A Hormone Rollercoaster

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

This reader doesn’t want to fly off the rails by getting pregnant:

Thank you for Ashley Lauretta’s article on tokophobia. I’d like to share my experience but prefer to remain anonymous, please.

I am a childfree woman in her late 20s. I find the idea of pregnancy abhorrent and frightening in almost every way. Everything about it makes me cringe, most intensely if I imagine myself giving birth. I occasionally have nightmares about being pregnant and giving birth.

Ten years ago I used hormonal birth control for a short time and had several unpleasant side effects, including morning sickness, weight gain, and mood swings. Since pregnancy hormones are orders of magnitude stronger than birth control hormones, I am terrified of the changes my body would experience if I were pregnant. I’m afraid I would have hyperemesis gravidarum [severe nausea and vomiting] or some other horrible complication.

Going off the hormonal birth control was ten times worse.

I had depression, insomnia, amenorrhea [no menstruation], gained more weight, and I developed an eating disorder in effort to lose the weight. I believe these issues would repeat themselves—probably in fuller force—after a pregnancy, and that scares me more than anything.

It took a lot of time for me to regain my health, and I wouldn’t like to have to go through that process again. I always feel that my hormones are in a perpetual state of delicate balance. If anything, such as pregnancy, disrupts that balance, I will never regain it. I know it’s irrational.

I have always had extremely painful periods, and without strong painkillers I am unable even to get out of bed. I know that the pain of childbirth would be much worse, and that is not something I ever want to experience.

Several years ago I had exploratory surgery to see if endometriosis was causing my painful periods. It wasn’t the cause, but at that time, something deep inside me had been hoping that it was and that it would render me infertile, just so that I would have no risk of ever becoming pregnant. I still hope I’m infertile and have thought about getting tested, just so I can know for sure.

I’m glad that neither I nor my husband want children. I track my monthly cycle religiously so that I can make sure we have sex at the times that I am least likely to be fertile. I also record and pay close attention to the small changes my body undergoes throughout my cycle, such as PMS symptoms, mood changes, etc. This way, I’ll notice new or intensified symptoms that may indicate pregnancy, if it ever occurs.

I, like Ashley Lauretta, struggle with generalized anxiety, which probably has affected my experiences and predisposes me to tokophobia. Tracking my cycle helps me deal with it by giving me a sense of control and comfort.

To make a connection with some of the abortion stories I have been following recently on The Atlantic, I am fortunate to live in a state in which abortion is very accessible. If I ever became pregnant, I would absolutely choose to abort, for my own mental health.

Thanks again for Lauretta’s article, and thank you for providing a space for women to explore issues that are not commonly discussed.