What Is Tokophobia?
Derived from the Greek word for childbirth, “tokos”, and “phobos”, meaning fear, tokophobia is defined as an intense fear of pregnancy and birth. Tokophobia is a relatively new term in psychiatry, coined in 2000 by Drs. Kristina Hofberg and Ian Brockington. The doctors identified three types of tokophobia: primary, secondary, and tokophobia as a byproduct of depression. Most patients who suffer from tokophobia describe their feelings about birth and pregnancy as “dread”.
It’s quite common for mothers to have a sort of “healthy fear” of pregnancy. After all, growing another human and subsequently birthing them can be a medically complex and fragile process. The average mom can become overwhelmed with the prospect of carrying a child to term. And that’s just carrying it; birthing is a whole different ball game! Tokophobia extends far beyond the typical healthy fear into the irrational fear territory. After all, a phobia is a fear that defies rationality!
Who Gets Tokophobia?
Not surprisingly, most tokophobia research focuses on women. Most of these women are not mothers, although some have children of their own. Men can also suffer from tokophobia, although the phenomenon is more often ignored when men experience it. Perhaps that’s because men who fear pregnancy are never at risk of actually becoming pregnant.
Primary tokophobia is a fear of pregnancy in women who have never been pregnant or birthed a child. Most of these women take serious measures to avoid pregnancy. Some develop this fear as early as adolescence! While each person is unique, many women with primary tokophobia share early formative experiences that could potentially shape their perception of pregnancy. For example, some women remember watching a video of childbirth with no explanation to understand the images in context. Others actually witnessed a traumatic birth firsthand, leading them to perceive all birth as traumatic. Another unfortunate commonality: many women with primary tokophobia have experienced sexual abuse.
Secondary tokophobia is a fear of pregnancy in women who have already given birth or experienced pregnancy. Many with secondary tokophobia cite specific traumas that stem from a negative pregnancy or birthing experience. Although some hesitation after a complex pregnancy is understandable, tokophobia creates a sense of overwhelming fear and dread.
Since pregnancy can be avoided, most women with tokophobia choose to take preventative measures. More specifically, therapy around tokophobia should address the underlying causes. Each patient may cite different causes, but most experience a sense of “loss of control”, a dread of complications that could harm the child, fear of losing dignity or of not having adequate pain relief.
If a person with tokophobia wants to become pregnant, they can seek treatment to overcome the fear itself. Some respond to anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications. Others find relief in talk therapy and specific techniques to treat phobias.
A person with tokophobia typically doesn’t want to become pregnant. However, some women do feel their tokophobia is holding them back from becoming a parent. These people can fulfill their goals of parenting through adoption or even surrogacy! Tokophobia might be an overwhelming fear of pregnancy but it needn’t dictate a woman’s life.