Tokophobia - Julie's story

I always knew I would struggle being pregnant because I have a massive fear of childbirth.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Julie knew that giving birth would be problematic and before she became pregnant she researched the possibilities of having an elective caesarean. However, at her booking appointment the midwife made it clear that this was unlikely to be offered.

“I always knew I would struggle being pregnant because I have a massive fear of childbirth. It comes from being sexually abused as a child, so things like smear tests are always very traumatic for me. When I mentioned it to the midwife at booking she made it clear I’d have a massive battle on my hands. She said ‘Yes you’re suffering from mental health issues but there’s nothing physically wrong with you so whatever consultant you see you’re going to have a massive fight’, which made me very anxious from that 10-week appointment that I was going to have to worry about labour and having internal examinations.”

Julie did have to fight for her elective caesarean.

The consultant dismissed Julie’s fears and she would have panic attacks before the consultant appointments, although she received excellent support from a project midwife who spent time with her before every consultant appointment.

“I went to see the consultant and she said ‘Well I’m sorry, there’s nothing wrong with you, you can’t have a c-section, you’re going to have to go through with a vaginal birth’. And that was the end of the world for me, I was just in absolute terror. I went for five or six appointments with her and she got a bit more aggressive with me each time I went.”

It was already a stressful time for Julie because she had a demanding job, she was trying to move house, and there was illness in the family.

Her anxiety about birth meant she couldn’t sleep, she lost her appetite, she had mood swings and panic attacks.

She received support from a psychotherapist with whom she had been having counselling for some years, from her partner, and from an NCT group that her partner persuaded her to go to (despite her concerns about talking about birth). She tried to cope by taking time to do ordinary things that she enjoyed (such as baking and yoga), but she found it difficult that in her social network there was great pressure to be happy and positive about pregnancy, so she was careful to choose who she talked to.

“It gave me sleepless nights – I don’t think I had one night of sleep throughout pregnancy. Just constantly exhausted because I’d wake up at 2 or 3 o’clock, just lying there not able to go back to sleep with thoughts just going round and round and round in my head, how was I going to get this baby out, was I passing on my own stress to my baby? I was very worried that I was causing health problems to my baby by being stressed all the time, which is like a vicious circle, you get stressed about being stressed and then you’re more stressed.”

Near the end of her pregnancy, by chance Julie saw a different consultant who immediately granted her request for an elective caesarean and apologised for the stress that she had suffered over this.

Although she was still anxious about the prospect of going through a caesarean, this was a massive weight off her shoulders.