Experience: I am afraid of pregnancy

‘I was diagnosed with tokophobia, a fear of pregnancy and childbirth. I’d never heard of it but was told it was a very real condition’

I had wanted a family for as long as I could remember. I was introduced to Andrew by his sister, and we married in June 2012, a year later. I was 36 and he was 38, and we were conscious of our age and knew we wanted children, so we started trying immediately. After nine months of disappointment, a home pregnancy test finally revealed I’d got my wish.

I expected to feel elated, but looking at the result I felt fear and terror wash over me. I was convinced that I could not keep the baby. I was so confused and ashamed, I didn’t tell Andrew for a week. When I eventually broke the news, I said, “I’m pregnant, but I can’t go through with it.” He was bewildered and angry, and I was distraught. I just knew that the only way I would feel better would be to terminate the pregnancy I’d wanted for so long.

I’d always been fit, and suddenly the idea of having no control over my body was unthinkable. I’m diabetic, and Andrew convinced me to see my specialist nurse, who has known me for years and knew how eager I had been to conceive. She begged me to let her refer me to a psychologist. If she hadn’t, my daughter wouldn’t be here now. I had my first appointment with Sarah when I was five weeks pregnant. I explained my worries over losing control of my body and she diagnosed tokophobia, a fear of pregnancy and childbirth. I’d never heard of it, but she said it was a very real condition that had, in some cases, resulted in the abortion of much-wanted babies.

Sarah explained that, for me, pregnancy meant being trapped inside my greatest fear. It was the equivalent to an arachnophobe being locked inside a box of spiders for nine months. My GP put me on antidepressants, and regular appointments with Sarah meant I no longer focused on a termination, but pregnancy was utter hell.

The only way I could cope was to pretend it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t even talk about it with Andrew and my family, let alone friends and even strangers who expected me to be happy and excited. If we went out, Andrew acted as a buffer zone, changing the subject if he could see me getting uncomfortable. I know he struggled to understand, but he was incredibly supportive throughout. I was afraid that if people knew how I felt, they would judge me.

I couldn’t understand it myself – I never expected to feel the way I did. I lost one close friend because I confided in her and she couldn’t understand my feelings. She desperately wanted a child at the time. We no longer speak and that makes me really sad.

My anxiety was so bad that I even considered taking my own life. I felt trapped. I wore baggy clothes to hide my pregnancy. The bigger I grew, the worse I felt. I just wanted out.

This happened sooner than expected, when my daughter Olivia arrived two months early. I had a caesarean section, and as soon as she was taken from my body I immediately felt all the confusion, pain and fear just disappear. I was myself again.

As soon as I saw Liv in the special baby unit, I felt guilty, and I still do. I never want her to know the truth, because I can’t bear the idea of her thinking she wasn’t wanted. She was so desperately wanted. But if I find it hard to understand my own feelings, how could I ever explain them to her?

Both Andrew and I feel cheated. Pregnancy should have been a time of anticipation and excitement but, for us, it was a terrible ordeal. I know Andrew feels he missed out. I couldn’t bear anyone touching my bump, so he didn’t get to feel our baby kick. The idea of pregnancy still horrifies me, but I’m considering it again because Liv brings us so much joy and we’d love to give her a brother or sister.

Tokophobia can affect up to 10% of women, often after a difficult labour, but little is known about it. It troubles me that there are women suffering, unable to make sense of what is happening. I’m so grateful I got support. Liv is my world and it terrifies me how close I came to losing her.

• As told to Allison Martin.

Do you have an experience to share? Email experience@theguardian.comAnonymous


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