Tokophobia — The Fear of Pregnancy

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.

-Manjeet Singh Bhatia and Anurag Jhanjee, Tokophobia: A dread 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

Because there is no denying that pregnancy is dangerous, some childfree people come to view tokophobia as a normal response. There are whole threads on this opinion in the childfree subreddit.

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!

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    • Brink
    • September 27, 2017

    Thank you for putting a name to what I’ve felt for … basically forever. Pregnancy and childbirth scare the hell out of me. I’ve actually had nightmares about being pregnant. Like the interviewee Holly, I tend to shy away from pregnant women because it freaks me out to think that there’s another person, inside a person, living off the person like some sort of parasitic nesting doll. I don’t find it beautiful, I HATE when women post pictures on social media of bare pregnant bellies. The thought of going through childbirth makes me physically ill. Just typing this out I’m starting to feeling anxious, my fingers are a little tingly, and I’m starting to feel nauseated.

    Thankfully, I’ve already chosen to be child free. I imagine it would be very, very hard to want children but to have this phobia. I wonder if there are any stats on women who have this phobia and choose adoption over having a child biologically? When I was in my late teens and was still on the fence about having children I remember telling my then boyfriend that I’d rather adopt or have a surrogate than go through childbirth.

    1. Brink, thank you for your comment. I’m glad I could bring some attention to this important subject. I’ll have to look into those stats — thanks for the suggestion!

  1. Reply

    Hi! I have it, and I agree with Holly. I don’t really want to change it. If I had not decided to be childfree, I would still have adopted. My mom was adopted and so was her adoptive mom. I’m always glad to see a new article/post on this topic, because most people really don’t get it. My mom thinks I’m being ridiculous. I love her to death, but I see no reason to go through that kind of torture if it is avoidable. I don’t even like hearing the word, and I cannot bring myself to say it, just for reference. Thank you writing about us. 🙂

    1. Madison, thank you for your comment! I’m happy to bring awareness to this topic and appreciate your feedback!

    • Madison D
    • September 29, 2017

    Hi! I am tokophobic and always glad to see that someone is writing about, because most people don’t seem to think it’s real.
    I agree with Holly. I don’t want to “fix” it, because it does keep me safe.
    Just as a reference point, I can’t bring myself to say the word, and I will distance myself from relatives who are in that condition. My mom thinks that I’m being ridiculous, but I find it ridiculous that the whole world thinks it’s nothing! I hope that this article and conversation helps to spread awareness. Thank you for bringing it up. 🙂

  2. Reply

    Interesting post Brittany, I’ve never heard of tokophobia before. I think it’s completely normal to have anxiety around pregnancy and childbirth but I’ve never thought about it as being so severe that it’s an actual condition. It makes perfect sense though. My best friend almost died giving birth to her first child. If it wasn’t for western medicine she and her baby would not be here today. Thanks for sharing this information! I always learn so much from your blog!

    1. Thanks Courtney!

  3. Reply

    Interesting post. I have tokophobia, I think. Since watching a horrible, messy, zoomed-in film of a child being born when I was still at primary school, the thought of giving birth disgusted me. The whole realm of pregnancy, birth and newborns is still a major turn-off for me: I’m extremely squeamish about it. Paradoxically, I had ivf, but whilst doing it I dreaded becoming pregnant. F*cked up? Yes indeed.

      • Madison D
      • October 2, 2017

      Why on Earth did you have ivf if you didn’t want the result of it?

      1. Although I can’t speak for Different Shores, I do know she is now childfree. I feel pronatalism is a big factor in convincing women to have children even when they don’t feel quite right about it.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I get that though. I didn’t have IVF but I seriously considered having children even though it didn’t seem like the right thing to do. I feel like we’re so bombarded with pronatalism that we’re willing to push ourselves to have kids even when it doesn’t seem right. Woohoo to being childfree now!

    • Sarah aikman
    • October 14, 2017

    I have severe primary tocophobia combined with the obsessive desire to be a mum. Both since i was a young child.i never had carreer goals or the ideal car/house/dream holiday etc. I always believed i could be put to sleep.
    I had an abortion at 19 when fear and unsupportive cheating partner took my choice away from me. I was told by sonographer i had no right seeing my baby on the screen too but have always felt i would have changed my mind if i had been allowed my human right to see my baby scan. Instead i have regretted it every day of my life and never forgiven myself. I was still relieved though to not have to go through with the pain etc.
    Since being with my fiance we have had 4 miscarriages and i was broken and so heartbroken but each time i felt a sense of relief to not being going through to the ‘end result’ as i call it! They investigated and i have vaginismus and suspected antiphospholipid syndrome. I was due to take second blood test to confirm it but 2 weeks before we fell pregnant again so i have been treated with aspirin and daily heparin injections and i am now in my 34th week!!! I have been a nervous wreck the whole pregnancy and midwife told me i would get over the fear so nothing was done until i saw my consultant at the miscarriage clinic (due to being high risk i see them once a month to check about my injections etc) and i broke down completely as noone has been listening to me or taking me seriously. I was sent to spek to a psychiatrist who has told me i have sever primary tocophobia and beig ao close to birth i cannot be helped with cbt etc…. which hasnt worked in the past anyway. So i have been granted my wishes to have a section which noone was willig to agree to. I am still terrified but soe weight has been lifted. I am also terried every time i feel kicks or any movement. I love my baby with all my heart but i wish it was over and done with. Been 8months of hell so far. Im so scared and noone understand that i feel physical pain when they talk about it or tll me you forget instantly or it natural etc. No it is not… not for me! This is torchure and i am 100% guilt ridden about it all

    1. Sarah, thank you for taking the time to comment about your experience with tokophobia. I’m happy you found a psychiatrist who understands what you’re going through. I’m wishing you all the best!

    • Holly
    • October 29, 2017

    When I use the phrase “I don’t want to rip up my undercarriage” my childfree by choice friends laugh. Thanks for writing this article. I’m glad I got to take part in in!

    1. Hi Holly! I couldn’t have done this piece without you! Thank you so, so much for participating.

    • Fellow childfree
    • November 6, 2017

    I don’t think what I feel could be classified as a phobia, but I am majorly grossed out about anything having to with pregnancy, birth and babies/toddlers themselves. I’m generally a pretty squeamish type anyway, so maybe that’s the reason behind it, but who knows. I can’t even handle birth scenes in movies or on tv. I don’t care about getting over it, though, because I’m also childfree by choice so it’s not like I feel an ounce of desire to become a mom. It does complicate some of my social relationships since I avoid pregnant women, babies and small kids as much as I can but these mostly are people I’ve never been that close to.

    1. Makes sense to me, for sure! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on tokophobia – I think it’s such an important topic!

    • Holly
    • November 7, 2017

    Hey! I am glad I could help! People don’t even know tokophobia is a thing! I didn’t know it was a thing! I am so glad that the word is getting out and I am glad that you wrote about it.

    1. Aw, thanks Holly. I’m glad we got to share some of what we know about tokophobia!

  4. Reply

    Hi, I’ve been pregnant for 7 weeks and I have a fear of pregnancy. Is there anyone who has managed to deal with fear?

    1. Hi there! In short, yes. I would definitely recommend talking to your doctor about tokophobia. But in the meantime, from what I have researched, cognitive behavioral therapy can be very helpful for pregnant women with this fear. Some women with tokophobia may also have the option to have a cesarean delivery. @Tocophobie on Twitter is a great account to follow ( I wish you all the best!

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