herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Vicki Notaro isn't just being contrary - her fear of childbirth is as genuine a phobia as any other

I'VE never been one for vicarious terror. As such, I don't jump out of planes, go on rollercoasters or watch horror movies. However, my biggest fear isn't heights, spiders or even axe murderers.

I happen to be phobic about something millions of women do every single day, something which is often perceived as the most natural thing in the world - childbirth.

Yep, I am saddled with a mortal fear of bringing new life on to the planet, possibly the most ridiculous phobia there is seeing as um, it's sort of a necessary practice for humanity, and what my body is designed to do. That womb in there? It's not just taking up space, you know.

It isn't just a minor distaste for the goriness of labour either, it's a horrible, gut-wrenching and sweat inducing fear of the entire process of bringing a child into the world.

I simply cannot comprehend how other women do it, even though I've seen countless girls go through pregnancy and childbirth and not only survive it, but enjoy it, and want to do it again.

I remember looking at a heavily pregnant colleague and marvelling at her calm and excitement. If that was me, I thought, I'd be absolutely sick with terror. I'm not even particularly squeamish; it's not just the pain, the intensity, the dependency on others or the lack of control that I fear, it's everything. Something that's natural and beautiful to other people, to me, is barbaric.

When it dawned on me that my feelings were unusual, I was perturbed. What's wrong with me, I thought, that I perceive it so differently? As if I didn't feel abnormal enough myself about this, when I told other people they laughed, scoffed and told me to stop being so silly.

The mammy mafia rightly pointed out that if women can give birth without pain relief in mud huts in the Serengeti, then it's nothing to be scared of.

However, my fear has never been exactly rational. Fear without logic is a phobia, and a fear of childbirth isn't any more illogical than being frightened of the ocean, enclosed spaces or tarantulas.

After doing a bit of reading on the subject, I discovered that the phobia of childbirth even has a name -- tokophobia. The relief I felt when I learned that I was not alone was palpable.

Approximately one in seven women worldwide suffers, and there are two strands; one is post-traumatic and occurs in women who are already mothers, the others are childbirth virgins. Sure, the former is easier to understand because it's rooted in experience, but believe me, the latter exists too. You don't have to have fallen off a skyscraper to have a mortal fear of heights, right?

Cards on the table - I'm not the most maternal of women. I don't coo over babies, but I'm not a monster - I simply prefer the company of older children and dogs.

Because of this, people usually think my fear stems from the fact that I'm not really crazy about kids in general - in other words, I'm not bothered about children so, therefore, I've come up with an excuse not to have them. Not true.

This fear has been with me since early adolescence, long before broodiness became an issue. Since I was a young teen I've been having nightmares about being in labour, a characteristic of the phobia, I later learned.

Back then, childbirth wasn't something I gave that much thought to, besides my inexplicable dreams, but as I got older I discovered that other girls my age weren't experiencing this.

True, I didn't know anybody that was just DYING to go through a 36-hour labour, but when I told my peers about my nightmares, they didn't understand. I then took it upon myself to learn as much about childbirth as I could, assuming it was simply the unknown I was frightened of.

An only child, I'd never experienced my mother being pregnant or been around newborns, so I thought this explained things and that once I was educated I'd be fine.

Wailing

This was around the time that reality TV had really exploded, so as well as boring the ear off my mam for childbirth details and devouring Wikipedia entries, I could also watch women give birth on television thanks to shows such as One Born Every Minute and 16 and Pregnant. Big mistake. Huge.

Watching those shows actually kicked the ol' terror up a notch. I was reduced to a wailing mess watching Channel 4's prime time fly-on-the-wall series set in a maternity ward, but so transfixed that I couldn't tear my eyes away.

My boyfriend came home from golf to find me glued to the sofa, shivering and ranting and raving about how I was NEVER doing that, and if he wanted kids he was with the wrong woman. I've heard others say they cry when watching One Born... because it's so touching, but my tears were those of horror. These women weren't acting. This was real.

What bothered me most is that in the early stages of labour, the women are all keeping their cool, doing well, chins firmly up. Then about two-thirds of the way through the process, they get desperate. They start to say they can't do it, it has to stop because they're simply not able.

The nurses, unfazed because they hear it every day, keep placating them, knowing that of course they can and, eh, they sort of have to. Once it starts, the end result of labour is a baby, and you can't stop until it's out. Each woman turns absolutely wild with pain, fright and exhaustion and you can see their fellas looking at them thinking, "Who is this woman?!"

The thing is, it's not just these women I feel for -- it's myself. It's the fact that sometime in the future, this is a club I'm supposed to want to join. As a woman, I know it's sort of expected of me to one day have kids. Society, biology, my family, even my own education and upbringing all lead me to believe that it's something that will happen one day, if I'm lucky.

I never say never, but if that were to happen I can confidently state here in black and white that it will not be a natural birth. That might be selfish, dangerous, many other words that earth mothers have thrown at me, but that to me is a given, and quite frankly the only way I could conceive of doing it.

It will be interesting to see how I cope when my loved ones become parents. At 26, I'm still young and none of my best friends or family members have had kids yet. Who knows, it could change my feelings for the better, but I sincerely doubt I'll ever be offering up my services as a birthing partner.

Either way, One Born... is a no-go on my telly, thank you very much. I'll stick with something a little less upsetting, like American Horror Story or The Frontline, just to be on the safe side.

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