Tokophobia is the fear of pregnancy or childbirth and the word is derived from Greek tokos meaning childbirth and phobos which is intense fear or dread of a situation/object. Other names for this fear are Tocophobia, Enfantaphobia, Maieusiophobia or Parturiphobia.
The British Journal of Psychiatry first documented this phobia only a decade ago. Prior to this, there was very little knowledge about Tokophobia and it received very little attention than it deserved. Actor Helen Mirren confessed being a Tokophobe after having watched a film about childbirth that so disgusted her, she was put off having children and “never wanting to have anything to do with childbirth”.
Causes of Tokophobia
Tokophobia can be secondary or primary, meaning it can stem from prior bad experience or post partum/post traumatic stress disorders or it can happen to women who have not given birth previously. Most common causes of primary type of Tokophobia include history of sexual trauma, abuse, rape, termination of pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion, or other negative episodes related to overwhelming pain, bad hospital experiences etc.
News reports and stories about women, particularly one’s own mother, suffering from intense pain or even dying during vaginal childbirth can lead to fear of pregnancy in young/first time-to-be mothers. Often, experienced mothers love to exaggerate the ‘horrors’ they suffered during their labor to first-time pregnant women, not realizing that it is not the right thing to do.
To an extent, the fear of giving birth is normal, after all it is an event that most women experience only a few times in their lives. But, for Tokophobic individuals, this could mean a lifetime of fear of giving birth and having children that makes them delay or put off pregnancy. This often leads to arguments between spouses.
Symptoms of fear of pregnancy
Nearly 6 to 7% women worldwide suffer from Tokophobia. However, most do not talk about their fear until it is too late in the term. They then try to opt for caesarian deliveries but many obstetricians are not understanding or sensitive about their situation and this leads to huge anxiety for the mother.
Women suffering from the fear of pregnancy phobia are often mistaken as being “melodramatic” or “over reacting”. However, the sufferer experiences intense trauma stemming from the phobia. Nightmares, sweating, fear of death at the thought of giving birth often lead the individual to put off pregnancy forever, opt for elective cesarean or continually suffer from psychosomatic complaints.
Many Tokophobic women, especially those with a morbid fear of pregnancy, have been known to terminate their pregnancy midway because they are too scared to continue with it. Some women are not even aware of their phobia until they approach delivery. This is when they start having recurrent nightmares about the impending childbirth. Physical and psychological symptoms of Tokophobia vary depending on the intensity of the phobia.
- Increased heart rate, rapid breathing
- Panic and anxiety attacks
- Sweating and trembling
- Crying, shaking, getting hysterical
- Having thoughts of death and dying
- Vomiting and nausea at the thought of having “something alive” and ‘growing’ inside one’s body.
- Some tokophobes start crying just by seeing a pregnant woman on the street or even hearing the word “delivery”.
Overcoming fear of pregnancy
Antidepressants and psychotherapeutic counseling are the most common methods of overcoming Tokophobia.
Talking about one’s fear of pregnancy is also known to help women overcome it to an extent. However, most are embarrassed and refuse to discuss it. Online and offline forums are a great place to give vent to such thoughts.
Cognitive behavior therapy, Hypnotherapy as well as EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) are few other forms of overcoming Tokophobia. EMDR is specifically known to have prompt effect and is a useful therapy even in advanced stages of pregnancy. It helps reduce the intense fear of pregnancy by processing previous traumatic memories associated with the phobia.