Tokophobia is a fear of pregnancy or childbirth. It is also known as “maleusiophobia” from the Greek “maieusis” literally eating “deliver of a woman in childbirth.” Often the fear of childbirth motivates a request for an election caesarean section. Tokophobia can also be associated with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
A morbid fear of childbirth is sometimes so profound it can lead to a complete avoidance of pregnancy, event though many sufferers would love children. Dame Helen Mirren admitted to suffering from the fear after watching a graphic video of childbirth as a 13 year old schoolgirl and has been childless ever since. Dealing with the condition can be hard because it is a taboo subject.
Maureen Treadwell of the Birth Trauma Association has blamed the ‘Mummy Mafia’ who are zealous about breastfeeding and natural births. She believes that people should not be ashamed but speak out and that childbirth is not some kind of competition.
Primary tokophobia relates to childless women who have a deep seated dread of pregnancy and birth. Secondary tokophobia affects women who have had a horrendous experience of childbirth already, rendering them emotionally unable to have children.
Tokophobia can be a fear so intense it may lead a woman to avoid pregnancy altogether. Some doctors have argued that medical professionals need to be more understanding and have extra guidance from a midwife or counsellor to help alleviate their fear. If it is not treated with respect, sufferers may find that adoption or fostering is their only way to parenting.
Many women argue that despite its trauma, childbirth is the most amazing moment in a woman’s life. But for those who insist they would rather be childless than face the delivery room, it remains a prospect too difficult to think about.
An article in the British Journal of Psychiatry (BJP) in 2000 described the fear of childbirth as a psychological disorder that has received little attention and may have been overlooked. The fear can manifest through a number of symptoms including nightmares, panic attacks, difficulty in concentrating on work and psychosomatic complaints.
It is possible that those who suffer from tokophobia may organise abortions because of their fear of childbirth. Out of 26 women in the study, two women had an abortion because they could not face a delivery. One of the women accidentally conceived again and organised an abortion. One woman described how she was offered an abortion when she begged for a Caesarian. A proportion of abortions may be requested by women who suffer from tokophobia and want a baby but cannot understand their strong aversion to parturition. In the absence of an empathic professional listener or relevant medical literature, they may be inclined towards abortion. Of the 26 women, 10 had completed a sterilisation or vasectomy for their partner. The study recognises that this number was over-represented in the sample. Some childless women presenting for sterilisation may be tokophobic and respond to a psychological approach to dealign with the phobia.
One Daily Mail article describes how the fear of childbirth is much more widespread than previously thought. Dr Kristina Hofberg, Britain’s leading expert on tokophobia said that women’s fears could lead them to extreme action such as abusing alcohol or drugs, or punching their own abdomens in an effort to abort the child. The study, to be published by the RCOG said that one in five women, when pregnant for the first time, reported extreme fear about childbirth. Six per cent described it as disabling. Almost one in seven of the 370 childless, non-pregnant women interviewed by Dr Hofberg had a morbid dread of childbirth which was sufficient for them to delay or avoid childbirth altogether. Other doctors have questions how high the figures are in the report.