Tokophobia afflicts women across lines of race, class, culture, religion, sexual orientation, and marital status. It saps the psyches of women who have never been pregnant or given birth and those who have. It happens to women who wish to be or are biological mothers and those who wish to be childfree. It befalls the prochoice and the prolife alike.
Yet many women do not feel free to be open about this phobia because it is so often met with trivializing or shaming responses. The cultural demand for women to become mothers, whether they wish to or not, only compounds the suffering of those with tokophobia, often generating feelings of severe guilt, inadequacy, helplessness, or rage. This demand is one important reason why tokophobia is so often driven into crippling secrecy.
Despite the pressures to keep tokophobia invisible and inaudible, it often has longlasting, profound, and negative consequences for women’s lives and wellbeing. These include but are not limited to:
- Aversion to sex, especially sexual practices that have any risk of conception.
- Loss of sexual pleasure.
- Conflicts within and breakups of relationships, even relationships with loved and cherished partners.
- Risktaking with contraception...
- ..Or its opposite—hyperanxious use of contraceptives with fixation on their failure rates, no matter how small, beyond the usual caretaking involved in successful family planning.
- Avoidance of pregnancy even though one would prefer to have biological children.
- Difficulty healing from past pregnancy traumas.
- Abortions, self-induced or performed by health care workers.
- Pregnancies which are carried to term and birthed at overwhelming, excruciating psychological cost to the mothers.
- Preventable Caesarian sections.
Any phobia can cause a profound sense of helplessness. No matter how much one would rather be rid of it, it can feel inevitable and impossible to change. Yet the good news is that phobias, tokophobia included, are very highly treatable kinds of mental distress.
There are well-established, quite effective treatments for phobia, including certain kinds of talk therapy, in combination with anti-anxiety medications or without them (an important consideration, for instance, for women who are currently pregnant and may hesitate to take drugs).
Any responsible mental health worker will work with you to create a treatment plan that fits you and your unique needs and circumstances. It is very important to your healing that you are comfortable with your therapist and can trust him or her. If you are concerned about the costs of treatment, there are many ways to bring them down (see below).
Any kind of phobia, including tokophobia, can deter the sufferer from even thinking about treatment, let alone looking for it or going through with it. But the ultimate rewards of freedom from overwhelming fear may make it worth the effort and help you achieve the life you want, whether or not it includes motherhood.
To learn more about tokophobia:
- Extreme Fear of Birth Pain Forces Women to Miscarry (from The Guardian)
- Help for Women Suffering Years of Childbirth Trauma (from the Telegraph)
- Hard Labour (from the Telegraph)
- Pregnancy: “My Torment and Fear” (from the Belfast Telegraph)
- Mother's Natural Birth Phobia (from BBC News)
- PubMed.gov (put the terms “tokophobia” or “fear of childbirth” into the search box to find medical literature on the subject)
To help you find relief from tokophobia:
- Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Learn more about phobias and treatment options.
- How Do You Choose a Good Psychotherapist? (from Davis Mintun Professional Services)
- Mental Health Services Locator From the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; see the FAQs for such topics as insurance and other ways to pay for your treatment; homelessness; and protection and advocacy for people with severe psychiatric problems. Not in the US? Maybe your country's chapter of the World Psychiatric Association or the Nonviolent Choice Directory's page on Access to Maternal Child Health Care (by Country, Territory, Etc.) (includes national Minstries of Health) can help you find the help you need.
- How Can I Get Help Paying for My Prescriptions? From Mental Health America.
- Birth Trauma Association