Why this podcast?
This is one I’ve featured a few times but the host, Alexia Leachman, had taken a bit of a break from podcasting. I was happy to see The Fear Free Childbirth Podcast back in action and thought this episode looked pretty interesting.
The podcast itself is just one of the many fantastic resources on the Fear Free Childbirth website.
Alexia experienced the extreme fear of pregnancy and childbirth that is Tokophobia and has made it her mission to work toward supporting other expecting parents and to take the fear out of birth.
Why this episode?
It’s very normal to hold some fear or anxiety around pregnancy and birth. After all, we often hear only the frightening stories both from friends and family as well as pretty much every single movie with a birth scene.
Because every pregnancy and birth is different, there’s also an element of the unknown involved even if you already have children.
So, how do you know if your fears fall within the range of normal or if they are something more?
This episode delves into the seven signs that what you (or a friend) are experiencing could, in fact, be Tokophobia.
I love that Alexia begins by underlining that this episode is not only aimed at those who think they might have Tokophobia but at the people around them too.
If someone is expressing their fear of pregnancy and birth to you, listen to them.
If you announce your pregnancy and a friend suddenly starts avoiding you, talk to them.
Ensure they know that anything they are feeling is valid and that they can talk about it.
Don’t try to fix it for them or brush their feelings aside. Be sensitive. Be a listening ear and, perhaps, point them in the direction of the Fear Free Childbirth site.
Right, this is not a finite list, other signs could be present too, but these are definitely a good place to start.
#1. Avoidance of conversations about babies, pregnancy & birth
If someone is either avoiding engaging in these conversations or are uncomfortable during them, it could be a sign of Tokophobia.
They might be scared of other people’s reaction if they share their fears. Will they be judged or looked at as strange? Will their fears be downplayed? Will they be told that they’ll simply get over it when their biological clock starts ticking?
All of these thoughts and more could mean that a person with Tokophobia will be noticeably silent during any pregnancy, birth or baby related chats.
#2. They don’t want to hold the baby
Now, some people are just really nervous about holding brand new little people, especially if they haven’t had much experience, but it could be a sign of a far deeper fear.
If somebody has Tokophobia it is also likely that they have never held a baby before so in that case, it can be a bit of a double-edged sword.
#3. Fear of medical…..stuff
Alexia includes fear of hospitals, medical procedures, smear tests, injections and doctors.
In Western culture and in today’s world, birth has become very medicalised so, for someone with Tokophobia, fears around birth and medicine could well go hand-in-hand.
On its own, this one could simply be a fear of hospitals or injections but, together with some of the other signs, there could be more to it.
#4. They are obsessed with birth control
This is more than someone who is simply diligent about taking their pill on time or who always ensures that their partner uses protection.
If you notice that your partner is unusually focused on birth control and avoiding pregnancy, it could be a clue that they have Tokophobia.
Someone taking pregnancy tests and being terrified of the result even when they have not recently been sexually active is also something to look out for.
A strong interest in, or fantasising about, artificial wombs as well as surrogacy or adoption, could be a telltale sign too. The ability to have a child without ever having to be pregnant or give birth might be extremely appealing to someone with Tokophobia.
#5. Uncomfortable with intimacy and sex
You can probably see the link here. No contraception is one hundred percent effective and therefore sex and intimacy can be very scary to people with Tokophobia.
You might notice that someone starts new relationships then ends them as soon as the sex starts. That could definitely be a sign.
I love that, at this point, Alexia points out that Tokophobia is still not that well known.
Someone could have Tokophobia but not realise that their deep fears have a name or even that fear of pregnancy and birth is actually a thing.
They could well feel that they are the only one experiencing this and that can be very scary and isolating.
If you know someone who you think may have Tokophobia, reach out.
#6. They resent gender inequality
Gender inequality is, of course, a very real and valid issue but this will look a bit different.
They might ‘rant’ about the unfairness and injustice of women having to go through pregnancy and birth while men do not.
If this is a huge issue for someone there could be some deep fear there.
#7. Fear of death
Rationally, we know that these days, at least in the Western world, the risk of dying in childbirth is very low but it does happen.
Sadly, it has become clear that, at least in the United States, how low this risk is has a lot to do with the colour of your skin. If that’s not something you are aware of I encourage you to read this.
A person with Tokophobia could be frightened of a number of things relating to death including:
– Fear that they will die in childbirth
– Fear that their baby will die during birth
– Fear that a complication during pregnancy will lead to their life being sacrificed in order to save the baby
– Fear that they will no longer be seen as an individual but merely as a vessel for the baby
A healthy amount of fear can be good. It stops us from doing dangerous things and in pregnancy, it can ensure that we prepare as much as we can for birth and surround ourselves with care-providers that we trust.
If however, someone’s fear of death, specifically in terms of pregnancy and birth, seems extreme, there is a chance they have Tokophobia.
To wrap up
The good news is that Tokophobia can be overcome and Alexia is proof of that. She talks about the various ways she works with people experiencing Tokophobia and her overall philosophy of empowerment.
It’s a super interesting episode and I hope that you’ll jump in and listen to it in full.
Have you experienced Tokophobia?
How did it manifest for you? Did you overcome it? What helped and what would you most like people to know?
I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time!
Emily Wills is a doula based in Stockholm. She believes that birth can be a beautiful and empowering experience and started this blog as a way of sharing some really great podcasts. She is also a mother of three and an enthusiastic runner.