Thursday, May 14, 2009


After writing my first blog yesterday (found here), I started thinking about fear in childbirth; not too long ago I was educated about an anxiety disorder called tokophobia.

Tokophobia is a a fear of childbirth (from the Greek tokos, meaning childbirth and phobos meaning fear). This fear stems so deeply that women who suffer this traumatic disorder usually don't bare children, though many of them desire babies of their own. If they do become pregnant, they typically request cesarean sections.

Dame Helen Miran spoke of her fear of childbirth in a British magazine in October of 2007. As a young girl - 13 years of age - in Catholic school she was shone a traumatizing video of a birthing mother (sound familiar?). This video jaded her perception of childbirth. As such, she never became a mother.

You can read the rest of her story here.

There are many variables which can cause this anxiety disorder. If a mother has a traumatic birth experience and shares that experience to the fullest detail with her daughter (i.e., "labor is the worst pain I've experienced in my life!", "I had a 4th degree tear that ripped through to my anus!"), her daughter could possibly garner a fear of childbirth. Women who've experienced sexual abuse as a child may have fear of vaginal exams. If a woman has had a family member die in labor, that could cause her fear; as well as previous traumatic birth experiences by the mother herself.

Below are some articles that discuss tokophobia to great lengths. The first article I found the most interesting. It consists of a study that took place in United Kingdom at Queen Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital in Birmingham. Twenty six women were included in the study, the findings are very interesting.

Of the 26 patients, 8 of the patients had primary tokophobia, that is their fear of childbirth predated their pregnancies. Of these 8 women 4 achieved their perfect birth, and had no problem bonding with their children. The remaining women had vaginal births (most against their will), where two suffered PTSD.

The remaining 14 women in the study had secondary tokophobia, their fear developed after the trauma suffered from their first births. One woman of the 14 had an abortion (rather then face another delivery) when she became pregnant with her second child. Several had miscarriages, and one had an ectopic pregnancy. These women were pleased that their pregnancies had to be terminated.

You can find the rest of the study here.

Here is another article: Tokophobia: Fear of Pregnancy and Childbirth

Do I think I suffered from tokophobia. Perhaps. The thought of labor frightened me so much that I longed for a c-section. However I was never so afraid that I wanted to terminate the pregnancy.

Unfortunately tokophobia isn't a widely known disorder. Fear and anxiety are common emotions for first time mothers, and I have a feeling that those who express these concerns are told that what they are feeling is normal.

I also believe that the enormity of the disorder is not well known. I would imagine feeling complete dread over childbirth can cause embarrassment. As such, I'm sure some women keep their feelings to themselves, never telling a soul of the anxiety that they feel whenever they see pictures of birthing mothers, or hearing birth stories.

This is why I try not to pass judgment of others birth choices. You never know their back story. Perhaps the woman that you were speaking to today about her scheduled cesarean is tokophobic. Would you begrudge her her ideal birth just because you do not agree with her choice?

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"Women's bodies have near-perfect knowledge of childbirth; it's when their brains get involved that things can go wrong." -- Peggy Vincent

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