Talking About Tokophobia — The Fear of Pregnancy
Tokophobia — the fear of pregnancy —affects up ten percent of women today. While most women with tokophobia are actually not childfree, as many as one in ten childfree women have this fear. Because of this, I think tokophobia needs our attention. So, let’s talk about it!
The Two Types of Tokophobia
Tokophobia can be divided into two groups: primary and secondary. Since I’m no doctor (and I don’t even play one on TV), I’ll leave it to the experts to explain:
Primary tokophobia is morbid fear of childbirth in a woman, who has had no previous experience of pregnancy. The dread of childbirth may start in adolescence or early adulthood.
Secondary tokophobia is defined as morbid fear of childbirth developing after a traumatic obstetric event in a previous pregnancy. However, it could also occur after an obstetrically normal delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth, or termination of pregnancy.
Treatment for Tokophobia
Anti-depressants, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and hypnotherapy have all been helpful in alleviating symptoms of Tokophobia. Helen Bremner, hypnotherapist and former nurse, experienced secondary tokophobia herself after a traumatic pregnancy and birth of her first child.
She explained to Independent, “Like any phobia, there is help to get you through this. The magic of a new life may be in itself sufficient incentive to get past your fear. If it’s not, there are people like me, who have been through similar experiences and come out the other side smiling, and with beautiful children.”
That’s great…but what if you don’t think of new life as “magic” regardless of your tokophobia? Treatment is no doubt necessary for women who want to conceive or for women who are pregnant, but how dire is treatment for the childfree? And, would they want to be treated?
Holly’s Experience With Tokophobia
I had the chance to chat with Holly, a childfree woman with tokophobia.
When I asked her about the impact of this phobia on her everyday life, she explained, “I am extremely grossed out when I see a pregnant woman. Mostly, even though my rational brain knows it’s not ‘contagious’ I avoid visibly pregnant women as though they have the plague. Hearing stories about the after-effects of birth also terrify me.”
Like many who are phobic, Holly experiences things that trigger her tokophobia. In addition to seeing pregnant women, pictures of pregnant bellies, very young infants, and any video footage of a delivery room cause her to experience tokophobia. Holly admits that her own body can be a trigger during her menstrual cycle — even despite being sterilized.
Holly’s childfree friends understand her fear of pregnancy more than others. “My mom said, ‘It’s not so bad’ but she knows why I don’t want to ever be pregnant. I really haven’t brought it up with other relatives, because I don’t think they even know it exists,” Holly says.
Despite a higher prevalence of tokophobia in mothers, it does seem the childfree community are very accepting of this fear, even if they don’t experience, or fully understand it, themselves.
Even without tokophobia, Holly says she would still choose to be childfree. “I know how hard it is to raise a kid and I don’t need that stress in my otherwise great life,” she tells me. Holly also views her tokophobia as a safety net of sorts and she isn’t looking for treatment nor a cure. She explains,” I’m totally cool with having it. It’s protected me from making [the] dumb mistake of “Oh, maybe it would be fun to have one!”
What’s The Real Problem: Pregnancy or The Fear of Pregnancy?
Having a fear like claustrophobia may impact your life in small ways. Maybe you take the stairs instead of elevators — not a huge inconvenience in itself — but claustrophobia can also impact your life in severe ways.
I worked for some time as a polysomnographic (sleep) technician and had patients refuse to wear C-PAP masks due to extreme claustrophobia. These patients would literally refuse emergency oxygen despite being informed of their risks (I’m talking death, people!).
Anyway, if you’re claustrophobic, you know that your fear of confined spaces is irrational and that no harm can come to you from standing in an elevator or wearing a mask. Still, that fear is so powerful that you’re willing to face even greater risks in your avoidance of it. Now imagine if your fear was actually quite rational. That is, unfortunately, the case with tokophobia.
We hear pregnancy is considered so natural and childbirth is considered a part of life, but there is a real sense of a complication and death. One out of seven women will face complication. That’s a global figure.
– Mary Beth Powers, Save the Children’s chief of Child Survival Campaign, article by Madison Park: In Giving Life, Women Face Deadly Risks
Whether you feel the problem is pregnancy itself or tokophobia, treatment is possible for both. You can avoid getting pregnant thanks to modern birth control and —with the help of mental health professionals— tokophobia can be treated. Choosing treatment for tokophobia is, of course, a personal decision and one that can depend on the severity of your condition and your circumstances. If you are childfree, you may very well opt to use a highly-effective form of birth control to put your mind at ease. If your condition is, or becomes, severe, you may want to seek a medical opinion.
What are your thoughts on tokophobia? Do you have it? Or do you know someone that does? Let’s talk tokophobia in the comment section below!