Childbirth Preparation and Common Phobias
A phobia is an irrational fear of something...that sounds very vague, and indeed it is, but that's because there are many types of phobias, affecting somewhere between 8.7% and 18.1% of people in the United States (according to the National Institute of Mental Health). Some people experience phobias triggered by certain situations - for example, a family trip to the swimming pool may be impossible, even for a grown adult, due to an irrational and overwhelming fear of water. Some causes of phobias can be linked to previous experiences, perhaps in childhood, which may or may not have become suppressed, such as a near-drowning experience (sparking a life-long fear of water) or an intense fear of dogs, as a result of having been bitten by one in the past.
Some people have "weird" phobias about inanimate objects whose perceived harmful potential is very difficult for non-phobia sufferers to comprehend - koumpounophobia, an intense fear of buttons, is a case in point. Such phobias can trigger "flight or fight" reactions in the brain of the phobia sufferer, along with sweating, increased heart rate and even panic attacks. Other people may regard such phobias as silly, and expect the sufferer to just "get over it" but this may not be possible without some treatment. Phobias are anything but funny to the people affected by them, and in some cases they really impact on daily life, making it hard for the sufferer to function. When a phobia affects a sufferer to this degree, it's classed as an anxiety disorder.
The Childbirth Phobia
Two of the most common phobias associated with pregnancy and childbirth are tokophobia (the fear of the process of giving birth itself) and social phobias, such as an intense fear of eating in public after childbirth, which develops, for example, in connection with postnatal depression and the struggle to lose weight after pregnancy.
Most women experience some anxiety when they think about giving birth, particularly during their first pregnancy. For some women, however, this fear simply gets out of control. Although a tokophobic woman may fear anything associated with childbirth, but some of the more common aspects of this phobia are:
Fear that pregnancy and childbirth will change a woman's life and body beyond all recognition and certainly not for the better.
Fear of pain during childbirth.
Fear of miscarriage.
Fear of dying during childbirth.
Fear of giving birth to a deformed child.
In some cases, these fears are already well in place even before pregnancy begins, and women who are affected will take drastic measures to avoid pregnancy, including divorce, abortions, secret use of contraception (unknown to their partners) and even seeking radical surgical procedures which would result in infertility.
As with many mental health conditions, it's often difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of tokophobia. There may be a link to a traumatic experience in the past - a difficult birth, the loss of pregnancy or of a child, or even the death of a sibling during childhood.
A woman may exhibit childbirth phobia symptoms whenever she encounters something that stimulates her fear - this could be literally anything connected to childbirth and pregnancy. For example, receiving a gift of maternity wear, visiting a pregnant friend, or attending a prenatal doctor's appointment. Depending on the severity of the phobia, she may suffer from an unshakeable sense of dread and impending doom which destroys her quality of life. She may also have physical symptoms: shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, etc.
Phobia treatment is available from qualified psychologists and psychotherapists. It may involve some form of cognitive behavioral therapies. Cognitive therapies focus on teaching you how to recognize your phobia triggers, and to use certain techniques to distract you from your panicky thoughts, thereby avoiding anxiety attacks and the physical symptoms described above. Behavioral therapy teaches you how to overcome your fears in small steps.
For example, if your fear of childbirth is making you so uncomfortable that you're avoiding going into a store and buying the maternity gear you need, then your therapy may focus on building up slowly to having you achieve that goal before the issue of going through childbirth is addressed head on. Many women who suffer from an intense fear of childbirth find that a pre-arranged C-section birth helps them to overcome their anxiety - the pros and cons of this option should be discussed with your doctor.