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.