed as a positive experience particularly on social media, many women also experience many challenges and those who suffer from this fear can very much feel alone. With so many people around you happily parading their belly around, how can you open up about your anxiety?
Whilst research suggests that only 2.5% to 14% of women are affected by this phobia, some researchers believe this statistic could be as high as 22% but is not being reported.
Some level of fear surrounding labour or pregnancy is common in any woman as you’re navigating the unknown of what’s to come, but when the fear is crippling, consumes your day to day life or begins to create a whirlwind of obsessive thoughts it could be an indication that there’s something more severe going on.
A very real experience for many
Just six months ago, Renee Batten-Smith appeared on The Sunday Project to bravely share her story on Tokophobia. You can watch the full video here. This allowed many viewers who were feeling similar emotions to witness the light at the end of the tunnel.
Through psychological and perinatal support, including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), the phobia can be overcome. These options make it possible for you to have a healthy and successful birth. We had the pleasure of speaking with Renee who gave us an update on how she was feeling post-interview. Here’s what she had to say:
Renee, tell us how the rest of your pregnancy went before you gave birth to your healthy baby boy?
After The Project interview I have to say I continued to have a very easy and uneventful pregnancy which I really think helped with my mental health. I can’t say I would have coped as well if I was sick or developed something like gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia.
I didn’t even get morning sickness. But I set up an incredible support system for myself with my choice of private obstetrician who answered all my questions, my GP and of course my psychologist. Without these three women and my husband I can’t say I would have made it.
You went with the option of elective caesarean, do you think this helped ease your anxiety knowing you’ll have some control over it?
My anxiety started to peak about 2 weeks prior to my scheduled caesarean section as I’m afraid of needles, and to be honest, who wouldn’t be afraid of being awake during surgery? There are only two ways a baby can be delivered though and this was the best option for me.
While I was terrified, especially on the day, it’s a medical procedure. This means that there is a protocol and an order which I could take step by step.
The first step was just to drive to the hospital. I won’t sugar coat it, a caesarean is not glamorous and is all business. Within 10 minutes of receiving the spinal block our little boy was out in the world.
I cried. I cried because I instantly bonded. Something I was really scared wouldn’t happen, and also from relief. I made it. I made a little human. Every part of his perfect little body was made by me.
Recovery from the c-section was much easier than expected. Within 6-7 days I didn’t need any pain relief at all and was able to walk around and pick up my baby quite comfortably.
Your story is definitely one with a happy ending, are you able to provide some advice for those women who are currently going through the same thing?
My story doesn’t reflect everyone with Tokophobia. It is a phobia, and some women never overcome it. Some push through. Others just choose to be child free. Everyone has different triggers and fears.
My advice to anyone wanting to have a child but struggling with Tokophobia is find a support network. It could take a while to find the right people so be patient, but having them in your corner makes all the difference.
I recommend a perinatal psychologist if you can find one. They work specifically in fears and anxiety revolving around pregnancy and birth. Don’t hide your Tokophobia. Make sure all the people that are in your support group are on the same page and know what you’re going through, even if they don’t quite understand. They just need empathy.
Don’t feel bad for not fitting the “normal” mould. It’s your body, your pregnancy and your baby. Do what works for you.
Renee gave birth to a healthy baby boy via caesarean section on the 11th May 2021.