Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Category: Pregnancy

Let’s talk about tokophobia

I am fairly sure that you read this article thinking “what on earth is tokophobia and why is an English teacher writing about it?” Well, today, I decided to write about something close to home, something extremely personal, related to my new life as a mom.

Tokophobia, to explain quite simply, is the primal fear of pregnancy and to give birth. It’s way more common than we think and nobody talks about it, like we are supposed to be ashamed of it. In my case, I wasn’t scared of pregnancy, not even worried, despite the fact that my first trimester was actual hell. But I was (I still am) TERRIFIED to give birth. I could feel it in my entire body. I couldn’t wait to meet my child, but the idea of giving birth was making me sick. Physically sick.

It’s not something that happened overnight: I have always been afraid of giving birth. As a kid (around 4 or 5), I was already worried and I asked my mom if it was painful. She said ‘yes, but you forget once you have your baby’. Cut the crap, I knew I wouldn’t forget at all. I am extremely sensitive, I suffer from endometriosis, I had a trauma as a toddler (you don’t want the details, I swear, but it involves me falling and getting stitches where you don’t want to have stitches). Giving birth the natural way was a big fat NO.

When I got pregnant with my daughter at the end of 2020, I openly said to my OB-GYN that having a natural birth was out of question, and that having a C-section was the only option. He shrugged, and probably thought I was being eccentric. I met my midwife, I had the exact same discourse (I even included gruesome details), she asked me a couple of questions and then continued to explain to me all the steps of a natural birth. In France, you can’t simply ask for a C-section, you need a medical reason: my trauma, which I was able to talk about, was as real as a scar, but was not taking into consideration.

I never envisioned myself giving birth naturally: I told every professional that it was physically impossible for me. I didn’t want to tell them how to do their jobs, no, I wanted them to understand that psychologically, I couldn’t give birth naturally. I wanted to be heard and helped.

Up till my 8th month of pregnancy, Baby was badly positioned, and at the beginning of June, my OB-GYN told me that if she wasn’t moving soon, I would have my C-section. I felt so relieved, I felt the weight off my shoulders. I could breathe again. But at the following ultrasound, mid-June, Baby was positioned perfectly, and I was back to square one. I explained, once again, how scared I was, how the concept of episiotomy was terrifying (just thinking about it gives me goosebumps). Do you know what I have heard when I said that I was scared of episiotomy, to the point of having a phobia? ‘You shouldn’t.” Would you say ‘you shouldn’t’ to someone who is arachnophobic? No. ‘Giving birth is natural.’ Every time I heard this sentence, a part of me was screaming. I know it is. I didn’t ask for this crippling fear, I am trying to fight it and these platitudes are not helping.

Despite my plea, my request for a convenient C-section (that’s how it’s called in France) was denied and I started to look elsewhere for help: acupuncture, meditation, sophrology, I was even looking to get hypnotized (my appointment was scheduled but I gave birth in the meantime). I was fighting my phobia, I was trying to overcome it the best I could. Then, following a stressful OB-GYN appointment, out of the blue, I was induced.

I won’t go into details here, because it’s irrelevant. What is relevant to my story here is that my body shut down. My baby wasn’t growing anymore, my placenta was calcifying, I had to give birth, and my body shut down. Three times I was induced within 24 hours. My body didn’t respond. I had fake contractions at first (looks like real contractions, feels like real ones, but nothing moves), but soon enough, it stopped; my baby, on the other hand, was doing great. Strong heartbeat, strong moves. Nothing to worry about for now, but I had to deliver.

With my consent, my midwife broke my waters manually. My husband was holding my right hand, my OB-GYN my left. The second it happened, I wished to die. I couldn’t give birth naturally. I would be scarred for life, I wouldn’t be able to be intimate with my husband anymore, I couldn’t have more babies (it’s not the plan anyway, but you have the idea) if I was having a natural birth, even with an epidural. I cried so hard after, I thought I wouldn’t be able to stop.

I finally calmed down, the anesthesiologist came, but I just couldn’t stop thinking. Would adrenaline be enough? When my OB-GYN came back to check on me, I saw his face becoming pale. Nothing had moved. The baby had to be delivered today, the whole calcified placenta thing was getting dangerous but my body refused to move an inch despite everything. I went through all this for NOTHING. This time, I looked at him and I asked him, begged him, to get a C-section. He agreed that it was the best decision, and a mere thirty minutes later, my daughter was born.

Tokophobia is not known. Giving birth is natural, why would someone be afraid of such a natural act? Once again, would you tell someone who is afraid of snakes or spiders that they are natural creatures that you shouldn’t be afraid of? I heard about women who were afraid, who refused to push and had to deliver with vacuum help. I heard about women who cried the whole time. Until it happened to me, I never heard about a woman whose body literally shut down by fear.

I warned every professional I had met that I was afraid. I wish I had been heard earlier, instead of feeling alone and afraid during most of my medical appointments and my birthing classes. I suggested early on that I see a therapist who would ensure that I was not faking it: I wouldn’t have heard that all I wanted was a ‘convenient’ birth.

But here’s the thing: having a C-section is not convenient. My belly was cut open, it’s not convenient, that’s even the opposite. I wish I wasn’t afraid, but it’s not something I have control over. I preserved myself, and my mental health, by requesting a C-section, and I am glad it happened: it is what matters after all. I didn’t give birth naturally, but I kept my sanity, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Being angry is my new normal

But at the same time, after reading this article, you should understand me. I have already discussed on my previous article the difficulties I encountered during the first trimester of my pregnancy. Unfortunately, it turns out that my prepartum depression is not the only problem I’ll have to face. No, really, human stupidity is getting way worse on the scale.

I know, I’m hard on people sometimes. But let me give you some examples of sentences people have said to me the past four months, and you will probably get it too. Piece of advice: if you don’t know what to say to a pregnant woman, especially one who is struggling, just shut the hell up. Because it can harm way more than you think.

Oh, you’re 9 weeks pregnant? You could still lose it.

Bear in mind that the day this person said that to me, I had just confessed that the reason I was on sick leave was depression related to my pregnancy. I know that most miscarriages are happening during the first trimester. But I am already down, I don’t need a reminder that on the top of it, I could lose my baby. I am not sure I could forget, nor forgive, this sentence, ever.

Are you sure you’re having only one baby? You’re so big already!

I envy women who can hide their pregnancies: I couldn’t after my second month. At 8 weeks of pregnancy, I had people already commenting it because I couldn’t pretend that I had eaten too much anymore. I know that my belly is big, no I am not expecting twins, and yes, I know that my baby will be big. At the same time, I am 6 ft tall, what do you expect anyway?

My female friend A. didn’t feel tired at all during her pregnancy (sentence said by a guy)

That’s amazing, I am genuinely happy for her but I don’t give a crap. I feel like hell, I sleep 18 hours a day and I can’t have a proper conversation because my braincells can’t connect together. Don’t rub my nose into other people’s supposed perfect pregnancies or I’ll bite.

Oh your cat died? Well, it’s not like your baby died.

What on earth is wrong with you? Let me give you the context: my husband and I adopted a kitty, almost seven years ago, who was ALWAYS with me. During my first trimester of hell, Mallow spent his entire life with me in my bedroom, never leaving my side. Okay, I think he was mostly enjoying the bed, but anyway, he was a constant in my life. And he suddenly died from blood poisoning, when I was 16 weeks pregnant. You can imagine how crushed I was; I mean, it doesn’t take a psychology degree to understand it was like the end of the world for me. And you want me to imagine now that my baby died instead? What are you, clinically insane?

I hope you will have a natural birth (sentence pronounced by a guy).

You hope? Why do you feel concerned by this anyway? I am terrified of natural birth, I am crossing all my fingers to have a C-section, and guess what, I won’t discuss that. It’s just gross and it’s not your damn business.

And finally, my favorite, when will you start trying for a second baby?

This sentence, which I have heard a lot lately (from students, colleagues, family), is purely the worst. I am not even halfway through my first pregnancy, which will probably be my only pregnancy anyway. How can you feel the right to say something like this? Even if you don’t know a single thing about me. Maybe the person in front of you had 5 rounds of IVF before getting pregnant and knows that she won’t be able to do it again emotionally or financially. Maybe the person in front of you doesn’t want anymore children in any case. Maybe it’s not your problem?

I have to admit, I wasn’t ready for all these remarks or other sentences. I didn’t think that people wouldn’t comment at all, but even if I suspected that it could become a topic of conversation, this invasion of privacy just drives me mad. I just want to scream HOW CAN YOU THINK IT’S OKAY TO SAY THAT? Emotionally, I am having a lot of troubles dealing with these remarks, and I know that I am cutting myself from people (decent people, who never dared to say something like the previous examples) to protect myself. It will probably get better but for now, my normal state is to be angry at the world.

And yes, we are adopting a new baby cat.

© 2021 Helene Combe

Powered by Jonas ChopinUp ↑

Pin It on Pinterest