Thy name is Tokophobia!
If you’re someone who loves the idea of having kids but is equally scared of getting pregnant and subsequently, giving birth, be my guest!
For as long as I remember, I have always loved the idea of having kids, to such an extent, that I started reading books on parenting while I was still a teenager, wait what?!
As someone who had always been an eternal planner, right since childhood, I had planned on becoming a mother of two by the time I hit 30 (courtesy, social conditioning).
The sex education class at school was my moment of epiphany and it was only in the 9th grade did I realize that babies are delivered vaginally.
I remember coming home from school and asking my mum about it, in absolute disbelief. Talking to my mum about this didn’t really calm me down. I was angry, upset and irritated with God for having given this supposed “gift of childbirth” to a woman. It seemed unfair and to be honest, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, it still seems unfair.
I met my beloved husband a couple of years ago, we dated for a while and then got married few days before my 27th birthday.
Post-marriage and re-location to a different country, getting a job seemed elusive and somehow, getting pregnant seemed way more scarier. Couples who married after we did, started getting pregnant, having babies. Although the idea of pregnancy and childbirth scared me to my bones, I still wanted to have babies. My husband, who’d wanted babies right from the time we were married, sensed and realized that my fear of pregnancy and childbirth seemed graver than what he thought. We spoke about my fears and we decided that we’d talk about having babies only when I was ready to talk about it.
In the meanwhile, life took on (like it always does), I did a couple of odd jobs and I was still not ready to have babies. The sight of pregnant women made me feel uneasy and queasy (at times). Thoughts of not wanting to have babies at all, started clouding my mind. You guessed it right..my fear had reached dizzying heights and I started googling about my fears, that’s when I realized that I am not alone, and that about 3 to 15% women suffer from Tokophobia or fear of childbirth (which is derived from a Greek word ‘tokos’ meaning childbirth and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.)
From age 27 to about 32, I just lived with my fear, still anxious about childbirth and visibly upset when friends/family had babies since I kept shuttling between wanting to have babies and then again going back to, “I don’t want to have babies”, because of my crippling fear. What made things worse is asking other women about their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth. When a considerable number of women in your circle have had a difficult pregnancy and childbirth, it only aggravates your fear. Every time I saw a pregnant woman, I felt anxious and would think about the amount of pain that she’d go through while delivering her child. So, in stead of thinking how happy the woman would be to hold her child post-delivery, all I could think of, was the pain that the woman would go through, during labour.
I wasn’t getting any younger and was suffering from hypothyroidism, which can make conception difficult. Also, when you’ve been an eternal planner and had decided (well in advance) to have two kids before hitting 30 but here you are..sitting pretty at 32, undecided and crippled with extreme fear of childbirth, shit gets way real.
So, sometime in June 2019, after a lot of pep talks, discussions and arguments, my husband and I decided to go visit a gynecologist just to learn more about preparing for a baby.
Even during that time, mentally, I just wasn’t prepared to have a discussion with anybody, let alone a gynaecologist. I had explicitly told my husband that if I were to be subjected to a vaginal examination, I’d flatly refuse as I was petrified of such internal examinations. We arrived at the clinic, the gynaecologist was one of the sweetest doctors that I had ever come across. She explained to us the process of conception replete with diagrams and patiently answered all our questions. Everything was going well until she asked me to get a vaginal examination done and then, the ruckus that I created could put a 5 year old to shame. My husband was mortified and so was the doctor. Eventually, although reluctantly I had to get the vaginal examination done to rule out issues that could mar my chances of getting pregnant. Turns out, it wasn’t painful at all, just a tad bit uncomfortable. Anyway, after talking to my gynaecologist, I, for the first time in a while, felt that pregnancy and childbirth may not be all that bad and maybe..just maybe, I could come out alive after birthing a baby!
Around that time, I had friends, as scared as me, going about their pregnancies and childbirth, like a bawse. Talking to these friends really helped and gave me some much-needed courage to start thinking in that direction. My husband and I started taking baby steps (no pun intended) towards planning our pregnancy! A couple of months down the line, in May 2020, in the midst of a world-wide pandemic and a nationwide lockdown, I got knocked up ;)
Pregnancy, honestly, was a breeze, barring the fourth and the fifth month when things were really tough mentally and emotionally. During the tough times, all that I was concerned about was the health and the well-being of my child. In hindsight, I believe that these tough moments, in a way, helped me toughen up and brace myself for childbirth. It’s amazing how something so tiny, growing inside your womb can give you so much strength and fortitude. The rest of the months were filled with morning sickness (in the initial few months) followed by mood-swings, food and lots of love and nurturing, courtesy my family. Of course, thoughts of labour pain and delivery were always there, but talking to my mother and sister really helped me maintain my sanity. Praying helped a lot too.
On the 14th of January 2021, at about 4.30 am in the morning, my water broke and there was slight bleeding. I, for some reason, wasn’t as anxious as I thought I’d be and was, in fact, much calmer.
By 5.30 am, I was in the labour room, on the bed, being given enema, getting a PV done and having a drip go through my vein. All of this happened in a jiffy and I didn’t really have the time to process anything. I was forced to go with the flow.
The drip was to prevent infections. As per the assistant doctor, the baby was positioned way above the usual position and that a C-Section was inevitable. However, as per my doctor (not the doctor that I had consulted, as I moved to India for my delivery) a strict no-nonsense octogenarian, a normal delivery was still possible. At about 10.30 am, post breakfast, a drip to induce labour was given to me and a tablet sort of a thing was inserted inside the vagina. Initially it felt like mild period cramps which became stronger by the hour. By afternoon, the contractions were harsh and cruel. A PV was done every two hours to monitor the baby’s position. PVs’ aren’t painful but are really annoying. A combination of a contraction and PV is excruciatingly painful. By evening, I felt I wasn’t in my senses; I literally pulled my hair in pain. The thing about labour is, you know you’re in deep pain, you know that you’d be out of it as soon as the baby is born but you do not know how long you are going to be in labour. At about 6 pm, there was a combination of mucus, blood and water gushing down my vagina in full force, my doctor confirmed it to be the“show”. And what a show it was! From then on, there was this constant urge to push. By then, I was in indescribable pain. My sister kept massaging my back all through labour — this was the only thing that kept me going.
After a long, arduous day, at about 7.40 pm, I was finally wheeled in for what I thought was another PV. Little did I know that I was being wheeled in for my delivery. My doctor asked me my blood group — I remember telling him that it was B+, he asked me to remain positive, staying true to my blood group. I remember smiling feebly at his opportune use of humor. I pushed once, albeit with no result. My doctor, I felt, made a small incision (which somehow wasn’t painful, considering the agonizing pain that I was already going through) and asked me to push as hard as I could to push the baby out. I pushed with all my might, with the last shred of strength I had, and lo and behold, the baby was out. It was around 8 pm. I heaved a long sigh of relief and shed a few tears of joy on hearing my baby girl cry! I was in a daze and was deeply exhausted. Getting stitched up wasn’t painful at all, with all the anesthesia . However, it felt like the Doctor took a long time in stitching me up. I remember telling my sister jokingly the next day, it felt like the doctor was doing some serious embroidery down there!
My baby is slightly over 3 months old as of today, and as cliched as it may sound — holding your child does make you forget the pain that you endured, albeit momentarily! I wouldn’t say that Tokophobia is history for me, but I sure as hell know that I have it in me to beat the hell out of it, without epidurals!
The one thought that sort of gave me strength to go ahead and have a baby is that, at about 50 or 55, when I’d be way past my normal fertile years, not having a child would really dishearten me.
The intention to write about my experience is to tell my fellow sisters who’ve been facing Tokophobia, is to go out there and have as many babies as you want (C-Section, with or without epidurals, doesn’t really matter).
Happy Motherhood! :)