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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Tokophobia: It's Dreadful, But Treatable

Tokophobia (sometimes spelled tocophobia) is a phobia of pregnancy and childbirth that may affect as many as six to ten percent of women. It is a dread far, far more intense and disabling than the anxiety that non-tokophobic women routinely feel about pregnancy and labor. And because pregnancy and childbirth are everywhere, women with tokophobia find it very difficult to avoid the triggers of their fear and panic.

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:



To help you find relief from tokophobia:

6 comments:

Jen R said...

Thank you for this post. Six to ten percent! I never would have thought the figure was that high.

Marysia said...

I don't think anyone knows the exact number for sure. But the point is that there are a lot more women with tokophobia than medical practitioners or the general public suspect.

Artsy with a 'Tude said...

I think this might be something I'm facing, but for me, part of the fear involved the hospital. Reading up about home birth and other options still leaves me feeling terrified. I wish that I knew if any others facing this fear also feared the indignity and powerlessness of a hospital birth?

Marysia said...

I think many women do seek out home birth and other alternatives in childbirth at least in part because they are concerned about what could happen during a hospital birth. But if you feel you might be dealing with tokophobia, even if you choose home birth, I would encourage you to talk in person with a counselor or other professional about it.

Anonymous said...

i have severe tokophobia. It has been the reason behind my depression for over a decade. Though i've never been preganant, but just the thought scares the shit outta me so bad, its impossible to imagine.
I've grown up always wanting a family, but it seems almost impossible now. :(
I often get horrific nightmares of birthing.. and im left screaming, crying, howling..
During the day my mind starts wandering and i picture graphic scenes. :( I dont understand how nature could be this cruel to women.
I've tried counselling, reading up about birth, testimonies, etc. But everything has just worsened my phobia. I could only probably allow myself to get pregnant if i was assured a Csection. But i've got to know that the medical staff never take women like me seriously...and they push for a vaginal birth no matter the trauma it might cause. They believe its "natural" and hence the only "right" way to do it. Also most are against pain relief or medication of any sort and it makes me wanna SCREAM my lungs out!
WHy did nature have to be this cruel and sexist :(:(:(

Marysia said...

Sorry to hear about your difficulties. If you did not get good results with counseling, I wonder if you found the right counselor for you, or whether you would want to look for one? Or a different medical facility that would be more sympathetic to your concerns about pregnancy and childbirth, if at all possible, and if you did decide that after all you did want to bear a child?