Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hey Scaredy Cat

One of my readers, N, forwarded me an article about a phobia that seems to be gaining steam - tocophobia - the fear of childbirth. According to British reports, 1 in 6 women now have this fear.

I found it quite telling that fear of childbirth is a labeled as a "harrowing condition" according to the British Journal of Psychiatry.

I don't know about you, but to me, it seems completely rational for a woman to have a pronounced fear of a traumatic event that causes extreme and prolonged pain, can involve possible slicing and dicing of her most private body parts, total loss of control over bodily functions, permanent undesirable body changes, and in some cases death. Given this, it would seem to me that not fearing childbirth would be indicative of some type of psychological disorder that should raise concern, but what do I know?

Once again, the choice to not bear children is pathologized and treated as a type of sickness, whereas the choice to undergo the traumatic and possibly life-threatening experience of childbirth is held up as the standard of good psychological health.

N eloquently expressed her disdain in her email to me:

"I saw it as a way to pathologize a woman's life choice that doesn't go along with the societal norm. It reminds me of when they would give promiscuous women lobotomies for their behavioral 'problems.'

That's the part that really irritates me - the idea of the desire for children as the ONLY normal feeling we're allowed to have about children and child birth. Of course, a male can be hesitant or scared or not welcoming of a pregnancy, and that's cute how he's trying to hold onto his freedom (how many romantic comedies have you seen where the girl has to 'raise' the male lead to be an adult?), but for a woman it's always been 'unnatural' to feel that way, and now, it's a disorder.

I just wish women were allowed to make decisions about their own body without the entire world having an opinion on if it's right or wrong or not."

N hit the nail on the head. Men who fear becoming fathers are given a "tsk tsk" (i.e. boys will be boys) and not much more, whereas women who fear childbirth are pathologized, their "disorder" slapped with a credible-sounding label while concerned professionals race to undertake research to discern the root causes of the pathology. Was she abused as a child? Is she "Type A"? Is she a perfectionist? Does she suffer from higher levels of anxiety and depression than normal childbearing women? There must be some explanation.

Yes, researchers, there is an explanation. Childbirth is horrible. It is traumatic. It is incredibly painful. It is scary. It can go on for hours and hours. It is disgusting. It feels like your body is being torn in half. It can be dangerous and permanently disfiguring. This is from the mouths of moms - you know, those paragons of solid psychological health that are held up as the standard for the rest of us. If moms tell us childbirth is all these things, why should a woman not fear and go to all lengths to avoid it?

Let's also not forget that childbirth is essentially the explusion of an inner-body parasite into the world where he will become an outer-body parasite for at least 18 years - usually many more. That alone is a very rational reason to fear and avoid childbirth.


Christy said...

My family member who is a pediatrician had a planned c-section. She told me it was because she didn't want any stretching, or enlarging of the vagina, nor did she want to feel the extreme pain. I questioned her about how the stretching could be a real phenomenon. The infant is only "there" for a few seconds. She replied, it's not about time, it's about size. The vagina is just stretched so large (and then she made the shape with her hands). A gynecologist would be more of an expert imo, but still, if a pediatrician says it, I kinda think she has a little more clout than all the women out there who are constantly telling us that their man can't feel any difference afterwards.

Because really? How can these women ever really know that? What's he going to say? No, it's horrible honey. Having sex with you now is like parking a Pinto in an airplane hangar.

I fear all those things: the pain, the splicing of the MOST SENSTIVE area of my body, the things that could go wrong, the loss of my youthful body and rockin' sex life. Nor do I find having my guts cut open and juggled about a better option. Most of all, I just don't want that outer parasite, for whom I'm sure I could do nothing right, according to the parasite.

I don't think it's irrational; I just think we have actually put some thought into it, instead of going into denial about the whole medical, labia-ripping aspect of it and dwelling on snuggly, pink baby thoughts.

Wix said...

"A study of 26 women " isn't a study. That's barely a survey.

While I agree that childbirth sucks and is fairly disgusting I'm weary of these sorts of things becoming "feminist" issues. There are still women in the modern world who give birth by squatting, basically crap the baby into a ditch, and then go right back to their work for the day with baby in tow - all without painkillers. They don't seem to fear it, yet western women with access to comfy beds and epidurals do. At worst this suggests that this is a cultural "problem" (as if less people giving birth is a problem), though again given the sample size not so much.

Spectra said...

Well, in the Bible, after Adam and Eve sinned, God CURSED women with the pain and agony of childbirth. Which makes me wonder how we would have procreated had Adam and Eve NOT sinned. Maybe we would all just go to sleep and have a rib taken out to reproduce. At any rate, giving birth scares the living daylights out of me. Your body literally becomes it's own entity for 9 months and no one will ever convince me you become the same way you were before getting pregnant. If I do ever change my mind about wanting a kid, I'll adopt.

Tina Jo said...

It's interesting that they say in the article that a phobia is "a strong irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger." I personally don't see it as irrational. Why wouldn't you be afraid of something that you know, without a doubt, will cause you extreme pain? And why does this "phobia" need to be treated? The only thing it is affecting is whether these women have their own biological children. But that is apparently so horrible that they need to go through treatment.

I'm glad that the two girls that are specifically referenced in the article have resisted undergoing treatment and plan to adopt rather than succumbing to society's opinion that they need to have their own biological children.

critter said...

The very idea of gestation and birth has horrified me since the mid 1960s or so.
And I never had any.

CFVixen said...

I'm pretty pain tolerant, yet the whole idea of thrusting a unit the size of a watermelon through a most sensitive part of my anatomy that is no bigger than a nickel...yeah, no.

Why would that be a phobia to avoid pain? I think that's a pretty healthy reaction.

Anonymous said...

You know, my mother loves watching footage of babies being born. She thinks its a beautiful miracle. I can respect that.

I, on the other hand, have to leave the room. I find it disgusting, alarming, brutal, violent, messy and just plan nasty.
And when I hear of some women being refused c-sections or their requested for of pain relief, I find that to be bordering on abuse.

I read once that someone was told to "stop making such a noise" when giving birth. I wanted to find that nurse and break her fingers off one-by-one.

The pain of giving birth doesn't scare me as much as the people who would be in control. I don't want some nurse telling me what to do and how to do it. I don't want to be told "no you can't have an epidural", I don't want a total stranger staring down at my 'downstairs'. The whole thing has "indignity" written all over it. Not to mention that most women actually s**t themselves during childbirth too.

And people want to pass this off as a curable phobia? Give me a break...

Unknown said...

One of my many reason for not having children is the fear of painful childbirth. When people press me about why I don't want kids I often try this defense first. I'm then told by mothers that its an "irrational fear" or its "really not that bad" or "its worth it to have a beautiful child". To me its not worth it.

This article makes a good point that woman who say its not worth it because of the fear of a painful delivery are treated like they have some kind of irrational fear or phobia and men who say they don't want children are dismissed as being normal for wanting to hold on to their youth or freedom.

I'm in an interesting situation. My husband is the one who wants kids and I don't. When we discuss the issue with friends I'm treated like the one who needs to be convinced that having kids is a good idea. It's never that my husband who is being persuaded that my not wanting kids is just as valid a choice. I'm sick to death of being treated like a crazy person because I don't fit the stereotype of the married person with children. Why must everyone be forced to fit the norm be that getting married automatically means your going to or want to have a house full of kids!?

Childfreeeee said...


It irritates me too that the childfree partner is considered the one with issues. Your post reminded me of an old blog post of mine about my lunch with a therapist. Check it out.

Temujin said...

I have a friend who was a midwife for a while. She told me that there are some rabidly pronatalist midwife types out there who celebrate birth as the most wonderful, beautiful thing ever, no disagreement allowed. They describe birth as "a deeply sexual experience," and everyone is supposed to nod her head and say "yeah, I can see that." Umm....okay. I wanted to ask, yet I didn't want to ask.

I would say that treating pregnancy like it's a medical problem and treating birth like it's surgery and has to be done in a hospital increases the anxiety level about it. There are plenty of things that hospitals do that make the experience worse and not better.

Easy for me to say; born male, no uterus.

CF-PC Me! said...

Ima psychology major, and in reality a phobia is co sidered a rational fear. However, fears are not considered abnormal until the person suffering from that fear feels like the is causing them problems. To many who are scared of childbirth, it is entirely rational. But to others, it is pervasive and this becomes tocophobia. Tocophobia is far more overarching than fear of giving birth. A tocophobic for example, would have an extreme fear response to seeing, say, any day time television show on TLC (you know, when everything and it's grandma is giving birth to something?). It isn't a pathologized or abnormal until it causes the sufferer discomfort. Just saying. I'm a psych major and I'm pretty picky about it. Also, yeah that is SOO not a study. That isn't even a survey. That's a damned cosmo poll! Lol!