In HuffPost Birth Diaries we hear the extraordinary stories of the everyday miracle of birth. This week, Lynn shares her story. If you’d like to share yours, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I used to say I never wanted kids – I wasn’t the maternal type – but as I grew older, I realised it wasn’t that I didn’t want kids... I was just terrified of having them. Thinking or talking about having a baby made me panic and sent me to tears. The fear of being pregnant and of giving birth was so all-encompassing that I couldn’t even imagine being a mother. It just wasn’t going to happen.
But I knew my husband wanted children. I didn’t want to let my fear deny him that. Women do this every day and go back for a second, and a third – so I told myself it couldn’t be that bad. I’m a determined person and I chose to get pregnant so I would have to deal with it. I thought things might change when I’d stepped over the first hurdle.
When the pregnancy test came back positive, my heart sank. I cried inconsolably. My husband had to comfort me at a time that should have been so exciting for us and I still feel guilty about that. I carried on in fear: when my pregnancy app would countdown the days – exciting for most women – I went cold and threw the phone across the room. For me, it was like a timer on death row. I would wake at night with panic attacks, and get up in the morning in tears.
At 8 weeks pregnant my midwife recognised I had tokophobia – a pathological fear of pregnancy and childbirth – and it was a comfort to know this was ‘a real thing’ and I was being listened to. I was referred to a perinatal mental health team for support with my phobia, and my midwife insisted on visiting me at home for my antenatal care so I would be in more comforting surroundings, as opposed to anxious tears in a doctor’s waiting room.
It didn’t get easier, though. Public expectation was that I should be happy and excited, but my lack of enthusiasm unnerved people and I just couldn’t fake a smile. Tears poured whenever I thought about being pregnant and I found it impossible to speak about it. I tried, quite successfully, to shut reality away and was largely in denial. But there’s no denying morning sickness, a growing bump and a changing body.
There’s no easy solution to tokophobia. I had months of therapy and in the run up to D-day I had multiple therapist appointments a week, talking though my fears and trying to rationalise them with CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).
I practised visualisation techniques and exposure therapy along with coping strategies such as grounding techniques, which required some seriously hard homework. The exercises would induce panic and stretch me to my breaking point, but the more work I put in, and the more I forced myself to think about the birth, the better I was able to cope. I was granted an elective c-section under a general anaesthetic, which is quite rare for births. It was the only way I could see my baby being safely delivered.
By the time the day came (and I thankfully hadn’t gone into natural labour), I was as prepared as I could be. I can’t recall much of the day at all. Incredibly, my midwife came to be with me in hospital, staying eight hours to calm me, keep me occupied and to ensure my birth plan was followed.
I marched, quite positively, down to the operating theatre that day. I laid on the table and took whatever the anaesthetists and surgeons threw at me while focusing on my breathing and calming myself by concentrating on other things in the room. I’d been taught this and practised so many times before – there were 33 tiles on the ceiling of the pre-op room, and a painting of an open window, which I thought was a rather nice touch, considering.
That was my last thought. The next thing I knew, it was over. I was unconscious for an hour in theatre, and then had another hour in recovery before I was taken back up to the ward. I woke up sleepily – my head was working before I could make by body function, so trying to muster the strength to ask my midwife whether everything was ok was a struggle.
My husband was handed my daughter an hour after birth and fed her. Two hours later, when I was taken back to the ward, I was handed my baby. I had drips in both arms and a catheter so was unable to pick her up myself. My overwhelming thought was: is she okay?
I remember it all being practical thoughts (10 fingers and toes, etc) rather than anything emotional. The only way I could cope with the birth and being in hospital was to remove the emotions and feelings. These all hit me when I was at home a few days later when I’d been able to process what I’d been through.
Selfishly, I don’t mind not remembering my daughter’s birth. Not at all. Knowing I would be under a general anaesthetic was the main thing that helped me come to terms with the prospect of giving birth. This came with great guilt, though, that because of the general anaesthetic, my husband wasn’t able to be present in the theatre, so he too missed the birth and cutting the cord – something he desperately wanted to do.
I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. I stared my biggest fear in the face and fought back. Dealing with a phobia is hard, but recognising you have one in the first place is paramount. Tokophobia is relatively unknown, even among medical staff. Many women may be missing out on motherhood, despite wanting a family, because they too are petrified of being pregnant and giving birth, but with the right support, and hard work, it is possible. And the reward of your baby’s first smile makes it all worthwhile.
As told to Amy Packham.