Fear of childbirth, or fear of medicalisation?

22385000206_701b885dceA pregnant women once asked me a really good question, to which I didn’t know the answer.

“What’s it called when you’re fearful of medicalisation?”

I paused for a moment. T\

he first word that came to mind was iatrophobia, but it didn’t feel right in that context and ten seconds on a search engine confirmed that iatrophobia is a fear of doctors. Which is interesting in itself, because the word iatro-, which is Greek for healer, is also the root of the word iatrogenesis, which describes the unwanted effects of health care that can stem from medicalisation.

The iatrogenic effects of health care, according to Ivan Illich, come in a variety of forms from clinical iatrogenesis, where medical intervention causes side effects which are worse than the original problem, to social and structural iatrogenesis, which describe states where people become docile and reliant on the medical profession and/or give up their autonomy. That’s especially important in relation to their capacity for self-care. None of these states, by the way, are necessarily the fault of individual doctors or other healthcare providers. They are socio-cultural processes whose root systems are complex and deep.

We’re not talking about fear of doctors, though. The woman and I both agreed that it was entirely possible to like individual doctors very much while still being fearful of iatrogenesis and/or medicalisation on a wider scale. This would seem to suggest that they are different things, although this didn’t take us any closer to finding the answer.

But it’s a great question, because I am seeing more research and articles being published which include the word tocophobia, or fear of childbirth. And yet in at least some of the women I meet who are said (generally by others rather than by themselves) to be experiencing tocophobia, the women’s fear is not really of childbirth itself. Their fear is either partly or wholly of the possibility that they will end up subject to unwanted medical intervention or iatrogenic consequences as a result of engaging with the maternity services.

Does anyone else know what this is called, or do we need to come up with a name in order to get the issue on the table for discussion?


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