Raising awareness for Tokophobia and looking at potential root causes

I think that we do not pay enough attention to fears in today’s society: We are “programmed” to work in everyday life, so there is no place for weakness or fear. But in recent times with all the geopolitical conflicts, wars, climate change, political and social disruptions, how can we ignore that the world is kind of not in its angles? So indeed, there are many triggers for us which might cause fear. There are many people who really worry about the recent state of the world, we should take them serious! There are many people who worry about the future, we should take them serious! In fact, we should take the fears of people serious in general!

One very strong fear which is often overlooked is Tokophobia. It means the fear of becoming pregnant. I do not want to address this very serious phobia from a clinical perspective, because I am not a medical doctor or health expert, I want to address it philosophically to gain awareness. I think, one factor in society today is the narrative that a woman either has to pursue a career or to found a family. This narrative causes a societal challenge, because it gives the impression that being successful in life and having a family would be opposites, and of course, women want to be successful too, they want to pursue their dreams, so the narrative triggers the fear that all the achievements are impossible with a baby. And if one has dreams in one’s life and the opposite is being “chained to the kitchen” with a husband, then indeed becoming pregnant must be a nightmare in one’s head. At first, it is important that we stop spreading this wrong narrative to young women. There are plenty of women who are pursuing their dreams and managing to raise up children, especially in the Western world, where a work-life-balance is more and more encouraged. Nonetheless, I have to admit that there are still barriers as children who are our future should be more in the focus of politics. But since children are no potential voters of a party yet and thus do not cause an immediate benefit at the next election, it seems that some countries do not really address subjects such as education properly. I especially see this is in the school system in Germany which is not only outdated, but many schools still have a very old equipment and are hardly digitalized. Nonetheless, it is possible today to study at university despite being a mom, there are nursery schools near universities or assistance offers in universities. So one can achieve a degree despite being a parent.

What is more fearful for many today is the question how to finance a child. Many young women (and also men) are afraid to become parents, because they do not see a proper perspective for themselves, and if they see no perspective for themselves, then how shall they be able to offer a dignified life to one’s children? “The youth researcher Simon Schnetzer and the social scientist Klaus Hurrelmann have examined what young people between the ages of 14 and 29 are concerned about. In their trend study on youth in Germany, they asked around one thousand young people between the ages of 14 and 29 about their concerns and wishes. The result makes clear that young people are afraid when they think about the future” [Generation Zukunftsangst. Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, 8 June 2022. https://www.mdr.de/wissen/generation-zukunftsangst-100.html, retrieved on 16 January 2023 (Translation mine)]. We can say clearly: The fear is widespread! And of course it has an impact on young people. Life is getting more and more expensive and many fear that they cannot afford an own apartment or food anymore, so how shall they even be able to afford children? And many young people also think of their potential children: They think “If I cannot afford them, how can I offer a life quality to them? How can they join school trips or even school lunch?” There might be schools which support children who cannot afford the school milk on their own, but at first, many are afraid of stigmatization if they accept help, and second, even if those offers exist, many people are not aware of it. Or they do not even consider this option due to their fear, so there is another fear behind the fear.

The fear about the future is not only a German phenomenon: “Almost half of people (49%) aged 16 to 25 felt daily anxiety about the future, while 59% described their generation’s outlook as ‘frightening’, research from The Prince’s Trust revealed” [Guy Birchall: Almost two thirds of young people fear for their generation’s future. Sky News, 3 October 2022. https://news.sky.com/story/almost-two-thirds-of-young-people-fear-for-their-generations-future-12711303, retrieved on 16 January 2023]. So if one sees one’s own perspective with fear, then how shall one see a perspective for a child? Additionally, many women are afraid of becoming a mother “too early”, and therefore are afraid of being labeled as irresponsible or asocial. They feel that society will judge them.

Next, there are also factors which are intimately connected to the woman herself. She might have heard horror stories about delivering a baby, or read the stories of other women in the internet causing a fear. She might be afraid of the medical checks and the fact that doctors will see her most private body part, or see her naked in a state of weakness. And others are highly afraid because of previous experience of violence. Once again, I think that we have a lack of awareness for this in society! And this goes once again together with the particular education system. Sex education has to be addressed more seriously in my point of view in school life. The fears of young women have to be taken serious. Some young women might have migration backgrounds, where sexuality and intimacy are even more strongly tabooed, and of course, any exposure of intimacy causes extreme fears on them. These people should not be reduced to their migration background or their potential prude, but the worries should be taken more seriously. Telling them “Get rid of your culture and everything is fine!” does not help them. No one wants to stand naked in front of the whole world while every one stares with one’s eyes watching, and we all would understand; then why do we not understand that some people even see sexual intimacy as being so private that they are even afraid of undressing in front of doctors and going to medical checks? Just for completeness’ sake, I also was not aware that one could be afraid of undressing in front of one’s very beloved one and only found it out during my research on this topic, and I would not have thought before that such a fear could exist. But these fears exist and learning about them and receiving information creates understanding. And after reading about it, I also could develop an understanding for it, so we simply have to inform others more about it and letting them know that such a fear is nothing to be ashamed of. If one has a partner who is struggling with this fear, we should take this fear serious and behave with understanding and respect.

And finally, we also have to enlighten women and men more about the impacts of violence. In many countries, people still do not know where they can find help. Women are afraid that they will be told that it would be their own fault; men are afraid that they will be stigmatised as not being strong enough or having a lack of masculinity. Many people are afraid to talk of their experiences, even with their partner. While there is a certain movement trying to create understanding in Western countries, there is still a complete lack of understanding in some parts of the world, and women who were victims of rape additionally strongly fear that if they are pregnant, they will be judged by their families, instead of receiving help and support from them.

All these are factors which can be connected to Tokophobia, so there might be (1) societal factors, such as the fear of being judged; (2) bodily factors, such as the fear that the pregnancy changes one’s own body or that one has to undress in front of doctors; and (3) political and economic factors, such as a potential lack of support of young parents or the fear of not being able to afford a child. We really should take these factors and fears serious and create a better understanding for Tokophobia on the very different levels. Indeed, this small overview cannot be fully complete, but I hope that it helps in gaining awareness and creating understanding.

Timo Schmitz, 16 January 2023


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