Fear of birth (Tokophobia)
While feeling a certain amount of anxiety around giving birth is normal, for some women, the fear can be far more debilitating. It can even lead to delaying or avoiding pregnancy altogether.
Tokophobia, or fear of pregnancy/childbirth is rare and typically divided into two different types: primary and secondary.
Primary tokophobia usually develops during childhood or adolescence and refers to a fear of pregnancy/childbirth in those with no first-hand experience of it. It can also be related to sexual abuse.
‘I have an aversion to seeing childbirth, and a reluctance to talk about it. I’m triggered by just the image of a woman in labour, even if I know it’s staged.’
In contrast, secondary tokophobia develops following a traumatic pregnancy or delivery. It can also occur after miscarriage, stillbirth, or termination of pregnancy.
I’m disgusted by being pregnant and terrified of giving birth. I’ve been pregnant before, more than once, and it felt like being invaded by a destructive alien force.Kelly
While research into tokophobia is limited, some studies estimate that it affects between 2.5 to 14 per cent of women. Women who experience tokophobia are more likely to have anxiety, depression or other mental health problems.
“Because I’m older, I have so many girlfriends who have had babies and they all told me their stories. Every woman likes to tell their birth story, even if it’s really bad. There is a huge focus on the stuff that goes wrong.”Sarah
Many women who experience tokophobia will opt for a c-section. However, some find the condition so paralysing they avoid sexual contact completely, will terminate a wanted pregnancy or pursue adoption.
Other consequences of tokophobia can include:
- Eating disorders
- Antenatal depression
- Increased risk of postnatal depression
Support for tokophobia
It’s important to know that if this information resonates with you, you’re not alone. Help is available.
Many women find that being supported by a multi-disciplinary team, including their GP, midwife or obstetrician, social worker, psychologist and/or psychiatrist can help before or during pregnancy.
This can include discussing a previously traumatic birth experience, receiving information about labour and birth, visiting the maternity ward and meeting with health professionals or connecting with other women also experiencing the same condition.
You can also find a skilled professional in your local area by searching fear of birth on the eCOPE Directory.