Pregnancy is something beautiful, but it is not only beautiful. It can scare the shit out of women. You’ve got a lot of questions coming out of your head, like: What’s happening to my body? What if there are complications? And how the hell am I supposed to be a good mother if I can’t even keep the houseplant on the windowsill alive?
But nobody likes to talk about it, after all, women are supposed to be happy about the “miracle of life”. There is even a technical term for it: Tokophobia, the fear of pregnancy, is a taboo subject, but many women suffer from it. An expert explains what is behind it and how you can deal with this fear.
Will the birth be painful? Will I be a good mother? Such questions occupy many pregnant women. © Kiefer Pix / Shutterstock.com
Tokophobia: The complicated name of this fear is derived from the Greek words toko – pregnancy and phobos – fear. Those affected are therefore afraid of pregnancy, of giving birth and also of being a mother. “Some women have been suffering from this fear for a long time and have therefore never been pregnant, they have a so-called primary tokophobia”, explains gynaecologist and psychotherapist Natalie Mann-Borchert.
“Anyone who has already experienced a very difficult and traumatic pregnancy and therefore develops these fears has secondary tocophobia.” She reports that in recent decades more and more women have been affected by it, up to 15 percent of women suffer from such fears according to her estimates.
How do I recognize a Tokophobia?
Worries and also fears are quite normal before and during pregnancy. Also the fear of not being a good mother or not being able to manage all this. You can and should allow such fears! You are not a worse person or less woman because you have not experienced having children as something positive.
However, if these worries cause you to avoid pregnancy altogether or suffer greatly from such thoughts, the gynaecologist advises you to get help. Because it becomes really difficult when the tocophobia gets in the way of an existing desire to have a child.
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Can I test if I suffer from tokophobia?
If you want to know if you suffer from Tokophobia, you can take this little test: In a calm and relaxed moment, think about whether you can imagine having a child in your womb. If you can imagine giving birth to it. If you can imagine being a mother.
Did you then see a horror scenario in your mind’s eye or answer the questions with no, but were secretly a little sad? Then you can talk to a trusted person about these symptoms and see if fear prevents you from fulfilling your wish to have a child of your own.
But: If you consciously and rationally (not out of fear) decide against having children, that is perfectly fine. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do with your child, neither fear nor society. Or by men.
Intimate questions of pregnant women
Talk to your doctor if you experience pain during pregnancy. Googling usually makes the worries worse. © wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com
How does the fear of pregnancy arise?
Fears and worries can arise for very different reasons. Especially with such a complex topic as having children of one’s own, the causes often lie in deep psychological imprints. Becoming a mother is consciously or subconsciously linked to something negative that you do not want to experience (again). There are three main groups:
- You’ve had traumatic experiences yourself: Especially the secondary tocophobia after the first child arises from drastic experiences during pregnancy. If there were complications or the birth was very painful, this experience can be solidified as trauma. This becomes particularly apparent when those affected would actually like to have a second child but are too afraid that these complications will repeat themselves.
Primary tocophobia can also result from sexual trauma.
“About 12 to 15 percent of women with such fears have experienced sexual abuse in the past,” the psychotherapist describes.
- You’ve come to know pregnancy as something bad: Primary tokophobia starts earlier in contrast to the secondary one. “Those affected have often heard about bad experiences from their own mother or other women as children and have experienced pregnancy as something negative or threatening,” says the doctor. Something like this is then memorized.
In addition, parenthood (and the unpredictability associated with it) does not really seem to fit into the zeitgeist, in which everything should be planned, optimised and low-risk. Anyone who hears everywhere that children are ruining their careers and their bodies, and that there are not enough daycare places available, quickly loses heart.
- There are other psychological problems: Sometimes anxiety is also a symptom of other psychological problems such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorders. “A child always means big changes, that you can’t foresee a lot of things and sometimes you give up control,” the gynaecologist describes. For people who are already struggling with psychological problems, pregnancy threatens the already delicate balance with which they manage to get through everyday life.
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What can I do to overcome my fear of pregnancy?
No woman is obliged to want children. However, if you actually do want children in some way and the main reason for this is because of things that might go wrong, you can try to treat your anxiety. “For example, there are many very good women’s health centres that also deal with such problems,” says Mann-Borchert. You can find a list of some facilities here.
But you can also open yourself up to a confidant with whom you have the feeling that you may be weak at times. Whether it is your gynaecologist, your partner, a good friend or your sister: it often helps to hear the opinion of another person.
In the long term, psychotherapy can help to identify and solve the causes of your tocophobia. And preferably as early as possible: “Women who have such anxieties during pregnancy are also more likely to suffer from so-called postpartum depression,” warns the gynecologist.
In 10 to 20 percent (depending on the study) of mothers, the otherwise frequent feelings of happiness after birth are absent because of this depression, which is also called postnatal depression. They often have the feeling that they are not up to the task, that they do not love their child enough or that they regret the pregnancy. You can reduce the risk that this initial period with the baby will be burdened by this by talking about it early on. You are not alone with these moods!
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Relaxation exercises or a spa visit can help to overcome fears during pregnancy. © wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com
What to do in case of pregnancy panic?
During the 9 months with a baby bump it can happen that all of a sudden a panic attack comes over you and all fears about you break in. “In such a situation, the first step is to try to calm your breathing or, if you want to be more active, to do relaxation exercises such as pregnancy yoga,” advises Mann-Borchert.
The next step is to find someone you can talk to – either to distract you or to talk about your fears. You don’t have to be ashamed of your thoughts, nor do you have to go through them alone, just let them come to you and speak them out. It is particularly helpful if a midwife already accompanies the pregnancy. “Many women also think that these worries are not normal and therefore do not admit them,” says the gynecologist.
But she hears some worries again and again and can often invalidate them.
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What are typical fears of pregnant women?
Dr. Mann-Borchert knows most of the above-mentioned questions that plague women in pregnancy. And of course, she has some reassuring answers.
“What if the baby’s not healthy?”
The fear of giving birth to a baby with illness or a disability increases, especially with age. But: “95 percent of all children born are in perfect health, and the methods for early diagnosis are constantly being improved,” the gynecologist reassures. Today, initial, orienting examinations on health can be carried out in the first trimester of pregnancy and provide help.
“Is this pulling in your stomach dangerous?”
If you suddenly feel pain in your stomach, you often panic that your baby is in danger. “But abdominal pain is completely normal at this time, the uterus has to expand and make room,” said Mann-Borchert reassuringly. If you are worried, go to the midwife or gynaecologist. They will explain to you which warning signs you can look out for, even if the pain is not usually dangerous. “You just shouldn’t google the symptoms on your own, it never ends well,” says the gynaecologist.
“Birth will be horrible.”
We don’t have to pretend with you, the birth won’t be painless. However, you can make it much more bearable by taking thorough precautions with pregnancy gymnastics, breathing exercises and a helping hand to hold and squeeze. “Doctors are also often prepared to perform caesareans because it can greatly reduce the risk of complications,” says the gynaecologist. So yes, it will not be an easy task. But as soon as there are problems, the doctors in the delivery room can help you quickly.
And it’s important to know that many others have done this before you!
“I’m gonna be a bad mother.”
The fear of becoming an unnatural mother or not being able to cope with the responsibility is very great for many women. But maybe it helps to know that like the uncaring mother, there is no such thing as the supermother, who is perfect in everything. There is no patent recipe for how families work, each one finds her own way.
You will only get to know your child and your role after birth and grow into it. And you don’t have to do it all alone. The father of the child, your family, your friends, they can all help you and relieve you.
Overcoming fears together: Talk honestly to your friends about your worries during pregnancy. © VGStockstudio / Shutterstock.com
“Everything is going to change.”
That’s right. But nobody who chooses to have a child wants things to stay the way they are, do they? Yes, you’ll have a little bundle of unconditional love in your hands and suddenly you’re in charge. But you can prepare yourself and your social environment for it and make sure that you still have time and space to be yourself. “Changes are not a bad thing, not everything has to be planned and you can also dare to simply let life run its course,” advises the psychotherapist.
“My body will never be the same again.”
Some women are said to have a flat stomach and firm breasts immediately after pregnancy. Should they make you feel bad? No. You’re in the process of creating life, your body is a fucking hero.
Your smaller bladder, the swollen feet and your spherical belly are currently doing hard work and simply supplying a second living being in your body. You are experiencing a peak of your femininity and your body deserves the greatest respect for this. In addition, there are now really more important things than a skin without stretch marks, which are available for everyone else only with Photoshop.
Don’t let it bother you: Hardly any pregnancy is completely untroubled by fears and worries. © wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com
“I regret being pregnant.”
Regretting Motherhood is the buzzword under which the regret of motherhood is currently being discussed. If you experience this feeling of regret, you are not alone. Having a child is exhausting. It always is. In fact, the life satisfaction of parents with small children is often lower than that of childless people. Later, however, it is the other way round, where parents are often happier than childless people. So maybe it just takes a little patience.
Outside support, for example in a counselling centre, can help you to restructure your life as a mother in such a way that you can better realise your potential. And always try to assign the child’s father his share of everyday tasks. He should not only “help in the household”, you are both parents, so share as fairly as possible.
There are also volunteer agencies like the Granny Help Center that can help you. If you give up some of the responsibility, it does not mean that you are a bad mother. With such a relief you can better take time for yourself and enjoy the moments with your child.
How to find your way out of a life crisis
It is not easy to admit to yourself that the growing baby belly causes more fear than joy. But you are not alone in your fears. Find a contact person for your worries and get to the bottom of them!