I have read so many books and articles by well-known people about birth, and a lot of the good ones include a very spiritual aspect of childbirth, and it has had me thinking. Why don’t Christians talk about birth in a Christian context, the way these other spiritual types talk about birth?
The truth is we are very well-trained to think that once upon a time Eve was cursed to have pain in childbirth, and therefore childbirth for any other women is going to have the same consequence.
But what about grace? According to my own beliefs and really any other Christian’s God sent his son Jesus to die for the sins of man, and to take upon himself the punishment that is rightfully our own, for our sins. With that in mind, why are women still being punished with painful childbirth? This has never made sense to me, but then my mother never talked about pain in childbirth. I wouldn’t be so confident as to say that she didn’t experience any pain while delivering her six children, but I simply wasn’t raised to be afraid of birth, though it wasn’t until her last pregnancies that she had decided to go with a midwife for birth instead of a doctor, and she was pleased with the experience, though when my aunt chose to have a home birth with one of her own babies my mother wasn’t as supportive and worried a bit about the outcome (though it went very well). I only mention all of that to tell you that while I wasn’t raised afraid of birth, I also wasn’t raised crunchy or granola.
I’ve been curiously seeking out birth related material from the bible to see what God really wanted to say about it, and how he means for us to deliver our children these days. I think it is only natural to look to the bible in this mater and wonder what took me so long to do it, especially since I tend to look there for the answers of my every day life.
I do want to mention here and now that I am a professional and my own religion will not be pressed on you if you do not share my beliefs. But I also feel it is important to at least explore this topic, for both my childbirth education classes and my own upcoming birth.
Genesis 3:16 says “To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” New Revised Standard Version.
An article I just read explains this much better than I can and I encourage you to read it here, but breaking it down to a very simple version the word ‘pangs’ and ‘pain’ can be translated into several other less frightening words, such as ‘labor’, ‘toil’ or ‘work’, but because of the previous Christian views on the sins and disgrace of women they were translated in this manner instead. I’m fascinated not by our past (though it is very interesting to see how Martin Luther treated women and childbirth), but rather by the true words that are spoken here, pain and pangs can be used, and are, but also work, and labor, which is something women are much more used to, and suited for. We are hard workers, especially when things need doing! Who else can potty train a toddler, plan a camp out for their whole family, maintain a household AND grow a new child all at the same time… and the more pressure applied the harder she works until her job is complete, at which point she takes a break only as long as is needed and then gets right back to work where she is needed.
I watched a documentary about Jesus with my husband the other day and they kept mentioning the maternal death rate at the time of Jesus’s birth (which then never backed up with any figures or references), and then the rate of infant and young children’s deaths (also not backed up). It disturbed me a lot to say the least that they were attempting to educate a population about Jesus’s life and they were so horribly representing the strength of women, and their ability to birth children. So I looked it up and there are only two maternal deaths mentioned in all of the bible during childbirth. One of which was the famous character Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin.
Genesis 35:16-20 “Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. When she was in her hard labor, the midwife said to her, “Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son.” As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day.”
Notice that the midwife told Rachel ‘while’ she was in hard labor that she was having a son, how would she have known that unless Rachel’s son was born breach? Even now Doctors are scared of breech babies, nothing has changed there.
The only other mention of death during childbirth that I’m aware of is in 1 Sam 4:19, and the woman was just given bad news that caused her labor to begin, so it is left unknown if the labor caused her death or if her dying caused her labor, either way she didn’t survive. If labor is really such a dangerous event then I have to ask why are more deaths not mentioned in the bible? Why are old women like Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, and Sarah the wife of Abraham able to deliver their first babies in their old age and live to tell the tale, especially since first timers are known to have a harder time of it than those who have had more than one baby, when doctors of our day worry about older maternal age in labor?
God gave us a few things that are helpful to remember here, things that while in labor we may not think automatically of, one being the words found in John 16:21 “When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.” Which as mentioned in the article I recommended earlier can be translated “A woman when she is giving birth has anxiety, but as soon as she has given birth, she no longer remembers the pressures… ” Interesting isn’t it?
Regardless of how you translate the verses they don’t apply to our lives at all unless you understand the physiology of labor and birth. A woman’s body during labor stretches on its own to 10 cm (I have no proof of this, but who is to say 10cm is the maximum that it can go? We never check to see if it gets any bigger once 10cm is reached because we know that is adequate to get a baby out), and beyond the 10 cm it stretches to accommodate the head of the baby, the cervix rarely rips, though we do talk about the perineum ripping, we do not often talk about a cervix ripping.
As for the sensitive skin of the perineum, there are several methods of protecting it that midwives, doctors and well-educated mothers can use to protect it, and I believe that if they are utilized properly then we wouldn’t have many issues of a torn perineum either. The pelvis also has mechanics to allow it to mold and rotate during labor, the female body at the end of pregnancy loosens up the joints and allows the hips to widen and move to create a space for the baby long before it is born. With all these (and many more) mechanics built into our bodies to create a perfect passage for our children to move from our wombs to the outside world I have to believe that God didn’t intend for us to bring forth children in pain, but rather in ‘work’, or ‘labor’. It isn’t reasonable to believe that it wont be hard work, take all of your concentration, and last some undetermined amount of time, but it is completely also unreasonable to believe that it should be painful and that drugs are the only method to reduce the pain or childbirth.
There is a fear-tension-pain cycle that happens in so many situations but doulas are taught specifically about it in relation to childbirth, and many childbirth classes talk about it as well, it is vital not only to understand the cycle, but also how to break it, which sadly isn’t taught well enough in most childbirth classes (of the three I’ve attended I would say only one has taught this adequately, and even then it would require dedication from the mother to be to practice the methods taught, and I don’t believe that is necessary either if given a way to tap into your own natural resources). The theory behind the fear-tension-pain cycle is simple, a mother comes to her ‘time’ not knowing how to cope, and work with the hard work her body is doing, and reacts with fear, fear of letting go of control, fear of bad outcomes, fear of doctors, hospitals, birth in general, fear of pain, many, many. things can cause a new mama to be fearful and rarely are they the same things for more than one mother to be. Once she is scared two things happen, both natural occurrences and things she has no control over, 1. She tenses up, think of clenching your jaw when a dentist needs to do work in your mouth, they may put that nice little bite guard in your mouth but if you tense up you’ll be biting down on that thing and it will begin to rip your mouth open because you are fighting it, if you relax your jaw, allow your mouth to fall open and ease your fear then you’ll loosen up and it will hurt less, it is just natural. The second thing that happens when you are fearful is the natural release of adrenaline, this is your body telling you to fight or flee, neither of those situations is going to birth a baby, you can’t birth while running, and you can’t birth while fighting, adrenaline is natures way of stopping labor. Many wild animals while birthing will completely stop their labor to run away from a predator, only stopping to deliver their baby once the danger is gone, women do this too. The third stage of the cycle is pain, which I mentioned a bit in the dentist analogy. If you are scared, you tense, if you are tense your body will react, either with pain as you fight the inevitable (birthing your baby) or with adrenaline causing your labor to stall, at which point your doctor will probably administer Pitocin which can cause abnormally long-lasting, or strong contractions. And if you do not understand what is happening the pain will frighten you more, causing the cycle to begin all over again.
This is where introducing a doula to your labor could really benefit you, she is trained to interrupt that negative cycle, with information about the procedures your doctor is recommending, relaxation techniques, and distraction methods.
So how do we connect this back to a spiritual birth, and include God in it? It is my belief that if there ever was a curse on women in childbearing (though God never specifically used the word) it would have been lifted once Jesus died on the cross, taking the punishment of sin with him to the grave, and then conquering the grave and leaving the punishment and the sin and ascending into heaven, therefore you don’t need to worry about Eve’s punishment, it doesn’t apply to the Christian woman. But also, I do not think that God intended for birth to be a painful event, I believe he created our bodies to engage in a very difficult task, conquer it, and then he gave us a natural substance called Oxytocin that would create such a love bond with our infants that we wouldn’t remember the pain. I don’t mean that you will immediately forget the hard work that you have gone through, (though after time your memory of it will fade), but rather that it will not concern you once you see your baby, it will be of very little consequence to you when holding your infant, who you just worked hard to bring into the world… the reward is great, though the work is difficult.