Originally published by the Conversation, Tokophobia: what it’s like to have a phobia of pregnancy and childbirth describes the rare fear of pregnancy and birth experienced by women prior to becoming a mother, or, for some, post motherhood. After Paula commented on our Facebook page, we asked her to share her story. Here's just how remarkable the journey has been for her.
Here's Paula's story:
“At the age of 16 I had a pregnancy scare and, when my adoptive mother threatened to kick me out, I almost ended up taking my life. Mercifully, it turned out to be a false alarm – just a missed period – but the trauma of that experience made me swear off ever having children, and I became fastidious about contraception.
“When I turned 21, I searched for and reunited with my biological mother. I learned she had almost gone through with a late-term abortion (at her mother’s wishes) during her pregnancy with me. Ultimately, she chose to carry me to term and relinquish me for adoption instead. In hindsight, I do believe that the prenatal and perinatal psychological stress to which I was subjected could’ve also played a role in my aversion to pregnancy and the dread of childbirth at a sub-conscious level.
“I went through the remainder of my twenties and my early thirties happily, vocally, childfree by choice. At the age of 35, I read in a magazine that the combination of being on the Pill and smoking at my age put me at high risk for stroke. So I decided it was time to come off the Pill – which I had been taking religiously for 21 consecutive years – and have my tubes tied.
"I spent the next month partying up a storm"
“I was under the (clearly misguided) impression that it could take several months, and even up to two years, for a woman of my age to conceive naturally after coming off long-term hormonal contraception. To my shock and horror, in the six weeks between finishing my last month’s supply of the Pill and booking an appointment for a tubal ligation, I fell pregnant!
“It was just before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and, like the rest of the country, I spent the next month partying up a storm, not in a million years suspecting I had a little passenger on board. When I found out I was pregnant, I was already nine weeks along, and I was petrified of the potential harm I could’ve caused to the developing foetus by all my heavy drinking.
“As a paediatrician’s daughter, I was well aware of the myriad physical and mental birth defects out there, many of which most people have never even heard about. Compounding this fear was the fact I was also on psychotropic drugs to treat my bipolar disorder, which had been diagnosed about five years prior.
"I found the enormity of the responsibility of parenting overwhelming"
“The thought of bringing even a perfectly healthy baby into this already overpopulated, broken world terrified me. I found the enormity of the responsibility of parenting overwhelming, and the financial commitment especially daunting. But I was also in a very different place in my life to that of the scared, suicidal teenager two decades prior.
“But when I saw how excited my husband was at the prospect of becoming a dad, and we sat down and rationally reviewed our current circumstances and support structures, I knew we could make it work. It was just up to me to wrap my head around the concept of becoming someone’s mom! It was only when we had our first ultrasound and the gynae reassured us the foetus appeared completely normal, that I started to relax a bit.
“Although I did enjoy my growing bump and not having to suck in my potbelly, for the most part I was not a happy pregnant fairy. I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), which is basically morning sickness 24/7, and it lasted the duration of my entire pregnancy.
"A late Valentine’s gift became an early Christmas one"
“I gained only 6.5kg, 1.78kg of which was my son at birth. If it wasn’t for a friend’s recommendation of Asic tablets which helped keep the worst of the nausea at bay and some of my food down, I probably would’ve gained even less.
"On top of this awful HG I had violent mood swings. My gynae and psychiatrist worked together, monitoring me closely, tweaking my meds where necessary. They agreed the benefits outweighed the risks of me staying on the drugs during pregnancy and breastfeeding. But my psychiatrist said she felt it would be better to err on the side of caution and replace my Zoloft with Prozac during the third trimester, as the latter had been on the market longer and therefore more was known about its potential side-effects on babies.
“Ironically, I had barely entered my third trimester when my son decided to make his appearance. He was delivered via emergency c-section due to placental abruption at 30 weeks. Clearly he didn’t want to be Year of the Rabbit like his father, but rather Year of the Tiger like me! And so what was supposed to be a late Valentine’s gift became an early Christmas one instead.
“The instant and boundless love I felt for him and the deep spiritual bond I developed with this small human is like nothing I could ever have imagined. That said, I knew without a shadow of a doubt I didn’t want any more children. He was enough. He completed me. And I never ever wanted to go through pregnancy or childbirth again!
"So much for my plan"
“Although I had requested a tubal ligation during my elective c-section at 38.5 weeks, it wasn’t performed during the emergency c-section as my gynae wasn’t on call that night, and her colleague on duty was unaware of my request.
“But before I even had a chance to schedule the sterilisation surgery, I had a big cancer scare and, just nine months after giving birth, I had to have an emergency bilateral oophorectomy. In the blink of an eye, I lost both ovaries and fallopian tubes, and the ability to bear any more biological children. I now also needed hormone replacement therapy for the next 20 years, at least until the age my body would’ve reached menopause naturally. So much for my plan to come off synthetic hormones!
“Parenting a premature baby while recovering from major surgery and trying to find a balanced cocktail of HRT and psychotropic drugs proved to be quite a challenge. And then, somewhere in the midst of the mayhem, it hit me – the sheer miracle of what had just happened!
"What a miracle!"
“For my precious son to have been conceived in such a tiny window of opportunity, and for both of us to have survived such a traumatic birth experience, plus all the ensuing medical dramas, was pretty remarkable – by anyone’s standards. To think that this gift of motherhood – by far the most rewarding chapter of my life to date – was something I so very nearly missed out on is truly humbling. As usual, the Universe knew best.
“Although surgical menopause has resulted in the death of my once rampant libido, air-con wars in the office when I battled with hot flashes, and a good few extra inches to my waistline, I do like being able to skip the tampon aisle, and never having to worry about pregnancy or childbirth, ever again! Looking back on my tumultuous life journey, this may not be where I had planned on going, but I know it is exactly where I am meant to be."
Have you experienced a similar fear before or after pregnancy? Do you have an inspiring story to share? Tell us by emailing to email@example.com and we could publish your letter. Do let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous.
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