MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 13-Sep-18 17:05:16

Guest post: Jess writes about her experience of tokophobia and how online birth stories made her feel

You may have seen some of the press coverage today on research into the effects of Mumsnet and other social media on the rise in fear of childbirth (tokophobia). In this guest post, one blogger shares her own experience of tokophobia and how online birth stories made her feel


Posted on: Thu 13-Sep-18 17:05:16


Lead photo

“Birth trauma is real and more often than not it's difficult to know where to go for support.”

“I won’t survive if I have this baby”

This statement sounds scary but it's one I was truly convinced of while pregnant with my first daughter in 2012. When I initially fell pregnant we were excited; it wasn’t until 16-20 weeks when we started discussing birthing options at appointments that the overwhelming fear begin to take over.

At that point, when voiced, my concerns were brushed off by others with statements like “It's natural to be a bit anxious” or “You’re a first-time mum so I understand the fear” but I knew that this didn't feel like normal nerves. It was an all-consuming monster of anxiety that took over all my thoughts, was the thief of my sleep and of enjoyment at the idea of bringing a new life into the world. In fact, the only thing it didn’t steal was my appetite (but really, you try taking a biscuit away from a pregnant woman).

I spent appointment after appointment trying to explain myself but every brush-off made speaking up harder to do and it eventually silenced me, as I felt like I wasn't being listened to. My fear was solely around the birth; I was adamant that I wouldn't be able to safely have this baby via a vaginal birth. I can’t quite pinpoint how I came to believe this so deeply but I think there were a number of contributing factors. No female in my family (mother, aunt, cousin or grandmother) had birthed a baby naturally and if they had attempted to with their first child, they ended up in emergency sections. In addition, when I elected to follow popular advice to google birth stories and videos, this quite frankly was no help at all. I was met with countless negative experiences of birth which only exacerbated my feelings.

Even with some of the more 'scary' stories, there were often women posting words of encouragement and support, or even saying they had been there too. They were not alone.

As I got closer to the birth, at the 30-week mark, I became sure that the only way this baby would be delivered safely was in a planned section. I know many would see this as absolutely mad given that it is major surgery and birthing your baby is - we are often told - “one of the most natural things in the world”. However, when your fear is so consuming and you are so sure that dying will be the outcome if forced to labour and deliver, a planned section with doctors and nurses in a controlled environment feels like the safest (and at that point, only) option.

As I had requested an elective section but had no medical reason for this, at 34 weeks I was booked to meet with the head of the midwifery-led unit. At the appointment, I was made to look at and listen to her read out every single risk of a caesarean section. I walked out of the hospital into the car park and was suddenly unable to breathe. Faced with the information overload, I felt like there was no way myself or my baby would survive the birth - whether that be naturally or even via an elective section.

My husband took me back into the hospital and they called a midwife who took me into a side room to help calm me down. It was only after this (and following a 3-page letter of complaint to the hospital) that I was booked to meet with a specialist consultant who finally diagnosed me with tokophobia. I was granted an elective section on the basis that it was the safest option for me and my baby due to my mental health.

Five years later, I fell pregnant again. This time, I didn’t want to have an elective section. I had spent the last few years battling my anxiety demons in other aspects of my life, so I also wanted to tackle them here. I decided to try looking for birth stories and experiences again - and found for every few negative ones posted online, there was a positive one too (I just had to amend my google search to be more specific). I went on a hypnobirthing course with Siobhan at the Positive Birth Company and I took to social media, forums and sites like Mumsnet to reach out to others who felt the same - to ask for positive stories and to seek out the beauty in birth; something I never thought I could find.

I appreciate that many need to share their negative experiences for their own sanity. Birth trauma is real and more often than not, it is difficult to know where to go for support, meaning that many go online. Although reading these stories didn't exactly 'help' me the first time (when I was seeking urgent reassurance about the birthing experience), I did get to see the support that was out there. Even with some of the more 'scary' stories, there were often women posting words of encouragement, or even saying they had been there too. They were not alone.

It is no surprise that it is often the negative birth stories that command attention - but perhaps this is due to our nature as humans. We are very often quicker to express our disapproval, bad experience or disappointment at something than we are to give praise or speak positively. Despite this, I think there is reassurance in knowing that even in the eventuality of complications or things not going as planned (it never goes as planned) these women have lived to tell the tale, and are now mothering their beautiful babies, the best they can.

By Jess

Twitter: thefatfunnyone

Alpacanorange Fri 14-Sep-18 12:45:10

Forgive me Jess, but why not just call it fear of child birth? I don’t understand the need for label.

Skylucy Fri 14-Sep-18 12:56:31

@Alpacanorange That seems like an odd comment, which rather misses the point of the post. 'Tokophobia' is just the name for this particular pathological fear. You could argue that sufferers shouldn't use the terms "arachnophobia" or "agoraphobia" either.

Tokophobia is a very real issue that I believe I suffered from, so I really appreciate Jess sharing her experience. I delayed pregnancy for many years and when I finally took the plunge I found it very difficult to find positive birth experiences. The multitude of 'horror stories' just added to my anxiety. I actually had a fabulous birth in the end (thanks to hypnobirthing) and will happily share my story any time! I'm expecting baby #2 in a few weeks and although apprehensive, I'm not scared, which is such a relief.

Alpacanorange Fri 14-Sep-18 13:01:57

I appreciate it the subject matter very much and apologise since you find it an odd comment. However, I have given birth 5 times, the last was as daunting as the first, more so since I knew what was going to happen and never heard of tokophobia, therefore I ask, why not call it what it is so that more people immediately identify what is being discussed?

SD1978 Fri 14-Sep-18 13:28:06

I appreciate you sharing your story- but with no CBR, was it really a phobia? You don't juts hey over phobias because you deal with your anxiety. You had anxiety, which caused you sever anxiety regarding birthing your child. Once you got help for your MH issues you were able to contemplate birthing naturally the second time. A true phobia wouldn't have juts disappeared with your anxiety. Regardless, I'm glad you were able to seek help and be less stressed the second time.

MorvaanReed Fri 14-Sep-18 14:02:55

"You don't juts hey over phobias because you deal with your anxiety."

Isn't dealing with the anxiety surrounding whatever specific thing you are phobic about how you would get over a phobia?

SD1978 Fri 14-Sep-18 14:09:41

That was appalling spelling. My point was- the MH help wasn't specific to health and birth anxiety- but general anxiety, which therefore stopped the feelings of health anxiety. If you take a phobia, such as arachnophobia, you don't manage to lessen the symptoms by dealing with other aspects of your life. A phobia by its nature is unreasonable, and needs dealt with independently of other issues. This example seems more a severe anxiety, which then manifested in increased birth anxiety, not a phobia which then managed to disappear on its own. It's he use of phobia I am unsure of- not denying that a section may have been best for mental health, but not a phobia as such


Hefzi Fri 14-Sep-18 16:17:35

Tokophobia was the main reason I never had children. 20 years ago there wasn't much knowledge about this type of psychological phenomenon, so doctors' response was basically "get over it or don't breed".

I'm glad for the current generation of young women that there's understanding and support, albeit more is needed.

ElBandito Fri 14-Sep-18 16:23:06

I understand the problem and deeply sympathise with anyone suffering from Tokophobia. However, I hated the coverage of this in the press. It smacked of policing women and their language, telling them to shut up and keep quiet about their experiences. If women aren’t allowed to talk about the problems they experience during and after child birth then we go back to suffering in silence from prolapse etc. If we didn’t talk would we have campaigns like this one?

nervousFTM Fri 14-Sep-18 16:43:13

@Skylucy please do share 🙏🏼 I'm 5 weeks from due date but may need to be induced in 3 weeks time and terrified at that prospect. We did hypno course but have been naughty at keeping up the practice x

SlothSlothSloth Fri 14-Sep-18 16:52:55

Thank you for sharing your story.

I don’t like the term tokophobia either (I know this is the official term of course; not blaming the writer) because it diminishes and dismisses a valid fear and makes women feel unreasonable, when they’re not. A “phobia” is largely irrational. Fear of childbirth actually is TOTALLY rational. It WILL be excruciatingly painful. It will, in most cases, be scary. And there is a fairly serious possibility you will be left with life-changing injuries.

The fact that there are good childbirth stories as well as bad doesn’t mean fearing childbirth is like being afraid of spiders or whatever.

Loopytiles Fri 14-Sep-18 17:53:43

Thank you for sharing your experiences.

I admire your work to manage your anxiety and prepare for your second birth. I have anxiety problems and doing well, it’s an ongoing challenge!

The press stories are annoying: agree with the PP that telling women to shut up about life experience stinks! I had amazing support online during fertility problems (recurrent miscarriage).

People with fear or anxiety, whether or not it’s to the extent that it’s a MH issue, are sometimes advised not to read things that are likely to set it off, as part of self care.

DuggeeHugs Fri 14-Sep-18 18:52:48

El and Sloth have covered it for me, I think.

There is no such thing as 'horror stories' about giving birth, just the stories of women's experiences. Because birth can be messy, painful, unpredictable, amazing, dangerous, terrifying and shocking, so too are the stories. The sanitised view of a positive natural birth which is pushed so hard does a massive disservice to all the women who have given birth and all the women who are waiting to do so.

NotMeOhNo Fri 14-Sep-18 18:53:38

I had fear of medical negligence. They're the stories on here that make my blood run cold.

NotMeOhNo Fri 14-Sep-18 18:54:16

In regards to the birth that is.

bringincrazyback Fri 14-Sep-18 20:29:26

I'm childless by choice, but had I chosen to have children, I'm convinced I would have felt this way. I've always had a very deeply-held conviction that my body wouldn't be able to withstand what other women's bodies were naturally able to cope with. My very low pain threshold probably doesn't help in this regard, but it's more that when I picture myself giving birth, I can't see how my body could go through it and remain intact. I imagine splitting open, physically splitting apart in some terrible way that couldn't be mended. I realise that may sound pathetic to women who have had children, and I hope it wouldn't have put me off if I'd actually chosen to become a mother, but I can even imagine giving birth without being assailed by all these horrible thoughts.

I don't see any harm in giving this fear a name. A phobia is typically a fear that gets in the way of day-to-day life and affects how a person lives their life. I'd say this qualifies.

ladymarian Fri 14-Sep-18 22:02:29

Tokophobia is a real condition! I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist after my first child's birth. As a result of giving birth with undiagnosed tokophobia I suffered PTSD and PND and have suffered mental ill health ever since. I had my 2nd child by ELCS but my whole pregnancy easy and incredibly frightening and anxious time for me.

Morethanthisprovincallife Fri 14-Sep-18 23:02:13

I also feel my fear was based in rationale and can't understand the point of this blog?

Nearly all my close friends would have died in birth of it were not for modern medicine.

I can't see the the argument or point your making.

Having had my own experience with head mw who seemed like a natural birth religious zealot I walk away from this blog angry with the similarly seeming brain washed religious zealot?

Morethanthisprovincallife Fri 14-Sep-18 23:09:16


That's the wrong premise... What other women's bodies easily cope with is not true.

It's been a taboo subject for so long!!
Nothing properly recored or dots joined up!!

Women's bodies don't easily cope with birth!!

Kpo58 Fri 14-Sep-18 23:48:10

Nearly all my close friends would have died in birth of it were not for modern medicine.

That's exactly what scares people. What if you give birth without getting to medical facilities on time? What if they don't monitor you properly? What if they can't tell if something is going wrong?

Being scared of childbirth is rational. It wouldn't be if 98% of women had natural births without any intervention and both they and their babies were fine after it.

firsttimebabybirther Sat 15-Sep-18 00:57:03

Love your instagram the fat funny one and was pregnant at the same time as you Jess , I also did a course with Siobhan at the positive Birth company in February this year and it massively helped my fears.

Thank you for sharing this smile

Miyah Sat 15-Sep-18 02:14:22

I hate it when women’s birth stories are described as ‘horror stories’ like they are somehow unrealistic or OTT or exaggerated when actually they’re often just completely standard experiences of the harsh reality of childbirth. Fear of birth is COMPLETELY rational. There are just so many components to it as well- the pain, the loss of control, the uncertainty, the fact scary emergency situations are commonplace, humiliation, lack of dignity and privacy, being left with lifelong injuries... the list goes on and on.
Why should women be silenced? Or voices need to be heard in order for things to improve as much as they can

fascinated Sat 15-Sep-18 05:39:13

Our modern lifestyles have made it harder to give birth. For example, the frequent squatting that women used to do in manual labour putdoors strengthens muscles needed for labour. We have far less in the way of support networks of other women who would traditionally have assisted at a birth among trusted female attendants. We are expected to go into an unfamiliar environment with strangers - eg midwife care during labour not tending to be from the same midwife we are in pregnancy and we are often placed in open wards eg during my induction, so with strangers, including the male partners of other patients... shocking disregard for our privacy and dignity at this most vulnerable time. Is it any wonder it is difficult to “relax” and get into the “zone” in terms of labouring and birthing in an effortless way (even leaving aside medical issues). All of this needs to be recognised and honestly addressed - what I see at the moment is an ever widening gap between proponents of “home/natural/hypno birth” who eschew most medical assistance and the other extreme, advocates for planned sections and the like... what about a campaign for more continuity of care, counselling to allay what are as pp says quite rational fears about childbirth, education about exercises/lifestyle changes that can help even prior to pregnancy...

DuggeeHugs Sat 15-Sep-18 07:38:23

what I see at the moment is an ever widening gap between proponents of “home/natural/hypno birth” who eschew most medical assistance and the other extreme, advocates for planned sections and the like

I can see where you're coming from with this, even though I'm certainly an advocate for planned CS if it is a woman's choice . I think there are several childbirth narratives which Jess's post touches on but glosses over (understandably as this is her experience not a thematic critique), but I can't see many women arguing against better continuity of care.

I'd welcome a campaign that argued for women be given the risks and benefits of all delivery methods and that promotes their right to choose how they deliver. That women are given counselling if they need it to help manage their expectations. That continuity of care and aftercare is massively improved and that women's views and concerns are listened to, not dismissed.

What I have reservations about are any changes which feed into the current paternalism around pregnancy and birth, which I worry a focus on counselling and lifestyle may do, e.g., at the moment the VBAC vs. ELCS discussion for many women completely ignores or minimises their fears - don't you want to feel like you tried? being my consultants final effort, completely failing to address all the medical issues.

Respect for women and their ability to know their own minds is often lacking when it comes to pregnancy and birth. Until this changes I'm not sure how things can move forward.

GoldenWonderwall Sat 15-Sep-18 09:36:50

I’m not sure of the point of this, bearing in mind the current media coverage. It feels like an advert for some birth therapy woo that ‘cures’ irrational fear of giving birth.

All the emotional support in the world can’t stop a pph, shoulder dystocia, breech baby etc etc and these things happen and need to be properly addressed. Mental health support needs to be genuine, not deployed as a persuasive technique to make women believe their real, founded in reality concerns are all in their silly little heads.

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