Pretty much every single pregnant woman has some anxiety about giving birth. Even if she is absolutely sure she can handle it, there is always a risk (usually very small) that something will go wrong.

But for some women it goes a lot deeper than this.

According to the National Childbirth Trust in the UK 20% of pregnant women are affected by their fear of giving birth and around 6% will be so affected by this fear that it affects the decisions they make and can be considered disabling. On top of this, approximately 13% of women are afraid enough of childbirth to either postpone or avoid pregnancy all together.

I was one of the 6% that experienced severe and disabling birth anxiety in pregnancies 2 and 3. After a traumatic first birth I knew the only option for my next birth was a c-section (you can read more about this here). But I received little or no support for this. I had to fight (hard) to be seen by a consultant and was left right up until the last minute without a decision. Something which meant my pregnancy was overshadowed by severe anxiety and antenatal depression. Fortunately, I was able to get the right outcome for me but there are many many more women who aren’t as able as me to articulate their fears or convince their health care professionals to take it seriously.

Which is why I think this is a topic we need to be talking about and why I’ve made the focus of this month understanding and overcoming birth anxiety.

So to kick off the month, this first post is looking at what exactly do I mean when I say birth anxiety.

 

For starters, I don’t mean the normal level of anxiety that all pregnant women feel about childbirth.

It’s hard to explain how awful birth anxiety is to someone who hasn’t felt it but essentially it means a significant level of fear about giving birth. Fear that affects how you feel on a day to day basis. That keeps you up at night and plays on your mind during the day. Fear that means you rule out some options because they feel too terrifying. It even has it’s own name – tokophobia – which can be defined as a pathological fear of childbirth.

It would be easy to think that this affects only first time mums because they don’t know what to expect (which is called primary tokophobia). But actually, it’s more common to experience severe anxiety or fear of childbirth after you have had a baby (known as secondary tokophobia). Usually after a traumatic first birth. Some people also refer to an ‘informal’ third kind – social tokophobia. Which is basically a way of saying that people are shitty and like to frighten expectant mums by telling them horror stories about birth.

 

So how common is it?

Well, think about those statistics I mentioned at the beginning – 20% of women are affected by fear and 6% disabling so. Now let’s put it in context.

According to the Office of National Statistics, every year in the UK nearly 700,000 babies are born.

20% of this figure is 140,000. That’s 140,000 women who will be affected by a fear of childbirth. One hundred and forty thousand. That’s insane!

And then consider that 6% of that 700,000 will be so affected by their fears that they potentially make drastic decisions. That’s 42,000 women. That seems a huge number!

It seems an especially huge number when you consider that the NCT has a single page dedicated to it. With only 1 paragraph of what you can do about it. The NHS don’t even have a page for it and I spent 20 minutes trying to find info on their website to come up with zilch.

Why aren’t we talking about this more!!! Why are so many women being left to try and deal with this themselves? It seems cruel.

 

So let’s start talking

Throughout out this month I’ll be writing posts about birth anxiety. What is it; how you can cope with it; inspirational stories from other mums and lots of lovely hints, tips and support. I’ll be hosting a series of Facebook lives each week to talk about the topic in depth and obviously, I’ll be helping you to deal with any fears or anxieties you have about giving birth. Whether now or in the future.

We’ll be looking at where a fear of childbirth can come from. Is it a growing phenomena and if so, why? I’ve got some lovely guest posts for you to read later in the month and finally, will be focusing on exactly what you can do if this is something affecting you.

But for now, this first week is about understanding birth anxiety so check back in on Wednesday for a post on where birth anxiety comes from.

 

In the mean time though, here are three key points you need to take away;

  1. Even though it’s called tokophobia, thinking of it as a phobia can make it seem irrational (think about phobias of spiders – tiny little creatures that can’t really do anything. That’s irrational). But a fear of childbirth is actually very rational. Especially when there has been a previously traumatic birth. Don’t trivialise it or dismiss it. It’s very real and very serious for anyone affected by it.
  2. Don’t assume you can overcome with a bit of relaxation and a hypnobirthing DVD. Sometimes it goes much too deep for this and without putting some serious work in, all you will do is allay fears until labour and then they will all come flooding back in full force because they were never really dealt with. A comprehensive approach is best. Tools like NLP, coaching, CBT, counselling, psychotherapy and hypnobirthing will all help. Look for a tailored approach that works best for you.
  3. You can overcome birth anxiety and you can have a positive birth experience. Now when I say positive, it doesn’t necessarily mean a natural, pain relief free, intervention free, hypnobirthing experience (although it could if that what would be positive for you). I simply mean an experience that is calm, controlled and that doesn’t trigger your fears. That could be a c-section birth; an epidural birth; a home birth or a birth in a forest surrounded by Elves. Whatever. It doesn’t matter what type of birth it is as long as it’s fear free.

 

If you are anxious about giving birth and want to have a coaching session with me to help you feel calmer, happier and more positive about your upcoming birth then get in contact here or email kate@howtosurvivemotherhood.co.uk. I’ve got your back on this one!