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Helen Mirren & Tokophobia

Helen Mirren, in an article for the Daily Mail, talked about her disgust for childbirth and how watching a birth movie as a teen swore her off having kids for life. Here is the entire article. Below are the excerpts that pertain to the birth movie:

"And they sat us all down, boys and girls, all about 13, 14 years old in this horrible school hall.

"And then this tweed-skirted dykey sort of woman, short cropped hair, comes on and says, 'I'm Dr Joyce' or whatever, 'and what you're about to see is one of the greatest miracles.

"I've seen it many times you know because I'm a doctor and giving birth is one of the most beautiful things'."

Dame Helen recalls how the group were wondering what she was talking about and then the film began.

To this day she can remember it - the whirring of the projector and a close-up of a woman having a baby.

"And that's all you see and these are 13-year-old boys and girls who can't look at each other anyway, and it's bloody and it's disgusting.

"And then occasionally a little subtitle comes up because there's no soundtrack. It says, 'Now prepare the rubber sheet'."

She said she had put her hands up to her face, realising she could not watch it.

Within 30 seconds two boys had fainted and were carried out while the 'stupid woman' said: "Wasn't that wonderful? It's a miracle."

Dame Helen said: "I swear it traumatised me to this day. I haven't had children and now I can't look at anything to do with childbirth. It absolutely disgusts me."

Her early sexual experiences were no better. "They were crap because the men were crap. They were just nasty boys."

The interviewer asked: "And you truly think that film is the reason you didn't have kids?"

Dame Helen replied: "I think it's a lot to do with it, I think in deep proper psychological terms I was traumatised."

Those of us who live and breathe birth might be thinking thoughts like, “How horrid!” “What a disservice to women and birth!” “She sure doesn’t know what she missed.” Or “How sad.”

But, I want to share that another one of my posts, a very old one, would have those commenters saying, “Thank God! Someone famous that feels like me!” “I can’t believe someone else said what I think in a public forum.” “She feels exactly like I do!” And “I’m not alone.”

My post on Tokophobia (fear of childbirth) continues receiving comments and I have been meaning to re-write a new piece for quite some time, answering the women who have written. The truth is, I’m not sure how to answer some of them. I can’t cure their fears - can’t wave a magic wand and tell them it will all be okay. I can’t promise a perfect birth, a painless, (vagina) tear-less, hemorrhoid-less, incontinent-free birth. None of us can. The difference between those of us steeped in BirthLand and those living in Tokophobia World is the former kinda care (or don’t care) about the inconveniences that might happen to get a baby and the latter are terrified/horrified/grossed out by the same things.

Read here, some of the comments women have written me regarding their tokophobic feelings:

- So glad someone has addressed this. I realize that I am not alone in my disgust and dread of childbirth. What's weird is that I love babies and children but am paralyzed with fear when considering having a child of my own naturally. Even stranger, I am a registered nurse. I've cared for burn patients, people with their faces blown off, and people half-eaten by flesh-eating bacteria. These patients have never inspired the anxiety that I feel when I've assisted with natural childbirth. The screaming, defecation tissue tearing, placenta, and gore is nothing less than gruesome to me. I'm puzzled by other nurses' remarks of the "beautiful experience" that childbirth is when I've helped these exhausted women care for their ravaged bodies and squalling infants. I am struck by how primitive, undignified, and unevolved the experience is and have wondered how any woman goes through the experience more than once without demanding a c-section the next time around. Time is running out for me as I'm in my early 30s now. My husband has been hinting for a while that he wants to start soon. The panic has set in at times and the worry that I'll never have enough chutzpah weighs relentlessly on my mind.

- I left the love of my life rather than have a child for him--he never knew that was the reason--and I have spent a lifetime telling people I don't like children just to get them off my back. If my family knew I was tokophobic I would be run out of town on the rails--it would never have been tolerated. But there has never been anything about birth that doesn't either gross me out to the max or appear to be really horrendous for the body. I would never put myself through childbirth willingly. Gross! So, even though I always wanted a child, and a husband, and a home, etc., I found a way to hide the tokophobia and it changed my life. No amount of reading a natural birth board is going to cure tokophobia. There might be some sort of treatment for it, but women with tokophobia would be better served to be accepted as they are. There are tons of us out here, believe me.

- Phew, I am so relieved to find that i'm not the only one. I am so fed up with people saying 'its ok and its not as bad as you think'. They don’t have the same feelings as I do. I sweat and feel faint when I think of giving birth and I am avoiding it at every cost. I have felt like this since I was a child. I hate the way in which 'society' makes women feel that they must have a baby....and I too do not want to grow old and be left childless....but I just cannot bring myself to do it...it never feels right. My biggest fear is being ripped open (my hands have just gone soaking wet saying this). For years I have had problems having sex, I bleed, tear and tense up...it’s a whole horrid package. I wish either way I could just make a decision to either never have kids or to just get it out the way and do it. What on earth can I do?

- But the thought of being in tremendous pain for hours and hours and then feeling my vagina rip open. [I mean imagine horror movies when people are stabbed. I mean oh my goodness! It's like the same thing because it's skin being torn apart in some way and it's no small paper cut] And then I have white coat syndrome but if I have a homebirth I can't have an epidural. Oh dear lord Jesus it scares me to death. and then like I don't want people touching and looking at my vagina, which is already ugly and will look even more ugly as a baby human being slowly pulls it apart. And labor seems so scary. Though I love children all the time, I hate children when this thought comes about. I feel like no one cares about me, the one who is pain, worry, and terrified. Everyone just thinks of this stupid baby that doesn't care anything about what’s going on because it doesn't know anything.

And yes tokophobia is real. I have had this fear since I was about 3 years old, before I even knew that "phobia" itself was a word. But I also have a panic/anxiety disorder and that may be the base of it. But the fear I feel is real.

- Me too. I asked for a caesarean section to avoid a vaginal birth. I was abused as a child. I am a midwife and I know about birth - the wonderful peaceful ones, the empowering ones, the awful disempowering medicalised ones. I know that the hormones which I would have released in labour - those of fear and terror - would have stopped the oxytocin, stopped the labour and forced me to endure what I feared the most. I dreamed of faceless masked men examining me and cutting me and not stopping when i asked them to. I punched my swollen belly and cried at being taken over by this alien invader. I knew I was going to find it tough enough becoming a mother without haveing to endure a traumatic birth and the subsequent flashbacks. I was lucky. I had a very sympathetic consultant and a caesarean on request. My birth was controlled, quiet, non sexual and I am a proud mummy who loves my son. Thank God - it could have been so different.

- I am now hopefully a bit too old to get easily pregnant and what a relief it is. As far as I can remember, I found childbirth scary and disgusting. Even humiliating. I have read that it can be cured sometimes with counselling but my condition is gone so far that I don’t have the desire to be cured at all. I feel that my fear and my disgust are normal.

- I am so thankful for this post. This needs to be discussed more openly and honestly. So many women feel this way, but we think that something is terribly wrong with us, and we are ashamed. I have always been intensely afraid of pregnancy and childbirth. I remember when I was a very little girl, I was completely disgusted at the idea of having a child, and I wanted to adopt. I am now 23 and my feelings haven't changed. Why does this happen to us? Does therapy work? I am married now, and my husband doesn't understand my fear at all. I feel alone and frightened. Please continue to write on this, and point us in any direction that might be helpful.

- I have Tokophobia. I am also 23 weeks pregnant with my second child, I cry every night and feel physically sick at the thought of premature labour and delivery. I also have a sympathetic consultant who will give me a c/section under a GA (general anesthesia) as I had on request with my first son. I am 36, a registered nurse, have a masters in Psychology and am NEVER going to give birth the so called natural way. I am tired of being told I am a failure as a 'woman' or will not bond with my child. I have the rest of its life to bond with my child! Thank you for making me feel that my phobia is actually out there - I am not alone!

- i feel like im letting my partner down, he wants kids now and doesn't really believe me when I say im scared, everyone thinks im joking. im scared of the pain, being laughed at, being useless, a wimp, and as someone else mentioned being ripped open and having to be cut, midwives and doctors frighten me i think they wouldn’t really care about what i had to say and would make me feel small.

A midwife told my friend off once for being too loud when she was giving birth.

i love kids and so desperately want to be a mum, the in-laws and my own parents cant wait to be grand-parents but ive already decided that I CANT and will not ever give birth (deliver). I wish i was a man and had a lovely wife that was willing to give birth happily so i could have my own children.

I just feel a failure and weak.

- There's been quite a few problems in my life caused by tokophobia. I left the love of my life over it because he wanted kids and there was no way I could ever do it. I have found childbirth absolutely repulsive my entire life. It really, really makes my skin crawl. I have had to pretend that I would be afraid I would abuse a child (I have a bit of a hot temper) just so I have an excuse not to have children. I can't tell you the number of times I left a good relationship because the guy wanted to have kids. The only reason I finally found a sorta-ok relationship is that I am now over 45 and he doesn't realize I could still get pregnant. He would want me to have a kid if he thought I could still do it. (I'm convinced I could still get pregnant, my fertility happens to be legendary, what a nasty trick of nature!) Tokophobia has created huge problems with my family, too. They were very irritated that I never had a child. I just can't do it. And the sad part is that I so wanted to have a baby. I didn't want to not have a baby. It was just the terror of pregnancy and childbirth, and no amount of counseling was going to change it. So now, I am too old, and when my mother dies I am going to be in this just-ok relationship or alone. Just a cousin in another state, no other relatives. It's a nasty phobia and it has shaped my life so very negatively.

- I am 27 and nearly 5 months pregnant. I only realised my tokophobia (or at least it only developed) after I found out I was pregnant with our planned baby. I had a placenta previa - a blocked cervix so the baby could only be delivered by c section. I was thrilled that I had been given a way out...as I am only really terrified of the birth not the pregnancy. It’s the thought of tearing that just makes me burst into tears ...

However placenta previa have a tendency to move and guess what!? Mine has...

so now I am being refused a c section and told to do it naturally and it is natural to be scared! SCARED! I am not scared! I am blood curdlingly terrified! I have been having a really happy pregnancy but now feel that if I have this baby naturally I will hate it. This news has now made me resent having this baby and I just can't get anyone to take me seriously...

even though the doctors have been playing games with me and building me up and now letting me down.

So I am extremely grateful to hear of others shared fears. My husband keeps saying well I will be with you...but that is no help. What the hell is he gonna do? And I am terrified of being ruined afterwards and sex being pointless and unenjoyable for both of us, but especially him. I am scared of all the aftermath too. The incontinence, possible permanent internal damage...! How can I be expected to go through that! And drugs are not the answer ...not to my real fears. Funnily if it was just the pain I would not care!It feels like I have been given so many months to live but have to face execution at the end. I know it sounds severe but a c section was like an open door at the end of all this and now the jail gates are shut.

- I can't believe how much better I feel to read that I am not alone. I am having a very difficult time facing the idea of childbirth...actually, pregnancy too. I am almost 33 years old and married to a wonderful man who wants children. When we married 2 years ago, I told him I also wanted children. And I do, I just don't want to give birth. I mentioned adoption and he won't even listen to me about it. He says he just can't get excited about adoptin. Here's my problem: I don't want a baby wriggling around inside me, I don't want to give birth and squeeze a human being out of my body *cringe*, and most of all, I don't want it trying to cling to my breast. I always thought of myself as a warm, loving and bubbly person. So why do I feel cold, like I'm Cruella DaVille or something? If I don't have a baby, it's just me, the hubby, a dog and no real family (no siblings, parents are deceased). That's no life either. So I guess I gotta pick my poison, huh?

- I don’t fear pregnancy much although I hope I don’t get morning sickness, hemorrhoids, droopy and flat boobs (I have small breasts) or varicose veins. I do totally understand the fear of tearing, of not looking or feeling the same sexually to myself or a partner, of incontinence. I was raised to think of my body as a sexual thing (tho not explicitly most of the time) so the idea of birth as a sexual event and babies attached to the actual breast seem gross, almost incestual. Even tho I know that biologically they have a dual purpose, I just seems wrong somehow. Maybe too much emphasis was placed on sexuality? I figure maybe I can navigate some of it by waterbirth. Keep the lights low and my partner can’t see the baby emerge. The buoyancy of the water is also supposed to help alleviate pressure and reduce the likelihood of tearing (I hope this helps those of you with that specific fear!) I find myself most confused by the simultaneous fear of birth, yet the curiosity to experience it. As for it being a miracle, the baby is great. I'd love empowerment, but I'm afraid all I'll get is an anxiety attack during labor from pain and fear of judgment for that pain or for making noise or whatever. In some ways, I think I'd rather labor alone than have a partner with me. I'm not sure I want him to see me so exposed, emotionally and physically. I heard of one woman who had her husband catch the baby and said how special it was to have *rough quote* "the baby was touched on the outside for the first time by the man who created it with love"-it sounds nice, but I can't for the life of me understand women who want their husbands to catch the baby. I don’t want him down there. They are fleeting and I know they are irrational, but I also sometimes hope for there to be a need for a c-section, even tho recovery is physically more difficult. I fear that I will have flashbacks or phantom labor pain, like soldiers do who lose limbs. I worry that I won't be able to look at the world the same way afterward or that my partner will no longer desire me or will love the baby more. I have seen women write that they love the kids more than their husbands. I understand loving them differently, but one more than the other is sick. Why did they get married, just to have babies? It makes me worry that I will resent my kids.

- Sometimes I think I am the only rational woman in the world - why wouldn't such a disgusting, terrifying, bloody, screaming process inspire fear and avoidance? I sweat and feel faint at the thought; I freak out even just trying to talk about it with my husband or therapist.Someone else already wrote: "being in tremendous pain for hours and hours and then feeling my vagina rip open. [I mean imagine horror movies when people are stabbed. I mean oh my goodness! It's like the same thing because its skin being torn apart in some way and it's no small paper cut] and then I have white coat syndrome but if I have a homebirth I can't have an epidural. Oh dear lord Jesus it scares me to death. and then like i don't want people touching and looking at my vagina, which is already ugly and will look even more ugly as a baby human being slowly pulls it apart. And labor seems so scary. Though I love children all the time, I hate children when this thought comes about. I feel like no one cares about me, the one who is pain , worry , and terrified. Everyone just thinks of this stupid baby that doesn't care anything about what’s going on because it doesn't know anything." This is EXACTLY how I feel. What are we going to do? I am so depressed at the thought of never being able to have children; but even more depressed and fearful of having to dread this for 9 months, then actually go through this, and then live with the memories of it. I feel as though i owe it to my husband to leave him so he can find someone willing to do this for him.

- I am too old to have a child now--over 45, and in perimenopause and single as well--but just yesterday my 80 year old mother threw a fit because I never managed to have a child and she now has no grandchildren. I have several friends with the same phobia--several had terminations rather than deal with childbirth. This is a massive problem that's been under the carpet for too long. We need to get back to the point where women have more options in childbirth, including general anesthesia and no memory of the birth experience.
A very wealthy friend of mine, who could afford in-home care for the child, arranged to have her baby that way, and she was thrilled with it. No memory of it at all. No labor, no nothing. Just woke up to excellent nursing care in the hospital, care for her and the baby at home, no breastfeeding, no shredded crotch, no lochia, nothing. Very peaceful, no dramatics, no crises, adequate pain meds for the recovery, no labor pain at all. If I could have had a birth like that--essentially not being conscious of it but still getting the baby as a result--I could have given my mother a grandchild and I wouldn't be completely alone when she dies. But no, childbirth is the only medical procedure (and it frequently deteriorates to that, no matter what the crunchies say) where you have to suffer endless torture that wouldn't even be legal at Guantanamo Bay, and be conscious of it to boot. I deserve better than that, and all women deserve better than that. We need more options and less sass from the natural childbirth crowd.

The last commentator sent me to this recently written article about tokophobia "Are you a tokophobic? The women who are terrified to give birth". A portion says:

“’I strongly feel that the only way I'd be able to do that, if at all, would be to have a Caesarean - which would be less gory because I could be sedated - and probably some therapy during pregnancy, because I find the thought of having my stomach cut open pretty horrifying.

‘The truth is that the very thought of having something almost alien-like growing inside me is disgusting.’

Of course, for most women, the anticipation of labour comes with a degree of anxiety. But as many as one in seven women are thought to suffer from tokophobia (a word which derives from the Greek ‘tokos’ meaning childbirth).

Dealing with the condition is often difficult because it remains one of society's taboo subjects.

Despite her desire to find a way to have children, Rachel has been labelled ‘cold-hearted’ and a ‘babyhater’ by some friends she has discussed her fears with.”

The article goes on to say how misunderstood tokophobes are, how natural birthing women can go to extremes in not accepting how horrified some women are at the seemingly typical experiences of pregnancy, labor and birth.

In reading the comments all these months and in writing this, my heart breaks for most of the women because they haven’t been able to resolve their dilemmas. I’ve wanted to wrap my arms around them to make it all better, but know I can’t… nothing I do or say will make it miraculously better. But, I think together, all of us might be able to do something. What can we do? What can we say? I hope you all will comment. I hope you will work hard not to say trite comments that say things like, “It’ll be fine. Just do it!” because you won’t be there with them as they work through 9 months of terror. I’m hoping that others will have insightful things to share that will be understanding and as accepting as possible given the really foreign topic we are discussing.

Let’s see what I would say if any of them were sitting with me as pre-conception counseling clients.

- I remember how terrified I was when I was pregnant the first time… even the second time! I felt faint thinking of what labor was going to feel like. I kept imagining this unbearable, other-worldly alien-being taking over my body and causing me such agony I would surely die from the pain. And I was a baby! I screamed for hours when I stepped on a dead bee once. My family laughed at me for years about that, reminding me, over and over, that I would never cut it as a natural birth candidate once I got pregnant. I remember crying for hours, worried about labor and birth. Even the second time, I remember being scared and, once labor kicked in, thinking, “this fucking sucks!” and asking for drugs even though I was having a home birth. I was told I could have drugs if I went to the hospital and I cried, begging someone to go buy some drugs somewhere, didn’t someone have an old joint in a coat or something? When it was made clear the choice was the hospital and drugs or home and no drugs, I chose to stay home and birth – and I made it… I walked through the pain and when it came to the third child, I wasn’t afraid AT ALL that time.

BUT, I will say, what I learned from it, especially as a midwife, is to share with women that labor isn’t some “other-worldly” experience. Well, until I’d done birth work for many, many years and heard women speak romantically about birth, I was able to tell women it wasn’t an other-worldly experience. What I mean by that is that there isn’t this imaginary line between “Normal You” and “Labor You.” Labor slips quietly like period cramps… like “Period Cramp You” isn’t unlike “Normal You”, it’s just Normal You with period cramps. And period cramps are a lot less regular than contractions! There is rarely any rhyme or reason to period cramping, whereas labor cramps/contractions are clockwork rhyming.

Let me try again.

Walking into the ocean. At first, when you go in, the water is nippy and you might think, “Eek!” but within a few moments, it’s okay and you can go further in. With each forward movement into the water, it seems like you can’t possibly go further because it is so cold, yet acclimation occurs and you are able to move forward further still. Contractions are funky, you get used to them, they get funky again, you get used to them again... like that.

You’re doing your thing and the tightenings that have been happening your entire mature woman-life (your uterus contracts every single day of your life – more so during menstruation, orgasm, pregnancy, birthing and postpartum), just get regular and because your uterus is so big with a naked human being inside it, you feel it more, but you are still you. You don’t transform into some weird freaky Be-ing. In fact, for most women, they are perfectly sane and able to carry on normal conversations inbetween contractions. It is only during the contraction that the woman needs to concentrate/focus/moan. I remember saying during my drug-begging labor, “I could do jumping jacks!” when I was inbetween contractions. It was like that the whole time for me.

Yes, some women get “birth high,” but I think women who “let go” and “get into” their labors get birth high. I have watched hundreds of women have babies and not all women get – or want to get – birth high. It isn’t that the woman has to keep control, either, because the woman herself isn’t “in control,” but her body is in control and labor is a lot of getting out of the body’s way to let it do its thing.

That’s one thing I really like to remind women, that labor isn’t something happening TO you… it is YOU happening. It is the most incredible display of what your power is capable of – all without anyone else’s manipulations, machinations, or medications.

None of this addresses the issues of what is being called Primary Tokophobia – fears that occur before any birth has even happened and include everything from feeling a baby inside the body, fears of tearing, cutting the vagina, defecation during second stage, incontinence, the uncertainty of the outcome for the body, the anticipation of milk in the breasts, hemorrhoids, fears of any body changes including stretch marks, sagging breasts, pannus, labial changes and anything else that has already crossed your mind because I am sure every one of us has thought of some of these at least mildly. The difference for tokophobic women is that the intensity of feeling is multiplied a hundred-fold.

Secondary Tokophobia comes for women who have had a traumatic birth experience already. Whether she’s had a birthrape experience, an experience where she tore extensively, perhaps she had a large episiotomy, an instrumental delivery, a long labor followed by an emergency cesarean, a birth that required reconstructive surgery postpartum, a fetal death… any number of factors can send women into a place where the fear of another pregnancy or birth is immobilizing and they would do anything to avoid it.

I know that, for me, I can understand Secondary Tokophobia (ST) more than Primary Tokophobia (PT). It seems like at least the women gave it a shot and they know what they are talking about, but who says women have to “give it a shot” at all to know what they are talking about? Don’t women hear enough stories?

One of the biggest concerns I have is that so many women with PT say they watched movies that caused their phobia. It makes me SO angry that their only experience was watching the shit movies that I know they had to have seen – because I saw them, too (later, during childbirth classes). Why couldn’t they have been shown beautiful homebirth movies? Would that have changed the outcome of their psyches? I can’t help but believe so. Of course, there is no going back now, but I can suggest we stop scaring the crap out of all the future PT’s by taking birth shows off tv! I think I would have been a PT if I’d have watched Maternity Ward!

So, now we have this army of women with PT and ST and they are asking for general anesthesia cesareans.

(Contrary to what the last commentator believes, even cesarean women have lochia, so cesarean birthing women don’t wake up from surgery and head back to the office as if nothing happened. They still bleed for 4-6 weeks, just like vaginal birthing women. They are in a great deal of pain, just in a different location than vaginal birthing women… and 90% of vaginal birthing women are out of vaginal pain within a couple of days whereas post-cesarean moms are still in a great deal of pain at 2 weeks postpartum. Post-cesarean moms have bellies that are bigger longer than vaginal birthing moms, though just by a couple weeks, usually. I only share this information because cesareans aren’t the cure-all to a birth-afraid woman.)

Do we say, “Sure!” to women who ask for cesareans under general anesthesia? If we/the doctor/anesthesiologist explains the amazing risks for the mother and baby when using general anesthesia and why it is so rarely used and the mom still wants it, do we (as a community) support her choice? Do we support obstetricians who offer general anesthesia to women who request it? Do we send women to the OBs we know who support women with PT/ST? Do they become as popular as the ones that support the homebirth midwives? Do we supply doulas to PT/ST women to help them choreograph their births so they feel the most comfortable and get the safest birth possible? I mean, those of us who work in birth shouldn't withhold our knowledge just because we might have a different opinion, right?

How does this sit with you birthing women? How does this sound to the women with tokophobia? Is this the solution? To “de-criminalize” medicated cesareans? Would the support from us “crunchies” (as the article called us) help? Or do you even care if you have support from anyone. Do the women with tokophobia want to get rid of it? Or just want the rest of us to accept it as if you were coming out as lesbian or red-headed or something else un-changeable.

Where do we all go from here?

References (7)

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Reader Comments (75)

Anonymous above,

you are very right. It's not only about the woman, but about her partner and her family too. My bf and I are only children and therefore both our family lines would end with us, if we didn't have our own children. I'm not against adoption, though, if we decide to have a bigger family. Still, we both feel responsibility to our ancestors to continue their family. In our case it's our common feeling, but I'm sure there are women that would prefer adoption, but their partner forces them to have biological children.

December 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous from overseas

Thanks! I completely agree that a child suffers if his or her mother is psychologically hurt. My mother's depression has hurt me quite a lot. The things she said to me, when her children were the only ones she had at the moment she needed to talk, when she was depressed and did not always realize how her judgment was skewed - it hurts, indeed. It took some years for me to see her situation for what it was. An unhappy home may affect someone for life, although not always ruining his or her life.

Even if a mother tries her best not to let it happen, I think that the damage to her own self (and that in some ways I have found worse, just in my own limited experience - when it affects how I think and feel, as opposed to pain that leaves me psychologically intact and myself) - this damage will eat into her life and hurt in some way her child or children. Not always irreparably, or to a severe extent, perhaps - a lot depends on circumstance - but the possibility exists.

Many medical authorities think that
it is important for the patient to have choice and be empowered. It is considered ethically necessary, and supported by some hard research, I think, since research has turned up inconsistency in judgment of doctors, etc. Sometimes there is no choice but to trust the doctor in medicine - the doctor may be the best informed individual on the spot - but doctors should not assume they are the arbiter of absolute truth and reason, and that the patient is silly.

As far as the phobia BEING the patient's reality - bravo! I have never heard it put so well. The separation between human lives and experience means that, people can be living in truly different worlds.

February 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSam

I just came across your site & the comments after reading an article on GMTVs site purely by chance as I was browsing around.

I was struck by the comments made by Helen Mirren as I myself had exactly the same experience. I remember being at high school but in one of the lower years (maybe about 13 years old). My class were in a biology lesson when they showed us a projected film of a woman having a baby. Suddenly, I felt all the strength go out of my whole body...I literally went 'floppy' with weakness. I felt nauseous, was hot & sweating. I had to lay my head on my arms on the desk. When my friend sat next to me asked if I was ok & she looked at my face, she said it had turned a yellow colour.

However, my fear, let me re-phrase that...my terror of childbirth went back to primary school which was before this experience in the biology lab. I remember a boy at primary school telling me that all women had to have babies. I was horrified aswell as terrified and yet at that point I had had no experiences (that I can recall) that could have affected me.

To this day (I am in my 40s now) I remain terrified, repulsed & sickened by anything to do with childbirth whatsoever. If anything comes on TV that may show childbirth I switch it off immediately.

Thankfully, I have never actually wanted children anyway so my Tokophobia is not a major issue. However, I have sometimes wondered if my lack of desire for children is because I don't want children full stop, or is it unconsciously due to the phobia...I'm not sure.

I'm afraid, though wiser & more mature in my 40s, I still cannot see anything beautiful in childbirth. For me, it is nothing less than repulsive & I have said in the past that I would rather die than go through childbirth. And if it is so natural, why is there so much pain & distress? I'm sure women don't do all that screaming just for no good reason. If it is so natural, why is the human body not made 'properly' for having babies. Seems very peculiar to me.

March 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I really need help. I am going to lose the love of my life if I don't have a child. I am 36 so there isn't much time left. It's worse now as I have developed agoraphobia. I need to read some positive stories of woman having a child despite tokophobia.
One thing with agoraphobia is I face fears everyday. Surely some woman have faced tokophobia.
Where are the stories? I need hope!

April 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I don't know where the stories are, either. I think, by and large, women who have tokophobia just don't have kids. That's what it seems like anyway.

Anyone know tokophobes who have gone on to birth? (Although a couple of women spoke about it here in the comments.)

April 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

There's an article on the internet about a woman in England who overcame tokophobia and managed to have a child. I will email NGM and let her know my email address and give her permission to give it to you if you visit the site again. Meanwhile, I will try to find the link for you. For the most part, as much as I can tell based on the research I am doing for someone, NGM is correct. Most of these women either don't have children or they have abortions, sometimes in secret. But there is a woman in England who did it. Let me see if I can find the link.

April 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I have read both threads about this subject with interest. I am pregnant with my second child and was terrified of childbirth prior to the birth of my first child. Following her, frankly, horrific birth, I would class myself as tokophobic now and am suffering deep anxiety about childbirth this time around, despite the fact that I adore my daughter and cannot wait to meet my new baby.
I have discussed this with the midwives I've seen but I do not feel my fears are taken seriously. The usual response is 'every birth is different', and I do appreciate this, but the emphasis seems to be on no intervention / pain relief and I WANT pain relief! My daughter's birth involved episiotomy, ventouse (which failed), forceps and too many stitches to count. Add into the equation a consultant who shouted at me (I shudder at the memory of her, it still angers me) and it was all negative - I felt toally out of control. It did not help that I got no feedback afterwards, which would have been good.
The one thing that may have helped me - to get to my point - is if the medixal people at the time could have taken some time after the birth to talk to me and explain why what had happened did. In my mind I am about to go through a replica experience and no-one seems to care.
Incidentally I am in the UK (I think you are in then US?!) and what was mentioned in a previous post is correct - elective caesareans are a no-no unless you are rich and famous! They are totally against this. Seemingly they do not need consent for slicing your vagina through to your rectum either - at least mine was never sought (sprry to be graphic).
I am left, again,feeling out of control and scared and so far have received no re-asurance that my care will be better this time around.
Sorry for the long post!

May 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

If you are in the UK, google Christina or Kristina Hofberg. She is the recognized authority on tokophobia and she should be an excellent resource for you. Also, there is a birth trauma group in the UK which I think I read is at the forefront of support for tokophobia. Again, that could be a good resource and I think they are available via freefone. Just a thought.

May 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I am currently 32.5 weeks pregnant with my 1st (only probably). I didn't even realize tokophobia was a real thing until a few weeks ago when I recognized in myself a deep and unreasonable fear of the labor and delivery process. I am 27 yrs old and did not even consider wanting a baby much less having one till I was about 25. When I discovered I was pregnant last december I was terrified and excited; I really thought I would naturally "get over" my fears as the pregnancy progressed. -I didn't. I ended up getting my prenatal care through a midwife to avoid pelvic/internal exams (I have avoided all sucessfully thus far). -I was even planning a birth center birth untill I had one too many negative experiences with the midwives office. (they were disorganized, always late, rushed my appointments and tried to spring on me that two students would be attending whether I liked it or not pretty much). I then began to panic thinking about all the unknowns: will baby be late, too big, not progressing, need vaccuum or forcepts; how many people will be looking at/touching me and for how long, will I labor for 20 hrs only to be rushed to surgery then? -Not to mention I was sexually traumatized as a child. . . -after a few days it finally dawned on me that a cesarean might be the way for a person like me to go. I am now trying to get approval for one so I can schedual (I have a minor medical reason that might slide me under the rug). I WILL find a way to get my c-section! It just makes me so sad that I get bashed for this over and over by women saying things like "you have no business being pregnant if your arn't willing to undergo vaginal birth when possible". -I want to scream at them: "Well adult men have no business touching a 7year old and giving her issues for life!" -it is so horrible the way women like myself are treated in this situation; since I cannot expect every attendent that comes on shift during the many hours of vaginal birth to hear my story and show compassion I would much rather have major abdominal surgery than risk medical rape (or birth rape as some refer to it). I don't think I am less deserving of motherhood than anyone else just because I have this fear and am choosing to deal with it in this fashion; I am just greatful to have the option. Still it would be great if people were a little more openminded about this subject. -Yes I know getting the cesarean won't take away the issues I obviously still have but what it does do is leave me healthy enough mentally to work through them in my own time and perhaps someday the opportunity to be less fearfull of childbirth should I choose to do it again. thanx.

June 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

-Just an update since I was the last person to post: I saw a new Dr. today at a popular facility in Seattle and was told my elective c-section would be no problem and that my insurance will likley cover it with no problem. I couldn't be happier! -It was so nice to be treated as a woman making a choice rather than chastised due to someone elses personal agenda:)

June 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous


NgM asked for posts about tokophobes overcoming their fears. Well I'll happily share my thoughts for what they are worth.

I'm what I'm now learning to call a primary tokophobe. Just like Helen Mirram I saw one of those hideous videos at school. Interestingly my middle sister did as well but my older sister didn't. Guess which two of us are tokophobes....

I signed up to the it's barbaric, parastic, hideous, brutal, degrading etc. The crapping, pain, ripping, incontinence, why would anyone want to do that? Would my husband ever want to have sex ever again if he witness that? Would I? Would I ever recover, what if my vagina never gets back into shape?

What about the fear of an abnormal child - how would it cope, how does a family cope with that?

What if I just couldn't do it?

No amount of telling myself it was all perfectly natural made me feel any better.

I've heard the horror stories - Why do women tell them to one another or repeat them? It really isn't helpful.

I'm married, and whilst all of the above still holds true I have wanted to have a family. Just one that arrives with the stork with none of the mess/crap/ripping/parasite living in side you bit. I'd managed to put off talking about it with my husband - we were financially not able, I wanted to reach a certain point in my career first, we needed to get the flat sorted out etc.

Then the unthinkable happened - my husband was diagnosed with cancer. The BIG ‘C’ word that scares you more than anything. The fear of loosing him was far worse that anything else. It was testicular cancer which I NOW know is almost completely treatable, but the chemo can leave the man infertile. It turns out we were lucky, he didn't need chemo and in a fit of "thank god for that!" we decided to go for it before I had a chance to think "oh, wait, hang on a minute". We both then thought that perhaps we ought to wait a bit. But what do you know - you can get pregnant on the first attempt. Again, I suppose with couples out there trying for years, we were lucky.

After the first trimester of feeling so sick I couldn't even worry about the birth I'm now there. Terrified. The midwife helpfully told me about pain relief, but the only thing I'm slightly less scared of is having an epidural and ending up paralysed. Yes, yes, I know it is very unlikely. Irrational fear can't be reasoned with easily.

With the cancer - it was better once we found out more about it. The trouble is that I can't read, watch or even look at any pictures of childbirth without ending up in tears and wanting to throw up.

So I'm now in the position of trying to do something positive to help myself come to terms with this as from what I can tell, those with horror stories were those who were dreading it. If you don't relax, you will rip it seems. Fear works against you during labour – as it prevent certain birthing muscles from relaxing – I learnt that last weekend.

Step 1 - Realise you have to get help, you can't do it by yourself
Step 2 - enrol in hypno-birthing class fast, it's all a bit "American" for a reserved Brit like me (sorry I'm an American-ophile having travelled, worked and studied in the US, I promise). However it is helping - slightly.
Step 3 - talk about it with husband/partner/someone you trust (it normally ends with me in tears, but I'm lucky he's very supportive)
Step 4 - Positive affirmations (even more American). The theory is that the brain can't work out what is real and what isn't, so if you keep telling it something eventually it believes it. So I am "looking forward to a happy and relaxed birth and it will be a wonderful experience" - still don't believe it but hope I soon will.
Step 5 - Practice hypno-birthing relaxation techniques
Step 6 - Avoid emotionally charged words when talking about it. Try opening (dilating) or surges (contractions) - its hypno-birthing speak
Step 7 - Pregnant yoga. I have to de-stress and learn to relax
Step 8 - Avoid people who want to tell you about there horror stories
Step 9 - Try and remain positive.
Step 10 - Try therapy if all else fails

I'm only at 15 weeks, still end up in tears and feel ill when I talk about it but I don't want to have my stomach cut open or have an epidural. I'm certainly not ruling out other medical interventions.

My heart nearly broke reading about failed relationships and regrets about children and it being too late. A 40 year old friend has just given birth to a healthy baby boy. You have to get help before it is too late.

I'll let you know how I get on.

NgM - feel free to edit if this is too long.

June 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I continue to be touched by the comments even when I don't always respond. There is no reason to edit any of them... I want women to say what they feel.

I wish I could just wave a wand and make all the fears disappear and no amount of my saying, "You CAN do it" will help; I know that.

I can't imagine how hard it must be in your lives when birth happens around you every day. The stories, the discussion of the baby moving inside someone you work with, the begging for a grandchild... it must be so painful.

I still am at a loss for what to encourage except for therapy with a SKILLED provider. I don't even know if that is the right advice, though.

As difficult as it is to admit, I do believe that if tokophobes want a cesarean, it is probably in their best interest to do so - WITH the understanding that it comes with its own risks, postpartum body issues and hormonal fluctuations - the same as a vaginal birth.

Keep writing, ladies (and gents)... I am listening.

June 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I was a primary tokophobe, and can really relate to all of the comments here about the very real fears tokophobes have about pregnancy and birth. However, I have now got a 2 year old daughter, and hope that my story might be of some comfort to others. I spent my 20s and half of my 30s determined not to have children and told myself and everyone else that it was a lifestyle choice. But when I met my husband I started to wonder if I really did want a baby after all. I found that even entertaining the idea made me feel physically sick and could induce panic attacks. I had suffered and successfully overcome anxiety disorder and panic attacks in my early 20s, and the last thing I wanted was to revert to feeling like that for the duration of a pregnancy, and for who knows how long afterwards.

But the desire to have a baby of my own was strong enough that I decided to explore my options and got some professional help. I discussed my concerns about my phobia with my GP and he recommended some counselling. In the end I started seeing a counsellor with a background in midwifery, who helped me a lot.

The help was on several fronts:

1) exploring some of the reasons for my phobia, and coming to terms with the negative messages I had received from my own mother about motherhood in general. Also discussing my medical background and fears around vaginal trauma.

2) providing support and acceptance (which I didnt have from my own mother) about my fears,

3) teaching me methods to help overcome the panic reaction, and calming my anxiety

4) helping me explore my options for the birth, and helping me to develop a strategy for approaching the medical profession assertively to ensure I would have the outcome I wanted (ie C-Section)

I finally went to see an obstetrician who I already knew from having some gynae procedures previously and asked if he would support a C-Section birth for me. I saw him privately for the consultation, knowing that he also delivers babies on the NHS at my local hospital. He agreed that there are certain circumstances where a C-Section can be agreed upfront and was re-assuring to me that he or one of his colleagues would be able to do this for me. I had previously had some vaginal surgery, and this made me additionally concerned about tearing and discomfort, so this is what I focussed on a lot during the consultation. However I did also point out that I was very afraid of a vaginal delivery - to the extent that I wouldnt consider pregnancy without assurances that I could have a C-Section.

It wasnt until that point that I started to believe I might actually be prepared to go through with a pregnancy - I had to have the whole thing planned out (getting some sense of control back into the process for me).

I did get pregnant, and continued to see the counsellor throughout my pregnancy. Her support, and that of my husband, was invaluable in helping me through the pregnancy. I experienced low level anxiety through most of the first trimester, and very early in the pregnancy did think "oh god, what have I done, can I go through with it? etc".

At 22 weeks I had a private 4D scan (which is where you can see the baby inside you moving in real time in quite a lot of detail). I was able to see my baby's face and tiny hands and feet, and find out that I was expecting a girl. This gave me the strength to get through the rest of the pregancy because I felt more of a connection with this real person inside me ( a positive set of thoughts and feelings rather than a set of fears about pain and loss of control).

I ended up with some back and pelvic instability during my pregnancy which made it quite painful to get around in the later stages of pregnancy. This became another focus of mine when making it clear to midwives and doctors that I was expecting to have a C-Section. In the end, the obstetrician I had seen pre-pregnancy was not going to be available to do my C-Section so I had to convince 2 other doctors, at around 35 weeks, that I would be having a C-Section. My experience and that of another friend of mine, was that in the face of an emotional, terrified, but very insistent heavily pregnant woman, doctors were prepared to agree to the delivery I wanted.

I delivered my daughter at 38 weeks by planned c-section (even though the doctors were not agreed that there was a bona fide physical medical reason for doing so).

I was very anxious about being awake for the C-Section, but again, strategies for dealing with my fears were devised pre-op with my counsellor, midwife and husband (who held my hand through the whole thing), and this meant the procedure passed without incident, surprisingly quickly, and then I was holding my new daughter in my arms within minutes of being wheeled into theatre.

I do not feel any less of a woman for having given birth this way, in fact I feel very proud of the fact that I have overcome such a massive fear in order to become a mother at all.

Some might say that as it wasnt a vaginal birth then I havent really overcome the phobia, but I think thats pretty irrelant. What matters is that I now have the child that I never thought I would be able to have, and mine and my husbands lives have been changed for ever in such an amazing way because of it.

So I guess my point is that Tokophobes can have children - I am living proof of that - and the key thing is to be clear about the extent of your phobia and be assertive about getting the kind of care and support that you need, whether that is from family/ partner/ friends or the medical profession. (I am in the UK by the way).

I have recently become very interested in hypnosis and hypnotherapy, and am starting to believe that if I were to have another baby, this might be possible vaginally with the help of some powerful hypnosis both during pregnancy and the birth itself, but dont know enough about it yet to be sure.

I hope my story might give some hope to other primary tokphobes who really want to have a baby. One of the things I told myself before and during my pregnancy is that things worth having in life are often hard fought for. That thought gave me the strength to explore the possibilities for having a baby even given my extreme fears......

June 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I'm a primary tocophobe. Lucky for me, I've never wanted kids (didn't want them when *I* was a kid, a decade before tocophobia really hit me).

I wish I knew why I'm tocophobic, though. My trigger was "Our Bodies, Ourselves" (somehow I missed the birth videos in sex ed--we got videos on anorexia nervosa with a girl ripping tubes out of her chest, instead. Not a vast improvement, but I digress.)

Overnight I went from, "Childbirth, meh, not gonna do it, no big deal," to "God in heaven, NO! How barbaric!" And "Our Bodies, Ourselves" is pretty crunchy, so it's not as if the authors were presenting pregnancy and birth as equivalent to battle or something. The whole idea of having a something growing inside my body, getting larger and larger until it has to come out *somehow* makes me shudder. Nine months of that and I'd be a basket-case.

There was no "lead up" to my reaction. I wasn't present at any of the births of my nephews and neices. No movies. No scary birth stories unless you count Mom's "smart-ass doctor wouldn't listen, gave birth in the elevator, cord wrapped around your brother's neck". (He's a lefty, btw--one more for anecdata.) I've experienced no sexual abuse that I can remember. But the only way I could endure a pregnancy would be if I was put in a medical coma from the time the stick changes color until at least a day or two after birth. (Like I said, good thing I don't want kids. ;-p)

I do have other phobias, so maybe my tocophobia grew out of those (which generally have to do with parasites--wood ticks still make me cringe--and exposure/control (public speaking, etc.)). Maybe addressing anxiety issues before trying to get pregnant would help tocophobes who want kids?

Most of the tocophobes I've found identify as childfree--I didn't realize there were so many tocophobic women who still want kids despite their horror of pregnancy and/or labor. They are willing to walk through their own private hells--they should have access to every comfort the modern world can provide, even if it's ga c-sections.

June 24, 2008 | Unregistered Commentergraylor

I have mild tokophobia (if mild is 10 years of marriage, too terrified of pregnancy/childbirth to have kids). I'm 33 and still have time to take the plunge on the adventure of parenthood. My husband and I have been doing diligent research and soul-searching on our parenthood decision. I'd really like to make my part of our decision based on what I want to do with my life, not on fear.

In the past I have coped very well with mild OCD (stupid things, like being unable to start the dishwasher because I'm sure my cat is in there). I improved by buying some books on Amazon, doing the reading/learning about OCD, accepting that I had it, and then doing the "thinking" exercises to learn to reason through my problems and doing the "behavior" exercises (like training myself not to check the door lock four times so I could go on my way). I also started and maintain a yoga/meditation practice. I'm not "cured" but I can turn on the dishwasher and get out the door now!! So I'm wondering what similar things I can try to work with tokophobia. To begin with I've learned that it exists, read what (little) I can find about it. I've read the entire "what to expect when you're expecting." I've researched birthing alternatives, and tentatively tried watching some gentle birthing videos on YouTube.

Any suggestions for how to adjust my thinking on this (ie. if you have looked inside the dishwasher and the cat is not in the dishwasher, then the cat is not inside the dishwasher and you can turn it on- now how do I think this way about birth?). Or how to work on behavior training (is getting into more and more graphic videos a good idea or a bad idea)?

One other thing- I have a huge anger trigger to (especially my hubby) saying "millions of women get pregnant and give birth, it's no big deal, you'd be fine." I know he's trying to help me think about it in a different, helpful way, but it makes me feel bad. I understand this is just my own fear snapping out, but it is a big button for me. So I'd really like an alternative way to start working with my thinking and mindset on this experience.

July 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterH

H: I wish there was a simple answer. Your having OCD is certainly a possible key to the tokophobia (I believe it is, but am not sure there is any psychological proof), but know that phobias in general are often treated with OCD (and treating OCD often helps alleviate phobias). If only we knew the psychological profile of all the women who have written here... but we don't. But you know YOU and you can use the information you have about yourself to help treat yourself. Especially if you want to overcome the phobia.

The comment that women all over the world and in our history as humans have babies so so can you isn't terribly helpful even for women without tokophobia. It reassures some, but most have some anxiety about their upcoming birth (especially with the first baby). Know that you aren't alone in your irritation.

If you choose to actively attack the tokophobia, I hope you will let us know how you do. Much good luck.

July 27, 2009 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

After years questioning myself about why I was so different than other women respecting having a baby, this article and many other articles published in the internet helped me find the response. I am tokophobic!

I was raised in a family with strong moral who seemed the fact of a woman having a baby out of marriage as something bad. I remembered clearly the comments of my mom, grandma and aunts about people "screwing it up" for being pregnant before getting married.
I also remember that since I was a little girls, I never showed up too much interest in playing with dolls. For me that was the most stupid toy in the world and felt rejected by my friends because I did not want to join them on "mommy" games.

As an teenager, my parents reinforced on me the idea of becoming a successfull professional, and the importance of studying before getting married "so you could have security in the case something goes wrong", so I guess all these little details grew on my psyche an idea of being pregnant and being a mom is not important or non desirable. Being pregnant for me was equal to shame, to be weak and impotent. I felt kind of sorry for the girls that went to high school with me because they will stay at the town, not going to study, married and have children. Due to all the messages on my childhood and adolescence, I felt like there was something else than being a home mom!

I also need to mention that I was always a little book worm and maybe too ahead on time I looked for information on encyclopedias and books about childbirth. I will search in my mother's books for graphics descriptions and pictures of all that was interesting to me. I remember a specific book that described the childbirth process and when I discovered that babies came out through your vagina. My first tought was "my mom must have had so much pain, babies are big for such a small space to be born". And since that moment i have been scared of suffering the pain of a childbirth naturally.

But it wasn't until I was married when the tokophobic syndrome made struggles on me. Unexplicably for me, I have always tought on myself as having a family. Not sure when or how, but since I was on my 27 years and finished my Masters, I was sure in a time ahead it will be a reality. After eight months of married I was using several natural contraception methods at the same time: rythm, condoms, withdrawal, spermicides, vaginal douches after sex and even abstinence while my charts showed danger of pregnancy. I was unable to use hormones due to medical complications, so that made my anxiety worst.

Long story short, I got pregnant! Horrible! I felt like loosing my reason, panic attacks, crying sessions of several hours, hitting my belly and drinking natural remedies to induce miscarriage, my heartbeat accelerated all the time, unable to eat or sleep.... even toughts and attemps to suicide. I wanted an abortion but my husband didn't. It made the whole situation worst. When he asked me why I did not want the baby, I told him I was terrified, but he did not believe me. He tought I was rejecting him. I did not feel any emotional bonds with the embryo, much worse, I felt hate. My emotional state became so bad that he had to look for some help for me and finally I had an abortion. It was the beginning of the end for us as a couple, but i wasn't able at that time to explain what was going on with me. After the tragic event we decided we will have no children and our sexual life became nule. Five years later when he started to push for a child, i denied totally to have a baby, using contraception without his knowledge and avoiding sex.
Just the idea of getting pregnant, the idea of my body changing and loosing my shape and the pain of a childbirth was horrifying to me. Besides the toughts of loosing your independence and the complications with your work when you have a child made me scare.
We finally divorced.

I can tell that I had another sexual partner before my actual husband, and while I was with him, even taking contraception precautions, I was not able to enjoy sex to plenitude because of my fear to get pregnat.

I am 38 now, and I have found the most wonderful man in the world. He is a 40 years old professional man very dedicated to his work. He is not against having a child, but will like to keep his life with the less interruptions possible. I am near my menopause now (comes early in my family). Few months ago I was feeling sorry that I will loose my opportunity to have a child. Then suddenly, positive pregnancy.....
I tought I was over my fears and that I could have worked it out... not!
Same story as above! I just wasn't able to handle the panic, the feelings of shame for being pregnant, the stress of my body to change and the fear to loose my independence.

So, for those who believe this is not real, it is! And I am glad to found out this is a common problem between many other women. I am not sure if I would be able to overcome it in such a short window of time before I am not physically able to give birth, but I am relieved to know that I have an explanation to it and that I can look for help before my second marriage could be affected.

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

I know this topic is old, but I just found this blog a few weeks ago and have been going through the archives.

As another commenter noted, I find it sad that so many women cite cosmetic reasons for their fear of childbirth. There were so many comments about how their bodies would look, not being able to enjoy sex, fearing that their husbands would no longer find them attractive, etc. Why do we feel this way? Why do women feel that possessing anything other than society's standard of beauty makes life unbearable? And I am not saying these things as a thin, gorgeous woman. I am 60 pounds overweight, and not what society would call beautiful. I just wish we (I) could love our bodies for what they are, at every stage of life.

August 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Y.

Sarah Y: If you scan through the comments, you will see woman after woman speaking about their experiences at random times throughout the post's history. I am never surprised when I see a comment from this post.

And yes, wouldn't it be wonderful to have no body issues? It's something I've worked on for almost 50 years now. Well, maybe 45; I was a skinny minnie until my tonsils were removed.

If there were a magic wand to wave over all America that would help women feel wonderful about themselves, not just in the body, imagine the POWER we would have... lots left over after our own life's work to heal the world!

Now, I am not rabid about the issue at all... enjoy women's bodies as much as the next person (er, maybe different, but similar), but I *really* think much of our self-loathing is from men (who influence women greatly... medically, socially, etc.) who read/view pornography. Porn is what's driven (imo) the Brazilian Wax standard, what breasts "are supposed" to look like, that pouty, bee-stung lips are sexy and that skin should never ever, under ANY circumstances, be wrinkly or, god forbid, saggy.

I love in the movie "The Women" when Annette Bening is talking to the little, very thin girl who says she wants to look like the models in Bening's fashion magazine. She quips, "Not even *they* look like they do in the magazine! They're airbrushed until they don't look like themselves anymore."

I'd love love love to see an unairbrushed issue of Vogue.

August 25, 2010 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I've had tokophobia for years. But i stumbled upon this article just days ago. I'm 24 now. I've always kept it to myself, cause in my society if people knew, i would be shunned. The idea here is...as a woman, God intended chilbirth to be very very excrutiatingly painful as a punishment, and it is something we have to endure...if we dont, we are less of a woman.

I've had horrid nightmares, some where i have been in labour, screaming in agony, tearing, bleeding, defecating, my vagina being ripped to pieces.. and so on. And some where i could see or hear screams of other women giving birth.
I cant even bear being around pregnant women, it sickens me to death.. If people talk about anything to do with the whole birthing experience , i have to walk out, or i would throw up.
I cry every night because of my fears. And i cry myself to sleep. Even though i myself am not going through it yet, i feel such enormous pity for millions of women who have to. And thinking about how cruel nature is makes me want to commit suicide. I have contemplated it many times already.

I realised something was really wrong a few years into my phobia, and confided in a very close friend of mine. But she just dismissed my fears, saying i have to bucker up and be a woman, endure what has to be endured, as nature intended.
Dont know why many people are sympathetic of other phobias, when something so dreadful is just not accepted.
I wish everyday i was a man, they have to go through not an ounce of pain, just pleasure to have a baby. U ask any man and he will tell u that one of the main reasons he is proud to be male is this.
I fell and continue to fall deeper and deeper into depression.

And also let me say, what is the point of a mother going through such terror, when a child ultimately loves u for how u treat them as kids, teenagers, and adults.

I've started falling really ill because of my mental trauma. I have a very high fever as i write this.
But i finally feel like there are others out there. Its some sort of comfort. And i THANKYOU, the author and all you readers for your comments.

People talk about curing this phobia. And yes initially even i hoped and prayed i would get cured. It just got worse.
But the truth is Most people dont want to accept it.. The say... just face your fear and go through with it. Its like they Want u to suffer... as women should. Rather than easing the pain.

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterM

Forgot to send last part of my post:
We are such a tehnologically advanced species. And yet (as someone said earlier) childbirth is so primitive, disgusting and unevolved. If it were any other disease ,a wound or ailment, painkillers are given, and the patient's needs are of high importance. And yet when it comes to childbirth, people feel it has to be as painful as possible... and no one cares about the mother who's going through, what i can describe as worse than burning in hell... everyone just cares about the stupid baby, who doesnt even have the slightest idea of what is going on. (again as someone mentioned in a comment). It is very misogynistic and makes absolutely no sense to me.

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterM

I am 20 years old, nowhere near the age that I would consider having children, and so scared to death by the idea of a painful childbirth that I am afraid to have children at all in the future. I have had this fear for as long as I can remember. I have always been both fascinated and terrified of childbirth. The idea of enduring hours of pain makes me want to cry.

I am afraid of how this will affect my current/future relationships with men, most of whom really want biological children. The sad thing is, I might want children of my own some day too, but I don't think I will ever get over this intense fear.

I am so glad I came across this blog post. I was afraid that I was the only one who felt this way, and I sorta felt like a freak for being too weak to face childbirth. My girlfriends tell me how they think childbirth is "beautiful" and how they can't wait to have their own kids. But one look at the mother's face during labor is enough to send me into tears. I can't understand how most women are so happy to go through such torture, and I have such respect for them. I wish that I was stronger, and had some way to deal with this.

I REALLY hope that there is some hope out there for me. That I can learn about all my options, and find the most suitable course that would fit my needs. Several commenters have said that they tried, but were not able to attain all the options that they wanted. I am deeply sad for these women, and also scared that the same might happen to me.
(Just a note, the idea of a C/S freaks me out just as much as vaginal delivery)

I do know that if I ever do decide to have kids, I would make sure that my body is in the best shape it can be to prevent complications. Also, pain meds.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpat

I've struggled with tokophobia ever since I can remember. ! I'm never going to have a kid in the so-called natural way, I'd rather die.
I think someone addressed this earlier, and I'd like to agree... I think people who deny pain relief and Csections for no major health reason to women who Want it , are very sexist.
I think childbirth is one of the main reasons men feel superior to women.
All men will agree. And a few men have even said it to me.
Cause nature seems to have cursed women to endure pain like no other , and have their privates practically stabbed, stretched, have them bleeding, tearing, etc etc and have them screaming in agony.

And the men go scott free, just have an orgasm to have a child of their own.
Omg! How sexist is that?!?

Only reason men r sexist is because nature started it!!
I have always been a feminist. But I don't know anymore. And I've realised that nature is a chauvinist pig aimed at making women suffer. (Even periods for another example)
And if technology can prevent women from going through natural birth, why not? ..esp those women who want it that way.
Why do women have to be reproducing machines?! A woman is not only a physical person, but a mental, spiritual one too.

I've met many men, (women too) and religious fanatics who ridicule the idea of a painless childbirth, for the mere fact that a woman *should* and *must* go through that kind of torture, or she is unworthy. Because we r lesser human beings than men and hence *punished* by nature (or God, whichever u may).
I know no one here is really religious, neither am I. Just mentioning the kind of people I have come across.
I have even met a man who praised his wife for having a VB, and said women r too pampered these days, and so intolerant of pain.(Like as if to say, men are) Women should go through pain, its as nature wants it!

So my point being, yes , all these people are sexist.

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteranon

been skimming through comments.. all this is very enlightening.
I've never thought of things so negatively as the previous poster.
I've always thought that women were blessed with the ability to bear children. Obviously not so for women with tocophobia.

But i also think we need to get this negativity related to birth out of our minds. From what i imagine, most of these people are fed with the idea that birth is going to be horrifying and traumatic, i think we need to instill positive ideas about it instead.
That said i know that some women do have horrific births.
I do believe doctors should give patients a choice to choose the type of birth they want, explaining all the pros and cons of both.

hugs to all the women battling this problem. It can be very damaging to your lives.. and mental health. I hope we as a society can rise up and find a way through this problem.

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

Reading this article and many of the comments puts me in a bit of an awkward spot. I am eighteen, and have been terrified of birth and pregnancy for as long as I could remember. I frequently fantasize about being sterile or so infertile that having my own babies is impossible so that I have an excuse to adopt. My boyfriend of several years doesn't even like talking about adoption and is constantly telling me that I would be an excellent mom and how beautiful our babies would be, whereas with adoption, he feels he could not love our kids. I suppose in this way, I have primary tokophobia, and I continue to have anxiety attacks just thinking of the topic of childbirth. I frequently have dreams about dying in labor, and I have heard so many horror stories about the whole process, especially from my family. I have so much love for kids, I have 3 siblings, one is 2, I babysit whenever I can and I work at a summer day camp. My boyfriend and I have always loved kids and I know we would make amazing parents, but I just have nightmares that I won't be able to love this alien like object that uses my body. I am scared of the effects that pregnancy has on every woman's hormones, and I am plain terrified of the whole thing. To make matters worse, I recently had to quit hormonal birth control because it was giving me intense symptoms. I am paranoid about becoming pregnant and it has gotten so bad at times I have literally looked for ways to make myself sterile in secret so that I never have to encounter pregnancy and birth. I want so desperately to have many kids, and a family someday, and from a young age I knew I wanted a family, but I just can't even stand it thinking about having my 'own.' I am panicked just thinking about it, I get nauseous and I have phantom pains and I just can't deal with it without my heart skipping beats. I know that my boyfriend is the one and we are very committed, with plans of marriage after college, and he is my everything, but I worry so much that this is what will drive us apart. He just doesn't seem to understand the absolute terror of the whole thing for me, how I just can't imagine it. Often he has been hurt by my comments that I'd rather adopt, even telling me that maybe I shouldn't have kids at all, even though we both want them. I am so terrified that I will have to live like this forever and miss out on motherhood because he doesn't want to adopt. I feel like I am drowning in this and have thoughts almost daily about making myself sterile so that my body has made it's own decision already. Has anyone else ever felt this way or fantasized about infertility so that they could avoid being pregnant/in labor besides me?
Help. I feel so alone.

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikaela

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