Labor Pains: I’m Young, Childless, And Scared To Death Of Labor

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I was around 12 years old when I became truly aware of my fear of childbirth. Perhaps it came with the onset of puberty, but ever since I was a little girl I’ve been terrified of labor.

I’ve always had a low threshold for pain coupled with a high sensitivity to gore. I’ve never been able to watch a slasher film without covering my eyes. I’ve never been able to hear about a surgery or a medical procedure without feeling a bit faint. I’m still very much the adult who has to be treated like a child when I have blood taken as the nurses cycle through questions about the street I grew up on and my mother’s maiden name.

Hospitals have always made me uncomfortable, the sight of blood makes me light-headed, and pain — any type of extreme corporal pain — makes my breath quicken. But as I got into my teen years, I found that I was shielding my eyes from child-birthing scenes with the same immediacy as those slasher films and by the time I finally had high school health class, I absolutely knew that I had not only had no desire to birth babies — but that I was afraid of it.

Scenes from films are obviously exaggerated, but the more I learned about the facts of child-birthing, the more I was certain that I indeed had a phobia. Unlike some sufferers of tocophobia, the fear of childbirth, I’ve never witnessed a birth that traumatized me or endured a traumatic birth myself. The fear is completely unfounded given that I’m young and childless, and yet it’s something that I always remember having.

Ripping, tearing, blood, being utterly resigned to pain that no one can stop — it all just seems so overwhelming awful and traumatizing that it’s puzzling to me why so many so many women to continue to go through with it.  And yet given how abysmally birthing women are cared for in the United States, I can’t say that my fears have been assuaged. The more I read about and investigate my fears, the more I learn about how women’s birthing experiences are falling short of what they want them to be.

Doctors continue to make decisions for them, cranking up the Pitocin without asking, and shuttling them in to have c-sections regardless of what they want and how they want to deliver their babies. At present, it’s a powerless place for a lot of women that doesn’t appear to be improving. And although these stories and numbers absolutely feed my fear, it also relieves me to know that I’ll never be in those stirrups.

Statistics aside, my phobia only seems to worsen with age. When I was kid, I always figured that my fear would subside with adulthood. But with the passage and dissolution of many irrational fears, such as being the only one in a empty house or of watching horror films alone at night, being scared of childbirth remains one of the strongest links I have to my childhood. Just hearing about someone’s labor is enough to make me feel like I’m 12 years old again, covering my eyes from a scary part in a film.


  1. Heather

    September 6, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Wow, um…no one cares. Get over it. This is just lame, uninformative, personal rambling.

    • Nikki

      September 7, 2011 at 10:28 pm

      Actually, I liked it and it was nice to not feel alone. Because there are people like you out there making people feel like crap for expressing a fear. Nice.

    • Miss Riddle

      September 8, 2011 at 9:04 pm

      I liked it too. I ended up on this site from STFU, Parents and clicked on this article out of curiosity. I’m really glad that someone else is just as terrified of birth as I am. the thought of pregnancy and birth freaks me out and grosses me out so much that the one time I thought I was pregnant, I started punching myself in the stomach. :/

    • Corrinne

      September 11, 2011 at 10:49 pm

      Lots of people care and I loved the article because it makes me feel like less of a freak. Seems like you’re incredibly closed-minded. Not everyone thinks and feels exactly the same way as you do. Shocker, I know!

      Yeah that was harsh, but so was she.

    • Silent Agony

      February 15, 2013 at 11:29 pm

      The personal is political. & many people with this phobia would feel much relief to read someone with similar experiences.

  2. Zorbs

    September 6, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    I’m assuming the vast majority of the readership of this blog have given birth in some way or another and probably have no pity for your whining.

    • Corrinne

      September 11, 2011 at 10:51 pm

      Looks like you assumed wrong, dear! It seems plenty of women who have given birth have felt the same fears.

    • zorba

      September 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm

      You are what we call “a bitch.”

      BTW, People can adopt children and still be moms. Why is that so easily forgotten?

  3. Shae

    September 7, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I think that this is a valid fear. We as women, spend our lives hearing that the thing that is exclusively OURS, the thing we are built for, the thing that keeps life continuing as we know it HURTS. A LOT. We hear horror stories about how badly giving birth without drugs hurts, we hear about doctors who wait too long and so it is too late to put in the epidural, we hear about all the things that GO WRONG. Being cut into to retrieve a helpless life-form (I’m talking to you, C-sections), tangled umbilical cords, hours and hours and hours of seemingly unbearable pain.

    And yet we are told that this is okay, because we are women and we have to do it, because who else CAN? Not all women have to and not all women are scared to, but honestly? I am. And I want to have babies someday. Who isn’t at least a little bit nervous about it? And honestly, how often in the grand scheme of things do we hear that giving birth is a piece of piss? I’ve heard more horror stories than I can count!

    Thanks for this article, Koa. It means a lot to know that someone else is scared, too.

  4. xobolaji

    September 7, 2011 at 10:12 am

    koa, you are soooo NOT alone! i gave birth to two baby girls and i AM the person you describe. when i was younger i imagined giving birth much in the old school way that they used to show you on tv. as in, you get wheeled into the delivery room and the doctor comes out to show your husband a smiling baby. i also imagined that i would be knocked out on a cocktail of super drugs and a baby would emerge soon to be placed in my arms.

    the only reason i ever conceded to pushing was knowing that my husband would “take care of me” during the entire process. “luckily” and i say that with much trepidation knowing that people will think i’m an asshole–i had an emergency c-section [2, in fact] so i didn’t have to do what i never wanted to do in the first place.

    during prenatal classes, i used to avert my eyes because witnessing live birth made me squeamish and uncomfortable. and i almost lost a friendship b/c an extremely carefree friend participated in birthing stories and suggested that we all come over to her house for her television debut and watch the live-action. i happened to be pregnant at the time and i replied to her email blast by saying that “i wasn’t interested in participating in this voyeuristic gawk-fest.” yes, i know, harsh. but it’s how i felt. and the reason i felt like this is because i was shit-scared. [wow, it’s all coming back to me now. i should write about it! *wink*]

    anyway, you should know that your fears are real, and valid and it’s totally ok to not want to do what so many of us assume is a “natural” thing. Yes, giving birth is natural, and yes at some point we might need to value and embrace our womanhood in a way that doesn’t make us feel like we’re doing something wrong. at the same time, we all need to value our feelings without letting them rule us. from your incredibly sensitive writings on women, i know that whatever you choose, you’ll be great at it. i also think that surrounding yourself with right kind of energy will help to put your mind at ease whatever it is that you decide.

  5. Lisa

    September 7, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    The whole time I was reading this column, I felt like you were reading my mind! I am the exact same, from the fear of hospitals and slasher flicks, right down to the fear of labour. I’m young (23) and childless as well, and I sure as heck know that no labour pains will ever be involved in my life. I decided a LONG time ago that adoption is the route for me, if I ever decide to have children. Thanks so much for writing this and making me feel like I’m not some sort of freak!

    • Corrinne

      September 11, 2011 at 10:45 pm

      I’m almost 26 and feel the same way. I’ve never had that maternal feeling at all though, except toward animals. I don’t think babies are cute. There, I said it! Let the attack begin 🙂 I just don’t get it, I don’t know why.

      I’m not scared of the pain as much. It’s the thought of it ripping through my vagina. I’d much rather do a c-section which seems odd except the pain doesn’t bother me, it’s the vagina thing. I have a high pain tolerance and blood and gore doesn’t bother me. But, I’m also terrified of pregnancy. Something about having a living thing in my stomach creeps me out I guess. I’m not trying to insult any moms out there, so please don’t take it that way. Just explaining the way I personally feel about it.

      I was pregnant once and had a miscarriage and it was pretty god awful. I was one who was sick 24 hours a day and couldn’t keep water down. And I was creeped out the whole time, I didn’t have any idea how I’d deal when the baby got bigger and I could feel it moving. I was going to try but I didn’t end up having to. That experience made my hyper vigilant about birth control and I’ve even attempted to get my tubes tied but no doctor will do it because I’m young with no children. Rubbish, I say.

  6. terra

    September 7, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    “Doctors continue to make decisions for them, cranking up the Pitocin without asking, and shuttling them in to have c-sections regardless of what they want and how they want to deliver their babies.”

    Wow, what an crazy idea…letting the DOCTOR make decisions about how to safely deliver the baby. Seriously? Would you be upset about letting your dentist decide how best to pull your tooth? The goal of child birth is a living baby and a living mother. The doctor is not your enemy. The doctor WANTS you and your baby alive. Reframe your thinking.

    • terra

      September 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm

      That sounded mean…I didn’t want to be mean. It bothers me when people think that doctors don’t have the patients best interest in mind. I actually understand how you feel about labor pain. My son was breech and I was so scared of an induction, pitocin and tearing that I didn’t try to change his position and scheduled a c-section. The c-section barely hurt at all…just felt like I did a bunch of crunches. I would take that any day over vaginal trauma!

    • Leigha

      September 19, 2011 at 10:45 pm

      I don’t think she was talking about emergency C-sections so much as the doctors who push unnecessary ones on women who don’t want them, something that seems to be fairly common, actually (I don’t speak from experience or fact, just from things I’ve heard, which I’d take with a grain of salt). The news will bring it up every now and then, interviewing women who say they feel that experience was similar to being raped, and then a bunch of other women will get mad at say no one should ever compare anything to rape, and then still more will say that since it involves your body being violated, it counts…

      If you couldn’t tell, I was talking about a specific news report there. That debate went on for awhile (several days).

  7. B

    September 7, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Wow, Koa, sorry for the mean comments on this article!

    As someone who has given birth, I do, in fact, have “pity for your whining.” It can be scary and awful, and C-sections can feel a lot worse than crunches… especially if your spinal block isn’t working and you’re not anesthetized at all when they cut into you. (Fortunately, this didn’t happen to me, but it does happen to some women.)

    But look at it this way. I’ve read lots of your articles, and you’re incredibly well-informed about childbirth. If you do decide to have children someday, I’m confident that you’ll choose a care provider that meets your needs. You can also take classes on coping with the pain, and apparently some women can actually be hypnotized while giving birth. With the right support system, you will be able to cope.

    Even if you decide not to have children, the research that you do and the articles that you write will still benefit lots of women. In conclusion, you’re awesome.

  8. Meredith

    September 7, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Totally hear you. Completely. I had an emergency c-section with my first, followed by a VBAC less than 2 years later. I have to say, the VBAC was one of the best moments of my life and I used to feel like you do — squeamish, modest, scared of the pain, you name it. Probably because I had the C the first time around, I was really into the vaginal delivery. (I felt a bit cheated of the natural process due to the C but I also didn’t feel like the C was a huge deal either in terms of the recuperation time/pain.) When it comes down to it, actually pushing out the baby, you WANT to when you are fully dilated. You don’t care who’s there, who’s watching, etc. You have a primal urge to push that baby out and nothing can stop you. My midwife was delayed because of another complication at my hospital, and I didn’t care WHO i got. I said, give me the doctor, just send someone in! When you’re ready to push, you’re ready. Trust me on this. Like someone already said, the goal is a happy and alive mommy and baby. That is all. You kind of have to step outside yourself to get there. But also bask in the knowledge that you DID It. You pushed that baby out! It’s an utterly amazing feeling.

    • Miss Riddle

      September 8, 2011 at 8:52 pm

      I’m glad that you had a great experience with your second birth, and I’m not trying to de-emphasize that. However, I think one must be careful when making posts like this.

      Yes, some people get over their fear of childbirth (just as you did) and end up having children after all. There’s nothing wrong with that in the least. However, some people don’t get over their fear of childbirth and some people don’t want children at all. It seems that the author does not just fear childbirth, but she also does not want children in general.

      Your post seems to carry the a tone of “I didn’t like it either until I did it! Just do it and you’ll love it!” However, childbirth, for one, isn’t something you can just try and quit if you don’t like it, obviously. Two, this tone somewhat encourages the view that all women WILL change their mind, that all women secretly want children no matter what they may say, and etc. This is obviously dangerous.

      Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you did this on purpose at all. Your post was very kind and more of a story about your own experience than anything. I’m not saying that YOU feel this way at all–I doubt you do, in fact. I just thought it should be pointed out as a cautionary tale. A cautionary tale that should apply to everyone, for that matter, and not just yourself.

    • Leigha

      September 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      While it may be that this author does not want kids, there are also women who DO want kids, even desperately so, who are still terrified of giving birth. If anything, it’s worse for them. That’s not to minimize anything for those who don’t want kids, but really what difference does it make if they’re afraid of giving birth and never plan on doing it, versus someone who also really really want kids? Those people need all the reassurance they can get.

    • Silent Agony

      February 15, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      Well you certainly succeeded in minimizing them.

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  11. Loel

    November 16, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    I feel the same way. I might want kids one day, but I do not want to give birth. To me birth seems like the equivalent of s#!tting your own guts out.

  12. Ace

    January 29, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Great article. I have been phobic about pregnancy all my life. I am over 40 now and single, and Im still disgusted by pregnancy. The phobia never goes away, and it never gets better. I really wanted a baby, but I could never get over the disgust. Im grieving the loss of motherhood, but I would rather be dead than pregnant.

  13. Xten

    March 14, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    I could have written this! I’ve been TERRIFIED of childbirth for as long as I can remember. I used to cry myself to sleep when I was pregnant with my son. The only thing that kept me from going crazy with fear was a mantra I used to tell myself “I WILL HAVE AN EPIDURAL. I WILL BE NUMB. EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE.”

    Seriously, if I would have been alive 50 or 100 years ago, when epidurals did not exist, I am positive I would have joined a nunnery just so I would never have to experience giving birth.

  14. Jasmine

    October 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    I feel the same as the author in that I am terrified of childbirth and pregnancy. I have been diagnosed with severe primary tokophobia. However, while the author seems to fear medical interventions associated with childbirth, I am at the opposite end of the spectrum. I am petrified of vaginal childbirth, and the only way I’d ever give birth is if I were guaranteed a planned c section. The process of natural childbirth and the risks associated with it ( pudendal nerve damage, incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, perineal tears and pain) are too horrifying for me to contemplate. I am not exactly over the moon about the idea of a c section either, since I hate hospitals. But I have done my research extensively and since I can’t see myself having more than one child, I think a controlled environment of a c section will be best for me. I would want a tubal ligation at the same time…
    Anyway, i think many young women are becoming fearful of childbirth nowadays because the whole system is so dysfunctional. There is no respect for a woman’s bodily autonomy. If she wants a normal, natural birth she should be supported in that choice as far as possible. Instead, she is likely to end up with needless interventions like episiotomies, forceps, and ventouse. If she wants to make an informed decision to opt for surgery, then that is her choice over her body and her baby. But noooo. Women have fight, beg and plead to be heard.

  15. Silent Agony

    February 15, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Yeah I’m not the only one!

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