I so wanted a child but my phobia about pregnancy made me abort baby
A WOMAN suffering with an extreme phobia of pregnancy has told of her heartbreak at having an abortion because she was too scared to have her baby.
Devastated Charlotte Arnold had the termination weeks into her pregnancy, even though she was desperate for a child.
Her phobia was triggered by the loss of her first baby son, weeks before he was due to be born.
A new report says the little-understood condition, tokophobia — a fear of pregnancy and/or childbirth — affects up to one in six women.
It even suggests some sufferers are going as far as inducing miscarriage, seeking sterilisation or terminating their pregnancy, as Charlotte did.
The 24-year-old PA, who works at a London accountancy firm, says: “I know lots of people won’t understand.
“I was desperate to be a mother but simply too terrified to continue with the pregnancy.
“As soon as I found out I was expecting, I started suffering with anxiety and panic attacks.
“Deciding to end the pregnancy was one of the hardest decisions of my life but I knew there was no way I could get through it without a breakdown.
“I left the clinic in tears. I was heartbroken but also relieved that I didn’t have to go through pregnancy and birth.
“I really felt like I had no choice. I was petrified. I hope this new report helps people understand what women like me go through.”
According to experts, the condition has two main types.
Primary tokophobia relates to childless women who have a morbid fear of pregnancy or birth and have consequently never been able to have children.
Secondary tokophobia affects women who have experienced a traumatic pregnancy or birth experience, which leaves them too emotionally scarred to have more children.
Charlotte’s ordeal began in 2007 when she and partner Mario Ecomomou discovered she was pregnant. She recalls: “We were shocked but thrilled. I had always wanted to be a mother.”
Her pregnancy went smoothly but one day at 34 weeks, Charlotte realised she had not felt her baby move for some hours.
Because he was usually so active, she and stonemason Mario called their doctor.
At the time they were living in Cyprus and were just weeks from moving back to London to prepare for their new arrival. They went to the clinic where an ultrasound scan revealed their son had died.
Charlotte says: “I remember the doctor shaking his head and saying, ‘He’s gone’.
“I didn’t understand what he meant.
“I was due to give birth, so where could my baby have gone?
“Then it hit me that he meant dead. I just couldn’t take it in.”
Tests revealed Charlotte had unknowingly been suffering with pre-eclampsia — a dangerous pregnancy complication.
She says: “The doctor matter-of-factly told me my son had most likely suffocated inside me. I was horrified.
“Hours earlier we’d been on top of the world, planning our future. Now our baby was dead.”
Moments later Charlotte was told she would have to deliver her son, who they had already named George.
She says: “I was in shock but I could hear Mario arguing that I was in no state to give birth and they needed to do a Caesarean.
“All around me were pregnant women, some in labour. It was heartbreaking.”
Six hours dragged by before Charlotte was taken into theatre. She says: “When I came round I looked down at my empty stomach and just started screaming for my baby.
“I kept sobbing, ‘I want my boy, bring me my boy’, but nobody offered to get him for me.
“When I asked where he was they said he had gone to the freezer.
“The thought of my baby in a freezer tipped me over the edge and I screamed, demanding to see him.
“Eventually a surgeon explained it wasn’t a good idea because, like meat, he would rot if taken out of the fridge.
“I told him never to talk about my son like that again. Finally they relented and brought him to me.”
When Charlotte saw her baby for the first time he was wrapped in green tissue paper and still covered in blood.
She says: “I wanted to hold him but they wouldn’t let me.
“Instead I stroked his cheek and held his tiny hand. Then, after a few moments, he was gone again and that was it.”
In line with Cypriot tradition, the couple’s son was to be buried within 48 hours but Charlotte was still in hospital and relied on local help to make the arrangements.
She was discharged on the morning of the service but was horrified to arrive at the cemetery to find Mario’s relatives with spades.
She says: “The plot had not been dug and I had to watch as everyone started digging while my baby’s coffin sat out in the midday heat under a tree.
“I kept thinking it must be a nightmare. Nothing in real life could really be this awful.
“I was getting so distressed that Mario started to help dig. No man should ever have to dig his own child’s grave.”
Great distress … Charlotte suffered a breakdown after the unsympathetic way her loss was handled
After an hour of digging, the grave was declared ready but it was so shallow the coffin lay just a few feet from the surface.
The priest even refused to say a prayer because George had not been baptised.
Later that night Charlotte suffered a breakdown.
She says: “I was pacing and shaking. I could not stop crying. I hadn’t even got my head around the fact my son had died, let alone seeing him buried with no dignity.
“I had visions of animals digging him up. I knew I couldn’t leave him there.
“I was still his mother and had to do what was best for him. Mario’s father was buried in another cemetery and Mario phoned his mum to ask if she would mind us opening his grave to lay George to rest with him.”
She agreed but the couple then had no choice but to retrieve their son’s casket themselves.
The following morning Charlotte and 30-year-old Mario went back to the church, gently removed the coffin and reburied it with Mario’s father.
Charlotte says: “This time it was with dignity. I sagged with relief that it was finally over.”
Back in the UK she started suffering from flashbacks and says: “George’s horrific birth and burial haunted me daily. I tried to focus on the thought he was at peace now but the nightmares were constant and I started counselling.”
The couple still wanted to become parents but when she became pregnant a year later, she was suddenly engulfed by fear again.
She says: “I wanted a baby but all I felt was terror. My fear it would go wrong again was overwhelming.
“I was suffering panic attacks, constant anxiety and dread. I was petrified that the same thing would happen again.
“We’d also been told the pre-eclampsia could come back and I just knew then that I couldn’t go ahead with the pregnancy.
“No matter how much I wanted a baby I was simply too frightened.”
Initially she was afraid of admitting to Mario that she wanted a termination and says: “He wanted to be a father so I thought he would be angry.
“I didn’t think he would understand how I could want to terminate a pregnancy after losing a much-wanted baby.
“Thankfully he could see I was in bits and understood. He told me he would support me, whatever decision I made.”
At eight weeks Charlotte booked a termination.
She says: “I told the GP I was too scared to have the baby but nobody really understood I was suffering with a phobia.”
As heartbroken as she was, Charlotte did not regret her decision.
Final resting place … the grave in Cyprus that George shares with his grandfather
She says: “The fea
r was so great it would have finished me. I did the right thing at the time.”
She later saw her GP again to discuss her fear of pregnancy but little help was offered.
She says: “I don’t think anybody has ever treated my condition as a serious phobia.
“Lots of women might feel nervous about having a baby but not terrified to the point where they have nightmares and panic attacks.”
Charlotte was prescribed anti-depressants but after several months decided to stop taking them to try to conquer her phobia.
It has been three years since her termination and today she is more desperate than ever to be a mum and hopes her fear will not hold her back for much longer.
She says: “Mario has been a saint but I know he wants us to start a family and so I’m doing my best to get my head in the right place.
“Some days I think it might be possible. Other days I imagine leaving hospital without a baby again and it leaves me terrified.
“I want to overcome this phobia with all my heart and I know I will. It’s just a question of when.”