Tokophobia: 71% of Nigerians Have a Phobia of Pregnancy and Childbirth — Poll

Have you heard of tokophobia? This week, I was (un)lucky to come upon a thread created by a medical doctor on Twitter. In the lengthy tweet, he discussed the process of childbirth. The elasticity of the vagina after childbirth and all.

Because of his rather “scary” explanation, many women on the thread swore that they would either have childbirth via Caesarean section or not give birth to children at all. Now that is a strain of Tokophobia.

What is tokophobia?

Tokophobia is defined as a pathological fear of pregnancy and can lead to avoidance of childbirth. This condition can be classified as primary and secondary.

Primary tokophobia is developed from adolescence up until adulthood. The fear is that of women who have never had childbirth or gotten pregnant. Women with this fear may deploy the use of contraceptives to stall pregnancy. If they do get pregnant, they may consider a cesarean section or even abortion. Women who witness childbirth as girls or who suffered sexual abuse are likely to be tokophobic.

Secondary tokophobia, on the other hand, is defined as the fear of childbirth developing after a traumatic obstetric event. This event could be a miscarriage or stillbirth in a previous pregnancy. Although, a woman may still suffer secondary tokophobia even after an obstetrically normal delivery.

Pregnancy in Nigeria

Pregnancy is a life-changing point in a woman’s life. This is especially so in Nigeria where it is still so much of a big deal. Prayer concerts are held to unlock the womb of barren women. Or feisty mothers-in-law start badgering their daughters-in-law when they don’t give them a grandchild by the first year. One might think that getting pregnant should then be the goal of all women. Because it is greeted with so much fanfare and the “Mama Baby” title. But not so many women look forward to it.

Some women see pregnancy as a worrisome event. Once this fear takes on a pathological dimension, it becomes tokophobia.

Cases of tokophobia are put at about 22% in a research carried out in Sweden. But it’s not even half as many as the cases in Nigeria as per a recent poll created by Posh and Venus. The poll revealed that at least 71% of Nigerian women have had tokophobia at a time in their lives.

We could pin this disparity on the difference in quality of healthcare systems in both climes. There’s a general mistrust of the Nigerian healthcare system and this could stoke fear in women.

It is interesting to note that there is a sentiment held albeit silently in the maternal spaces in Nigeria. This sentiment is that, women who give birth via other means but the vagina are lesser women. And many women in the past, refused professional advice to opt for Caesarean section over vaginal birth. All in a bid to fit into the image of the “strong woman”.

Are there treatments for tokophobia?

Not quite. At least, not medical treatments. Tokophobia is largely a psychological thing and most of the women with fears seek support. They seek support from their spouses, mothers, sisters, or colleagues. A study shows that support for women with severe fear of delivery resulted in a 50% reduction in the rates of Caesarean section births for psychosocial indications.

In less common cases where prenatal depression is present in tokophobia, pharmacotherapy may then also be used. To nip tokophobia in the bud, early sexual education would also be helpful.

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