I sat in my car and cried my eyes out whilst Natalia Imbruglias ‘Torn’ played on the radio.
Pregnancy is meant to be a happy time but what happens when it’s not? What happens when you get diagnosed with a phobia of pregnancy and/or Labour?
Tokophobia is not something that’s well known. Even those who are diagnosed often haven’t heard of it previously. I was fortunate enough to have a consultant when I was admitted to hospital with hyperemesis who knew of it and diagnosed me. That meant I could get the help I so desperately needed. Tokophobia is a real, even potentially serious issue. Women have aborted babies not because they don’t want the child but because they are so terrified and I understand this. Anything baby related makes my head spiral into dark places, places where I feel alone and terrified.
I know very few women who did or do enjoy being pregnant. Even if they had a smooth pregnancy a lot of ladies I know just didn’t like it. For all kinds of reasons. Your body doesn’t feel like your own anymore, you’re a slave to wierd cravings or your bladder. A lot of women struggle with body issues and the changes that pregnancy causes but Tokophobia is way more than that. It’s an actual phobia.
It’s a strange feeling as it is your body being home to someone else. You know you’re supposed to feel grateful. You know that. After experiencing loss especially, you know you should feel grateful. Pregnancy and labour are supposed to be something we women can naturally do. Something our bodies are designed for.
But it is not always that way. My first pregnancy was tough, really tough and the labour even worse but the thing that I tried hard not to admit to myself was that I hated being pregnant. I didn’t enjoy it. Then I’d hear from other mums how it was a wonderful experience for them, their labour was beautiful and inside I felt ashamed.
It wasn’t just that I was plagued with problems throughout, I did suffer with painful SPD, I needed crutches for the bad days, horrendous morning sickness which made my weight plummet then Braxton Hicks from 20 weeks but it wasn’t even any of that. It was the feeling that my body didn’t feel like my own. I didn’t like the sensation of not being alone. It weirded me out when the baby kicked (as joyful as that also was also.)
Even now writing this I feel embarrassed to admit it, nervous, waiting for the army of mums to jump on me because I felt this way but I did and I do. Then when I talked to my friend, I discovered that she also didn’t like pregnant. Then another and I realised how normal it is but again, less spoken about.
I tried to make myself feel better, reminding myself what a blessing this baby was and how lucky I was that I can carry. Some ladies never get this far. I know that but I also don’t think it’s healthy to ignore how you feel just because you think how you feel is wrong and not what society expects of you.
It took me a long time to even consider having another baby. I thought I would be anxious but I wasn’t expecting this. When the test said positive instead of feeling the happiness that I experienced the first time around I felt dread and anxiety. It came from nowhere and I felt panic. A loss of control. I felt like I couldn’t go through it all again.
Terror overtook me. Even now 6 months on terror overtakes me. I cannot control it. I have to do anything to distract myself. Even pretend at times that it’s not happening. Fear claws at my mind and I have to do anything to take it away. In the beginning I struggled to allow my husband to touch my stomach or talk about the baby. It was hard for him too as he felt like he couldn’t enjoy it. The further on I get I still struggle.
Every scan we attend doesn’t leave me feeling happy, it leaves me feeling sick and terrified. The sight of my bump growing doesn’t make me bring me joy, instead I feel a pure terror that the bigger I get the closer labour is. I have never known fear like this. It’s totally irrational. I know that. Somewhere.
Some days when I think about labour getting closer, I spiral into very dark places. I know that it’s the phobia but it doesn’t help. On the REALLY bad days, panic overtakes me and I have very real thoughts that I can’t keep this baby because I am not strong enough to go through with this. Despite the fact that I really want my baby. The thought of labour, brings on panic attacks and fear that I have never known. It leaves me crippled with terror and feeling very alone because hardly anyone understands. No one understands how so very afraid I am. With my bump growing bigger it triggers terrifying feelings of panic and fear. With every month I know the end is getting closer.
Just talking about the baby can trigger intense feelings of panic, then wanting to escape from being pregnant, from this person I’m talking to, from everything then a feeling of desperation comes over me and finally more often than not I sink into a deep depression which can take days to come out of. I end up in a very lonely place feeling very scared.
I had sepsis with my first, we spent a week in hospital and for 2-3 days I was telling midwife after midwife that I did not feel well. No one listened. It was the third day that someone finally listened.
How scary is that? The very real possibility that had she not taken me seriously that I could have died? But the story repeats over and over. Women do not feel listened to in pregnancy and labour. (I know there is a greater issue also but this post is about childbirth and pregnancy so I want to keep it specific.)
As a survivor of sexual abuse it was never going to be easy. There are already triggers surrounding touch as it is. Not to mention the internal examinations, strangers in and out looking at your progress, then the thought of being naked or even half naked in labour adds to the feelings of terror.
Infertility and loss can also trigger Tokophobia, when loss has been experienced the viable pregnancy can feel like it’s a constant worry but infertility and loss also have their own place.
Why can’t we make space for everything, instead of lumping it all in as one and making women feel worse about not enjoying something society says they should, if a person broke their leg, should they be grateful that it wasn’t both legs? Or can they just experience the rollercoaster of emotions that this is a bit rubbish, yes it could be worse but it’s bad enough.
Can women be more understanding of other women’s journeys? It’s important that when someone is dealing with something like Tokophobia that they feel supported. Please don’t use recycled phrases or comments such as ‘focus on the end product, the baby.’ That does not help the person who is terrified of the journey they have to undertake to get to the end. If someone is scared of snakes people understand and say ‘oh I feel that! I hate spiders’ (for instance.) so why can’t the same compassion be given to a woman who is terrified of carrying and birthing a baby?
Society needs to normalise women’s emotions of all kinds, around pregnancy and labour. Voices need to be heard, not just by doctors but by other women. No put downs or reminders of ‘you should be grateful’ and ‘you’re so lucky.’ We know that, I know that but there also needs to be a place where women who don’t enjoy pregnancy or have real fears can be heard and listened to. There needs to be real support out there.
We hit the third trimester soon and I’m starting to really struggle now. I often wake up feeling really low on a morning not wanting to get up. People around me are so excited about the baby and I feel sick. I am filled with dread. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to get through this I think daily.
It’s a strange journey pregnancy, you and your baby are somehow alone even when surrounded by people. It’s hard to remember that it’s you AND your baby going through this so you’re not on your own. You’re doing it together 🖤