Reporter's Notebook

Stories of Tokophobia
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Spurred by Ashley Lauretta’s piece on tokophobia, readers discuss their own pathological dread of giving birth. To offer advice or share your personal story, send us a note at hello@theatlantic.com.

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Confessions of a Tokophobe

From the article that started this whole discussion:

There are not many women who openly discuss having tokophobia, though some have spoken out in media or online in recent years to share their stories or seek help. One woman on Reddit, in a channel devoted to people who don’t want children, notes that her tokophobia was so severe she was afraid of having sex with her significant other for fear of becoming pregnant, even when protection was used. “I know it’s silly that I’m this afraid,” she writes, “but I can’t help it.”

That recent college grad, Eileen Jones, emailed hello@ to elaborate on her experience. In her long and compelling note below, she recalls several events in her life that triggered her tokophobia and how those deep-seated fears derailed her first career goal. Her phobia is so overwhelming that she’s “only had vaginal sex two times.” And her thoughts on self-sterilization raises some interesting questions. Here’s Eileen:

I turned to reddit for advice because for years I had felt like such a freak of nature because not only do I not want children, but I am also terrified of pregnancy. It was such a relief to find an online community that understood how I felt.

I can’t exactly pinpoint what caused my tokophobia. I have always thought that tokophobia/not wanting children might be some sort of evolutionary response to overpopulation. I knew when I was about 4 years old that I did not want children. I think I was maybe around 13 when I realized that I actually had a fear of pregnancy. I remember doing sex education stuff around that age and abstinence was really pushed at my school. I can remember the nurse explaining some of the symptoms of pregnancy and being pretty repulsed.

When I was in high school, I had my heart set on being a doctor.

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.

Our latest reader testimony comes from Jennifer:

I have tokophobia and two kids. My mother and both grandmothers were ripped apart during childbirth. They all had lifelong incontinence and sexual dysfunction after countless surgeries. It destroyed one of my grandmother’s marriages. My father just resorted to affairs but stayed with my mother despite her complete inability to orgasm and having to wear basically adult diapers most of her life. (She still does.)

When I became pregnant, I thought I could rationalize through my fears of ending up the same way, but I was terrified. My OB ended up performing an elective cesarean at 40 weeks. I had a healthy baby and excellent recovery. I did it again two years later with the birth of my second daughter. Both times I was walking around the halls with my new baby within 12 hours.

So far I’m the ONLY woman in my family to give birth without incontinence and sexual dysfunction. I’ll advise my daughters to also have surgical births. Sometimes tokophobia is valid.

But this next reader, Diane, thinks that term is being tossed around too loosely:

It’s not a PHOBIA! I’m sure I’m not the first person to point this out. It’s a legitimate and rational fear. Walk through an older cemetery sometime and check out the dates of death for the women vs. the men.

And you DON’T know what’s going to happen to you. I have three children and I was scared every time (and every experience was different). I know people who have had placenta previa [when the placenta covers the cervix] and almost died. I know people who have had pre-eclampsia [high blood pressure and signs of organ damage] and almost died.