Tokophobia: ‘I Wanted To Abort My Longed-For Baby’

Rebecca* couldn't believe her own reaction to the news she was pregnant.


by Allison Martin |
Published on

I sat alone in my bathroom, my hands shaking as I waited the three minutes for the result of the pregnancy test. After years of longing for a baby with my husband Andrew*, I hoped our dream was about to come true.

I'd often fantasised about the moment of seeing those life-changing lines appear on the pregnancy test stick. I thought I'd feel elated; desperately excited to share the life-changing news we'd both been waiting for. Yet there the lines were, and the feeling flooding through my body wasn't joy - but terror.


Looking at the result, I was overwhelmed by a sudden, random and inexplicable sense of dread, so powerful I struggled to breathe. I had no idea why I wasn't reacting the way I always imagined I would. All I knew was that I felt panicked and out of control - and that I couldn't possibly go through with the pregnancy. It sounds crazy but the split-second switch in my emotions was so physical I started to shake.


I knew my response made no logical sense whatsoever. Andrew and I had talked about starting a family so many times over the two years we'd been together, and we'd started trying to conceive as soon as we'd married nine months earlier. We were deeply in love and I knew he'd be a wonderful father. So why, instead of dialling his number, was I stuffing the positive test deep into a drawer and vowing not to tell him? And why was I consumed by the idea of having an abortion behind his back?

For a week, I kept my pregnancy secret to myself. I was a mess, barely functioning at work and crying myself to sleep every night. Andrew knew something was very wrong, but I pushed him away. I spent the week desperately trying to make sense of my own feelings. I trawled the internet, reading about pre-natal depression and wondering if that was the problem.

Tokophobia Diagnosis

We now know I was suffering from tokophobia, a psychological condition that can instil a pathological fear of pregnancy and childbirth in pregnant women that has, in some tragic cases, resulted in some sufferers aborting. It's little understood, but for many women it centres on the process of childbirth. For me, though, it was the idea of my body changing during pregnancy which caused my terror. It sounds ridiculous to be so scared of putting on weight, but it went so much deeper - it was a crippling fear of losing control of my own body.

I knew what I was experiencing wasn't rational, but I just couldn't do anything to stop it.

By the Friday I knew I had to confess, so when Andrew came home from work, I blurted it out: "I'm pregnant but I can't go through with it".

At first he was bewildered, saying over and over that it should be the happiest time of our lives. I was distraught. His words barely registered until his confusion turned to anger and he eventually gave me the ultimatum that saved our daughter's life. If I terminated our child, he couldn't stay.

Medical Help

The idea of losing him was unthinkable so, although my feelings hadn't changed, I agreed to see a psychologist. I cried every day for five weeks before that first appointment with Sarah*. When I explained my sense of panic every time I thought about getting bigger, she immediately diagnosed tokophobia. For some women it's the result of a previous traumatic birth but for first-time mums, like me, it can appear with no discernible reason.

My midwife and doctor were unsupportive. I was put on antidepressants, but it was my appointment with Sarah every two weeks that proved a lifeline.


Feelings Of Terror

Even once I'd decided against a termination, the pregnancy was still utter hell and I could only cope by pretending it wasn't happening. I told no-one, wearing baggy clothes and continuing to exercise at full pelt.

Andrew tried to encourage some enthusiasm but I couldn't let him touch my bump, even when the baby started to kick. I couldn't even look at myself in a mirror when I got changed.

Scans inspired feelings of dread. I couldn't bear the sight of the other pregnant women in the waiting room. I didn't want to see my baby on a screen, let alone take scan pictures home to share with friends and family.


Now, I feel so sad about that time, like we were cheated out of something which should have been so precious. Andrew wanted to be a part of the pregnancy and I denied him that. Even at the time, I knew what I was experiencing wasn't rational but I just couldn't do anything to stop it - I felt trapped inside my greatest fear.

Andrew was incredibly supportive, changing the subject in social situations if he could see me getting uncomfortable. And Sarah explained that however strange my behaviour seemed, it wasn't my fault.

Still, I struggled to tell people how I was feeling, even my mum. When I eventually plucked up the courage to confide in a close friend, she was brutal. She was desperate for a child of her own and couldn't understand, let alone empathise. We no longer speak, which makes me really sad.


The Birth

Olivia* arrived two months early by Caesarean section because I had contracted an infection. Thankfully, she was perfectly healthy. I'll never forget the moment we first locked eyes - she was in the special care baby unit and I was overcome by so many feelings all at once: love, concern, relief and guilt over how I'd behaved for the past seven months. And that guilt has stayed with me. I never want her to know the truth because I can't bear the idea of her thinking she wasn't wanted. If I find it hard to understand my own feelings, how could I possibly explain them to her?

From that day forward, all my anxiety vanished and the fears I'd had over how we would bond melted away.

The idea of pregnancy still horrifies me, though. Liv, now two, has brought us so much joy and we'd love to give her a brother or sister but I'm not sure I can go through all of that again. Just because you've suffered once doesn't guarantee it will happen again, but when I think about being pregnant, the fear is overwhelming. I feel so sad that tokophobia may cost my daughter the chance of a sibling.

It troubles me that there are women out there struggling to make sense of what's happening to them. I'm so grateful I was diagnosed and got the support I needed. As I watch my little girl play, it's terrifying to think how close I came to losing her.

*names have been changed.

Read more:

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3 In 4 Working Mothers Have Experienced Pregnancy And Maternity Discrimination

Are You Suffering From Pregnancy Anxiety?

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