Tocophobia: The Pathological Fear Of Childbirth That No One Is Talking About

A recent report suggested that 6-10 percent of women suffer from the condition


The prospect of having a child is a time of nervous excitement and anticipation for many. However, for an alarming six to ten percent of the population, the idea of childbirth is completely terrifying. The term given for this intense fear is tocophobia (sometimes spelled tokophobia), which is the fear of being pregnant or giving birth. But before reading an article on the subject, I had been oblivious to the fact that this condition even existed, let alone that it affected so many women.

So, let’s talk about it. The National Post reported that the condition can be so extreme that sufferers avoid becoming pregnant. One of the main reasons this phobia is so under the radar is because most women who suffer from it either try to avoid it altogether or feel like there is no one else who feels the same way. 

So, naturally, it tends to go unnoticed and untreated. This is especially true of women who suffer from primary tocophobia, which is a deep-rooted fear of childbirth that tends to stem from a traumatic adolescence experience. However, many women who suffer from secondary tocophobia, which tends to develop post-pregnancy, are also hesitant to speak up as they feel that people do not understand, or that they aren’t giving them reassurance or guidance.

Helen Mirren confessed in a 2007 interview to suffering from tocophobia after watching an educational video of childbirth while at school. But there are very few others in the public eye who have come forward to claim this rarely-talked-about condition. 

There is a growing number of resources available to women who suffer from both primary and secondary tocophobia, such as cognitive behaviour therapy and perinatal loss groups. However, many of these individuals are afraid of hospitals and medical professionals. Even seeing a child or reading an article on pregnancy can be deterring for tokophobes. Therefore, talking about and raising awareness of the condition is the first step towards achieving the proper support that is needed by these women.

"It is women with primary tocophobia I feel we are failing right now,” says Dr. Tuong-Vi Ngugen, a reproductive psychiatrist at the McGill University Health Centre. “Avoidance is very effective as a defence mechanism but, at the same time, it creates other problems: You get stuck in a phase of life without being able to move on developmentally.”

This lack of awareness is beginning to take a turn for the better. Whether you suffer from tocophobia or not, spreading awareness about it will begin to generate a conversation. This conversation allows individuals like myself, who had not previously known of this condition, to educate themselves on the topic. More specifically, education will give individuals the knowledge necessary to approach the topic with sensitivity and to give the right type of supported that is needed.

Doing so will hopefully give women who had previously been afraid to come forward the courage and ease to talk about why they feel this way, as well as the hope that the stigma surrounding this condition will eventually be erased completely.

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