‘Are you even trying for babies?’ is the constant question I’m faced with. It’s no surprise; as a married 32-year-old homeowner, I’m at the prime-for-babies stage of life. But for me, these comments provoke more than a Millennial eye roll – because I am terriffied of childbirth.
Despite growing up the daughter of a midwife who told me of the beautiful life-changing moment women brought their children into the world, recently my fear has reached new heights – and it’s largely down to seeing stories of traumatic births everywhere on social media.
Last week, Catriona Jones, a lecturer in midwifery at the University of Hull, claimed that googling ‘childbirth’ led to a ‘tsunami of horror stories’, and that social media is creating a rise in tokophobia (the pathological fear of childbirth). Many commentators hit back, claiming this was closing down helpful discussions between supportive female networks– but for me, Jones’s assertions were true.
Mummy bloggers, mummy micro-bloggers... everyone is obsessed with ‘speaking up’; removing the taboo associated with telling ‘the truth behind childbirth’. And as horrified as the stories make me, I can’t look away. Celebrities only exacerbate this. In September’s US Vogue, Beyoncé discussed her experience of pre-eclampsia, while Serena Williams shared her near- death birth experience. Then Harry Kane recently caused controversy by praising his fiancée for giving birth without pain relief.
Yes, every woman is different, so every birth will be different – I know that rationally. But that doesn’t stop the comparisons we make. And when I read these women’s stories, images of the multitude of complications that could happen during childbirth flood my mind.
Last week, Emma Thompson waded into the debate when she said women like myself are being lied to about the pain of childbirth, making us ‘terrified of that pain’, which she feels leads to ‘an awful lot of elective C-sections’. I understand this point of view – but I often think that one way of controlling my fear would be by electing for a Caesarian. But what if I’m refused? A recent study revealed 75% of maternity units are refusing elective C-sections.
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Consultant midwife at UCLH, Dr Yana Richens OBE, says she wants women to discuss their fears and she would never say no to a C-section. ‘If, as the pregnancy progresses, her fears lessen, she can change her mind. If they stay the same, we have a plan. That’s really important for women to hold on to.’ Still, she agrees oversharing across social media has been instrumental in the rise in women’s fears. ‘It’s OK to share among women, but it’s funny when you start involving the whole world. A woman starts to question herself.’
Being scared of birth is the only reason I haven’t even started trying for a family of my own. I often apologise to my husband for not being ready yet, guilty that, because of my fears, he hasn’t got what he’s wanted since we married five years ago. Because I so want it too. I just wish I could hit mute on all these stories I’ve seen. But I can’t.