Are You Afraid of Childbirth?

I am. It’s a combination of being scarred by one of those Miracle of Birth videos in high school (I went to a school that taught abstinence and used scare tactics) and having friends who have given birth and shared their stories in wincing detail, but I am definitely terrified by the notion of ever giving birth. Luckily, there’s a word for that: tocophobia. And I don’t think I’m the only one who has it.

One of the women quoted in an ABC News story about tocophobia, a college student named Karen DuVall, says that she’s afraid of childbirth but would like to adopt children someday. While she cites some of the physical aspects of labor as reasons for fearing it, she also includes a more emotional one: the fear that her husband will no longer be attracted to her post-birth. And that’s not fear – that’s vanity. DuVall seems to think that it’s okay for some other women to give birth and risk their husbands not loving them afterward so that DuVall can have children and not need to worry about whether her husband will still be attracted to her afterward. The article also quotes Helen Mirren, who never had children, about her fear of birth. The difference between Mirren and DuVall is that Mirren’s tocophobia meant that she didn’t have kids; DuVall’s meant that she wanted someone else to do it for her. I’m certainly not opposed to adoption – many people adopt for a wide variety of reasons, and it’s wonderful to give a child a home. But DuVall’s vanity makes her feel like childbirth is fine for other people. If not, where does she expect to adopt those children from?

ABC’s article makes a tenuous link between women with tocophobia and women who have eating disorders or were sexually abused. While they don’t claim every single tocophobic woman is also a recovering anorexic, the parallels are vaguely drawn and insinuate that a woman’s only reason for being afraid of childbirth would relate to body control issues. Here, let me provide a counter-example: I’ve never been sexually abused or had an eating disorder. Why am I afraid of giving birth? Because my friend told me about how she shit herself during labor, and losing control of my bowels has never been a particular hobby of mine. Or maybe it’s all those episodes of 16 and Pregnant reminding me that labor is extremely painful and can last for hours or even days. Either way, I don’t need ABC News to act like tocophobia is some kind of new phenomenon or that every woman who has it is obviously recovering from some kind of bodily trauma. I think women have been afraid of giving birth for about as long as birth has existed – they’ve just chosen their desire for a child and love of the baby over their fear. It’s a normal human response to be afraid of things that could hurt us or even kill us. As for being afraid that your partner won’t love you after you give birth? That’s something you need to deal with in your relationship, not with your doctor.

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    • Eileen

      Nope, never have been. I always figured that if my mom could have three children without an epidural and live to tell the tale, which she always told as, “Seriously, nowhere near as bad as they make it look on television,” it was probably something I could handle. And that if my grandmother could have seven in ten years while living in a third-world country that was in the midst of a civil war – and then live well into her seventies – genes are likely on my side.

      I did have problems with anorexia when I was younger, though.

    • L

      I’m not afraid of childbirth, I just don’t want kids because I’m mean and lack any compassion for the human race. That said, it’s the mother’s choice to have a child and it’s the mother’s choice to put it up for adoption. I just don’t think shaming DuVall for her vanity makes any sense. She’s afraid of childbirth, so when she wants children, is she supposed to suck it up and go through with it, or not have any children at all? She does fear “physical aspects” of childbirth, so there is some apprehension there. Besides, maybe her husband is an ass and leaves her because he isn’t attracted to her. Is she just supposed to raise the child alone, then? This seems kind of unfair to DuVall. Also, if Mirren wanted children, she could have adopted, but didn’t. I just think it’s a personal choice that we have to make through our own reasoning and values.

    • Jaina

      I am. You could die. And that would suck for the kid. And my dad left when I was really young, and don’t pick great men, and my mom seemed pretty miserable, and I wouldn’t want to have have to raise a kid by myself. And I’d rather travel.

    • Somnilee

      I’d consider myself more nervous than scared? Whatever scare stories I hear, I just remind myself that people have been having babies as long as people have been around, our bodies are pretty much built to be able to deal with it without medical intervention, if you think about it.
      As for the pain, etc, I have already dealt with similar levels of pain before and I react quite well: yes, it hurts, but my body knows that it’s the kind of pain that you can’t go ‘Hold on a second, just stop hurting while I have a breather’. The baby’s going to come out one way or another.

    • kati

      guys, i just had a baby boy 4 months ago, and let me tell you, i was scared shitless before for so many reasons. i would not recommend taking your guy with you, in any case, cause there definitely are some things that aren’t pretty, i.e. the yelling and moaning and in my case the blood loss. most of those widely known issues aren’t simply movie fiction – but they can be taken care of or helped with preparation, and there are professionals all around you to do just that. and no girl needs to shit herself during labor (unless she goes into precipitate labour) that’s for sure. i was in labor for almost two days straight and i am usually not good at dealing with pain, and there was a lot of it, but there are hormons to help you through that – i didn’t even want any pain medication because i wanted to be there completely. i also had done a lot of yoga before, which helped a lot.

      in any case, my boyfriend and i had separated and he had disappeared to paris 5 months before the birth, so i took my best friend, who’s the kind of girl to deliver her dog’s seven puppies by herself, and she just read sookie stackhouse novels and said ‘there, there’ for 40 hours and we pulled through. you absolutely need someone you trust and who has seen you at your worst to be there, i wouldn’t have made it without her.

      as for the vanity issues, if those are weight-related: if one doesn’t overeat during pregnancy and tries to breastfeed afterwards, there should be none. i gained 25 pounds and lost 38 up until now just by breastfeeding and running around. i’ve always been rather on the skinny side, right now though i could moonlight as one of those scary-thin models, my body hasn’t looked this girlish since i was 16. i am really looking forward to regaining some of the weight, actually.

    • Dabny

      Women have been birthing babies for millennia. It is a completely natural process that we have been taught to fear. I had an insane birth experience with my son, and I’m not going to tell you it felt good, but it was absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to do it again, even knowing how hard it is (and this time I’m doing it unmedicated).

    • Grace

      I am terrified by the idea of giving birth. Anything that requires the body to produce a special hormone just to make you forget how awful it was is not high on my list of things to do. Everyone keeps telling me that I will get over one day and suddenly want to start having kids, but I seriously doubt it. Also, I agree with DuVall: I would love to adopt, but I don’t want to go through childbirth because to me, it’s scary and painful. I have nothing but admiration and respect for women who do choose to have children, but I am too much of a wuss to do it. It’s not about thinking I’m better than anyone else, it’s just that I’m scared.

    • Grace

      Also, our bodies are not made to have children easily. Maternal mortality rates were pretty high before the medical and technological advances of the 20th and 21st centuries. Making the transition to homo sapiens (which meant walking upright) made giving birth much more difficult because of human women’s now-slimmer pelvises and the larger size of our babies’ heads. Our bodies are actually very poorly-designed for giving birth in comparison to the rest of the mammalian world. But…we can walk upright and open wine bottles. Which is cool.

    • MNiM

      I think you’re being a little hard on Duvall, to be honest. She’s not renting out someone else’s womb to have the child she wants (which is an option, these days, and if so far it’s only (or perhaps mostly) used for cases where it’s medically necessary) — she’s adopting a child that was already born, and would have been born regardless of whether or not she was willing to experience childbirth.

      Yes, she’s effectively pushing the experience of childbirth onto someone else, but only to the degree that say, someone who needs (some kinds of) an organ transplant is wishing for someone else’s death. In both cases, you’re benefiting from someone else experiencing what you’re trying to avoid, but in no way did you cause or engineer it, and the bottom line is that it would have happened anyway. All you can hope is for something good to come from it.

    • MNiM

      Oh, and to answer you question: no, I’m not afraid of childbirth. We all juggle risk all the time.

    • Kristina

      I’m not sure it really counts as toco_phobia_ unless you want children, but the fear is stopping you from having them. If you don’t want children in the first place, fearing childbirth is not really a phobia since you don’t in any way suffer from it.

    • Lis

      More disgusted by the whole process of pregnancy in general than afraid though.

      Good thing there’s absolutely NO reason I need to reproduce!

      Personally, I think it’s great when people adopt. There are tons of orphaned children out there, and it’s nice when people can see beyond their biological need to proliferate their own DNA and take joy in helping a kid that needed parents.