Being pregnant and going through childbirth is an overwhelming time for any woman. But for some, even the idea of doing either is too much to bear.
Tocophobia describes a fear of pregnancy and childbirth. Starting from adolescence, sufferers of primary tocophobia are hugely uncomfortable with the whole idea of being pregnant and giving birth. They can feel physically unwell in the presence of a pregnant person. They’ll go out of their way to avoid baby showers and can’t even stand being near someone who is pregnant.
The thought of carrying a child themselves is repulsive. If they do fall pregnant, the experience can be hugely traumatic as they can barely look at themselves.
Secondary sufferers of tocophobia have had a traumatic time while giving birth. This can be through physical complications, or they can simply find a ‘textbook’ birth highly distressing on an emotional level. These women find it very difficult to consider going through the whole process again because they were never able to address what happened the first time they delivered a child.
Speaking to The Motherish, Louise Denholm, Team Manager at the Peri Natal Mental Health Services Unit of Metro North Hospital and Health Service in Brisbane, says eight percent of women are known to suffer from tocophobia. It could affect many more, as lots suffer in silence, not wanting to admit that they are disgusted by an experience that is supposed to be filled with joy.
“Even some midwives aren’t aware of what tocophobia is,” says Denholm, "so the disorder often goes undiagnosed."
The ‘seeds’ of this terror surrounding pregnancy and childbirth are usually planted early in life. A child or adolescent may hear a ‘horror story’ of someone giving birth. They may watch a video or get a notion in their mind, which sticks and manifests to the point of a morbid fear.
If a woman falls pregnant without realising that she suffers from tocophobia, it can result in a very difficult nine months. Going through childbirth without the right support can result in post traumatic stress disorder and increased risk of postnatal anxiety and depression. Mothers can struggle to bond with their child and be put off having more children because of stressful flashbacks.
Fortunately, the condition is becoming more widely recognised and better diagnosed. Louise works with sufferers, starting by helping them set up a plan to manage it.