Overcoming Fear of Childbirth: Ali’s Story
After years of keeping her deep-rooted terror of childbirth a secret, opening up and sharing her fear has allowed Ali to find support and create processes to have the children she always wanted.
I don’t remember ever knowing where the babies came from. I’m not just talking about how they’re made, but the whole process of labor and delivery. Being the youngest of a large family and an aunt of six when she was still a teenager, I was all too familiar with the gruesome details of childbirth. I remember in my arms for the first time my tiny nieces and nephews, shaken by the reality of their arrival, and what I would have to endure to one day have my own children.
I didn’t know then that I suffered from tokophobia, a severe fear of childbirth and pregnancy. It took me almost 30 years to talk about it, but it was the best decision I ever made.
Unfortunately, the tension between desperately wanting a family of my own, but knowing that I couldn’t deal with the pain of childbirth, continued for many years. Throughout my 20s, I struggled with this inner conflict and my mental and physical health deteriorated. I had trouble sleeping, numerous gastric and digestive problems, and I had anxiety attacks at the thought of giving birth one day. Seeing pregnant women or knowing that a friend was in labor was particularly difficult. I had to hide the panic and anxiety that was overwhelming me and try to carry on as normal.
At the age of 28, I got married, but I always hid this fear from my husband. It wasn’t due to a lack of communication or a reflection of our relationship, I just physically couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. I felt like people would ignore my worries and respond with comments like, “All women are worried about giving birth” and “It’ll be fine.”
One night, three years into our marriage, the weight of what I had been carrying for so long finally broke me. Every muscle tensed and tears flowed as I forced myself to open up to my husband about tokophobia. He had no idea my fears were so paralyzing and felt devastated by what I had been through.
A week later, with her help, I reluctantly went to see my GP. I sat sobbing and shaking as my husband explained the reason for our visit. The doctor was as understanding as I could have wished and she immediately referred me to a gynecology consultant to discuss my options.
I explained to the consultant that I couldn’t afford to get pregnant because I knew I wouldn’t be able to cope with a natural labor and delivery, but I couldn’t cope with it either. idea of having a caesarean section under local anesthesia either.
She was incredibly supportive and said the words I’ve wanted to hear since I was a kid: “If you need a caesarean section under general anesthesia to be able to become a mother, then this is what we will do.” I walked out of the hospital and cried with relief.
However, more difficulties were to follow. In January 2016, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome. I was given medication to take, and after seven cycles lasting a year, but having only ovulated twice, I was emotionally and mentally exhausted, so I stopped the treatment. We bought a house and started thinking about adoption. But God had other plans for us, and in June 2017 we found out I was pregnant!
Instead of feeling excited, fear immediately arose. Luckily I was able to see my consultant early in the pregnancy and get a date for the caesarean section. She even asked me to be first on the list for surgery that day to help with my anxiety. At the start of the pregnancy, I had a few panic attacks, fearing that I would give birth prematurely or lose my baby. But that calmed down as the pregnancy progressed and in February 2018 I gave birth to my beautiful daughter, Aurelia, exactly as planned.
Speaking out loud about the fear you’ve been holding inside could be the start of the life you’ve been dreaming of
I recovered very quickly from the physical effects of the birth and was absolutely in love with my precious daughter. But I knew I couldn’t bear not being awake for her birth, and because of the effects of the anesthesia, I had trouble remembering having met her for the first time. I couldn’t watch anything on TV about women seeing their babies for the first time; I felt overwhelmed by what I had missed.
In January 2019 we had another surprise when I found out I was pregnant again! I was thrilled, but I knew I needed to ask for help to come to terms with Aurelia’s birth, before going through it all again. I contacted the maternity counseling service at the hospital and within days was referred to the Birth After Thoughts service, which I had never heard of before. I had several home visits from an incredibly helpful woman who went through Aurelia’s detailed birth notes with me – when she took her first breath, what time she cried, what time my husband l first met and even where he first fed her. It was such a relief to know all the little details about his coming into the world that I had missed.
In September 2019, we delivered our baby boy, Levi, again by caesarean section under general anesthesia. This time, however, I was encouraged to ask for things to make the experience better for me and, amazingly, a midwife even filmed Levi being born for us! The staff were amazing and took lots of photos and videos so I didn’t miss any of her precious first moments. It was such a healing experience, and it meant I could put my fears behind me and start our life together.
My advice to anyone struggling with tokophobia, no matter what stage of life you are at, would be to talk about how you are feeling with someone you trust. Making yourself vulnerable and speaking out loud about the fear you’ve held inside, albeit incredibly difficult, could be the start of the life you’ve been dreaming of.
I also strongly encourage you to talk to your GP as soon as possible and get support. You will be surprised at the amount of help and support available to you.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need; having procedures in place every step of the way will help you manage anxiety and create better mental and physical health. You have nothing to lose, but everything to gain.
Our expert says
“The experience Ali shares with us is courageous and heartwarming. The impact of tokophobia and its debilitating nature is evident – a condition that I suspect is relatively unknown to many people. Ali shares his truth openly, challenging directly her fears and overcoming to give birth to her two children.Her strength throughout the process is present and has the ability to give hope to others in similar circumstances.
Rav Sekhon, BA MA MBACP (Accred), Counselor and Psychotherapist
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