Here’s a word you might not be familiar with: Tokophobia. Simply put, it’s more than just being scared of childbirth, it’s an extreme fear of giving birth and/or pregnancy. It’s sometimes so extreme that women who wish to have their own children decide not to conceive. Sufferers of tokophobia aka fear of childbirth or often do not openly talk about this out of fear of judgement from others or fear they will be told ‘millions of women have done this before you’.
Tokophobia is usually classified into primary tokophobia (for parents with no prior experience of childbirth) and secondary tokophobia (parents with prior experience of childbirth who may have suffered a traumatic birth). It’s worth noting that men can suffer from this as well although research on this is still in this infancy.
How common is fear of childbirth?
Tokophobia aka fear of childbirth is very common. As many as 1 in 10 pregnant women (early research suggests similar rates in fathers to be) suffer from tokophobia. It doesn’t take much to realise how common it is. From social media to our inner circle, once you start to openly talk about your concerns, you’ll notice these are often shared by others.
Is it normal to be terrified to give birth?
Let us start off by saying that most women have a certain apprehension about giving birth. As much as 80% of pregnant women feel some level of anxiety around this. Especially if they have not done it before or have had a previous difficult experience with childbirth. After all we’ve all seen movies with women in absolute agony during delivery. Most of us have also heard traumatic birth stories from friends or family who have made us think twice about going through this ourselves.
What differentiates a sufferer from tokophobia aka fear of childbirth is the severity of the anxiety surrounding the thought of childbirth.
What are symptoms of tokophobia?
Symptoms can present themselves differently from one person to the next. However the below has often been observed:
- Recurring nightmares or insomnia
- Feeling of dread, extreme anxiety and depression at the thought of pregnancy and/or childbirth
- Panic attacks
- Extreme anxiety around birth defects, stillbirth and maternal death
- Insistance on an elective c-section
- Obsessive research into childbirth including videos (this would go beyond the normal research to the point of compulsion and obsessive thoughts)
Why do people suffer from tokophobia aka fear of childbirth?
Everyone can be affected by tokophobia however some of us are more at risk than others:
- Parents with a previous difficult or traumatic birth experience
- Anxiety and depression sufferers
- Distrust in the medical staff or society as a whole
- Being a lesbian, bisexual or transgendered person
- Someone with a history of sexual abuse
- Young parents
How can I treat tokophobia and stop being afraid of childbirth?
This is a complex question because when it comes to phobias, there isn’t one cure to fix it all. Trying to tackle tokophobia will take a mixture of support from friends & family, therapy and birth education. Being able to talk openly about this without fear of judgement is also crucial which is why it’s important from those suffering from tokophobia to be well surrounded and join online support groups. Meditation and hypnobirthing can also be highly beneficial at reducing anxiety. Lastly, we love and would recommend spending some time on The Positive Birth Company website. Founded by a hypnobirthing specialist, their mission is to support and empower parents on the journey from conception, pregnancy, birth and postpartum. They also share positive birth stories which is highly beneficial to read from anyone suffering from tokophobia.
Finding the right medical staff who have experience in dealing with tokophobia and with whom you’re comfortable is also crucial. You should feel like you’re able to ask any question without fear of judgement from medical staff. If that isn’t the case, you should look for someone else. Remember, you’re your biggest advocate, especially when it comes to your health.
One cannot help but wonder why such a common and debilitating phobia is not discussed more openly. Why is tokophobia so under researched? Perhaps because this phobia is seen as something benign that women will eventually just get over. But a great deal of trauma, sadness and distress can come with tokophobia and women are being let down yet again. Healthcare professionals truly owe it to their patients to talk more openly about this and offer more support. And society owes it to women to show more respect, understanding and empathy.
Tokophobia can be truly debilitating for many who dream of having a child of their own one day. That being said, many women also do not wish to have children, prefer to adopt or use a surrogate. That should always be respected and never questioned. So whether you have tokophobia and want to have a child of your own or not, know it’s perfectly ok. There’s nothing wrong with you that requires ‘fixing’ and your fears are valid despite what society might tell you. Every woman is in charge of her life, her reproduction and her journey into motherhood if that’s what she wishes.