A woman suffering with an extreme phobia of pregnancy had an abortion because she was too scared to have her baby, despite being desperate for a child.
Heartbroken Charlotte Arnold, 24, from London, had the termination just weeks eight into her pregnancy.
Her phobia was triggered by the horrific loss of her first baby son five weeks before he was due to be born.
In a devastating twist, the young woman had been forced to deliver the stillborn baby, after doctors said he ‘suffocated’ in the womb.
She is speaking out after a new report found as many as one in six women could be affected by tokophobia – a severe fear of pregnancy and or childbirth.
It even suggests some sufferers are going as far as inducing miscarriage, seeking sterilisation or terminating their pregnancy like Miss Arnold did.
The PA said: ‘I know lots of people won’t understand. I was desperate to be a mother but was 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 having a breakdown.
‘I left the clinic in tears, 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 there are two main types of the condition. 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.
Miss Arnold said she had always dreamed of becoming a mother and was delighted when she fell pregnant in 2007.
Her pregnancy went smoothly, but at 34 weeks she realised she had not felt her baby move for several hours. Because he was usually so active she and partner Mario Ecomomou 30, grew concerned and called their doctor.
Miss Arnold had first been forced to bury her son, who died in her womb after she suffered undiagnosed pre eclampsia, in a shallow grave. She and partner Mario then moved him to a family tomb
At the time they were living in Cyprus and just weeks away from moving back to London to prepare.
She said: ‘When staff at the clinic told me to make my way in I was more concerned that our baby might arrive early. I didn’t for a moment consider there was anything seriously wrong.’
But an ultrasound revealed devastating news – their son had died.
She said: ‘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.’
Although the cause is not known, it is though to be linked to the placenta, which provides oxygen to the baby while it is in the womb.
She said: ‘The doctor matter of factly said 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.’
Just moments later Miss Arnold was told she would have to deliver her son who they had named George.
She said: ‘I was in shock. But I could hear my partner remonstrating, saying that I was in no state to give birth and they needed to do a C section.’
‘We had to wait in the clinic for an operating theatre to become available. All around me were pregnant women, some in labour. It was heartbreaking.’
Six hours later she was taken into theatre. ‘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.’
Hospital staff later brought her her son, but would not let her hold him.
Miss Arnold first fell pregnant while living in Cyprus, and her pregnancy had run smoothly, until 34 weeks
She had been nearly full term when she lost her son George. The harrowing experience which followed left her with a condition called tokophobia – which makes her petrified of giving birth
She said: ‘I wanted to hold him but they refused so instead I stroked his cheek and held his tiny little hand. And then after a few moments he was gone again and that was it.’
There was no offer of footprints or a lock of hair to cherish as is routinely offered to grieving parents in the UK. Instead, in line with local tradition, their son was to be buried within 48 hours.
She said then followed a ‘nightmarish experience’ in which she and her partner arrived at the cemetery to find there was no plot prepared.
Instead Mario was forced to dig his own son’s grave helped by a group of local family members with spades.
The priest even refused to say a prayer because George had not been baptised. Later that night Miss Arnold suffered a breakdown.
The next morning the couple returned to the cemetery to gently retrieve their son’s casket themselves and take him to a family plot nearby.
They washed the coffin down with bottles water, wrapped it in blankets, before taking it by car to a family plot to lay George to rest next to his late paternal grandfather.
This is a scan of George, the couple’s stillborn first child. The experience left Miss Arnold so traumatised, she aborted her second child
Weeks later she moved back to the UK to be with family and friends, but was haunted by nightmares and flashbacks.
She said: ‘I tried to focus on the thought he was resting now, but the nightmares were constant so I started counselling.’
Both Miss Arnold and her partner still wanted to become parents and she even hoped another child might help ease her pain.
But when a year on she learned she was pregnant again she was suddenly engulfed by fear.
‘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.
‘Seeing pregnant woman or tiny babies would set me off.
‘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.’
Miss Arnold had always considered herself anti abortion, but as each day of her pregnancy passed it started to feel like her only escape from the daily terror.
Initially she said was afraid of admitting to her partner that she wanted a termination, scared he would not understand
But in the end her phobia made the choice for her and, supported by her partner, she booked a termination at eight weeks.
Miss Arnold said she did not regret her decision: ‘It would have pushed me over the edge. The fear was so great it would have finished me. I did the right thing at the time.
After a visit to her GP to discuss her fear of pregnancy, she was prescribed antidepressants, but after several months decided to stop taking them.
It’s been three years since Miss Arnold’s termination and she said she is now considering trying again after receiving counselling for her phobia.
She said: ‘Mario has been a saint he really has 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.
‘Maybe the report will lead to women like me being offered more help and support. I want to overcome this phobia with all my heart and I know that I will. It’s just a question of when.’