Why Did God Make Childbirth Painful?
Some days it seems that every woman who has ever been pregnant has a horror story she would love to tell you. Every story you hear gets worse, as the complications become more common and the dangers seem overwhelming. It is amazing to me how many women actually believe they almost died during labor. Then they talk about the PAIN!
Can God really be the God of birth if labor is so painful? Is this something God is really in charge of, or is this a bodily function that just happens, like breathing and blinking. The question is, "Is God in charge of my labor pains?"
A Curse or Not a Curse?
Do you remember reading in Genesis that Eve ate the apple first? Do you remember what God told Eve would happen because she ate that apple? You probably do, because it has become common knowledge that God cursed women to have pain in birth because Eve sinned.
Genesis 3:16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."
Some self-proclaimed experts on that garden scene will go into great detail about why every woman must have pain in labor to pay for this grave sin, and that pain medication in labor is an even worse sin because it takes away the woman's punishment.
You can breathe a sigh of relief now, because I am not one of those experts. I have found three real big problems with the belief that labor is supposed to be painful as a curse. First, not all women experience painful births! I am not just talking about the women who use medication to numb the pain. There are women who have natural births (vaginal, unmedicated) who honestly could not describe the sensations that they felt as "painful." There are even women who describe labor as enjoyable! If this pain of labor was a curse on womanhood, it couldn't skip random women.
The second problem is that God considers children to be a blessing, not a curse. The Bible repeatedly tells us that children are a reward and a blessing to those he loves. I am not suggesting that all blessings will be comfortable and enjoyable all the time, there are very difficult times in raising children. However, a blessing should be a source of Joy. How could a child be, at the same time a blessing and a curse? It simply does not make sense.
Psalm 127:3-5 Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
Deut 7:13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land-your grain, new wine and oil-the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young.
Deut 28:11 The LORD will grant you abundant prosperity-in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground-in the land he swore to your forefathers to give you
The third reason I do not believe that statement is a curse has to do with the actual meanings of the Hebrew words used. The word that is translated as "to increase" in Genesis 3:16, despite its meaning of increasing, is also a word that means to be in authority over. The word translated as pain is also a word that means work, labor or toil. The word that is translated as childbearing actually means conception or fertility.
The words translated as pain in the first and second half of the sentence are different words! In fact, the word used in the first half of the sentence is the exact same word that is translated as toil when God spoke to Adam. So, it is possible that the "curse" may mean:
I will have authority over your labor and fertility. With (toil) work you will have children.
This translation makes much more sense with the second half of the statement that tells the woman that she will desire her husband, but that he will be an authority over her. Perhaps God's famous "curse" is not a curse at all, but a statement of the authority women will now be under.
This also makes sense with 1 Timothy 2:12-15 in which the writer states a woman must remain under the authority of the husband.
1 Timothy 2:12-15 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
The Genesis and 1 Timothy verses seem to mirror each other. The Genesis verse when paraphrased says, "I am going to give you more pain in birth now. Your husband is going to be head of the family." The 1 Timothy verse when paraphrased says, "The husband is the authority just like it says in Genesis, but the woman doesn't have to be overcome by birth if she continues in faith, love and holiness with propriety."
Some teachers have tried to say that the salvation talked about in 1 Timothy is the salvation all mankind received through Christ who was born of a woman. Others believe that this verse means that a woman will become more Christ like for having gone through birth, therefore being more willing to accept Christ and be saved.
The problem is that these suggestions look at the word saved as if it referred to eternal salvation. However, the Greek word used here for "saved" is a temporal salvation, as if saved from a specific event or time. For example, if you were "saved" from a fire, or "saved" during an accident. When it says a woman can be saved through childbearing, I believe it means she can prevent excessive work during her labor.
Simply put, God did not curse women any more than he cursed men. For more information about the concept of pain during birth in the Bible, I refer you to Helen Wessel's classic work "The Joy of Natural Childbirth."
If not a curse, then why?
If labor pain is not a curse, why do some women have difficult labors? Doesn't it seem unfair that some women have easy labors, while other women have a difficult time, and others end up with major surgery to have a baby?
The first thing to remember is that God is not into what we consider "fair." There are many reasons that God has for the things he does. Sometimes he allows people to be sick or disabled so he may display his glory, as in John 9:1-3.
John 9:1-3 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
It is possible that by bringing a woman through such a difficult time of pain and hard work, God displays his ability to give her strength.
Think about the story of Job. Here was a man who was, by God's own testimony, the greatest man. God said, "There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." Yet God allowed everything to be taken from Job, and for Job's body to be covered in boils. Why did God allow this? God never tells Job. But we see from the story that God allowed Job to be tested to demonstrate that he would continue to trust God no matter what happened.
Could labor be a similar situation? Could God allow women to be tested to see if they will remain faithful to him? It is possible. But I cannot believe that it is true for all situations. The reason I come back to is that some women do not have difficult or painful labors. In fact, different labors for the same woman can be different.
So perhaps God serves different purposes in different women's labors. Perhaps for some women a difficult labor displays God's glory to those watching because she depended on him to bring her through it. For other women, perhaps God allows the woman to have a painful labor to test her heart, to see if she will remain faithful to him. There are also examples of God exacting punishment upon people and nations with pain and death, and as God does not change, it is still possible that He may choose pain or death through childbirth as a way to punish some women. It would be impossible, and presumptuous for any of us to assume that we knew exactly why God chose different labors for different women. We must simply accept that God is at work and that ultimately, His plan is good.
Can I prevent the pain in birth?
Another possibility for the pain in labor lies in the 1 Timothy verse. Remember it says that a woman will be saved through faith, love, and holiness with propriety? It is possible that by developing this character traits, you may be "saved" from some of the work of your labor. What is so special about faith, love and holiness with propriety? These traits not only help you deal with the pain of labor, but can help you through any trial.
You may be wondering, "how do these traits help me through trials of every kind?" Faith, love, holiness and self-control are basic themes of the Christian life. As you grow closer to Christ, you should increase each of these traits. Galatians 5:22-23 states "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."
As these traits increase, your trust in God will also increase, and you will come to depend on him. It is His strength that will get you through birth. Do you depend on the strength of God? Your first impulse might have been to say yes, but think a little harder. Do you depend on God? Or do you try to provide for your own needs? Here is a small test.
1. When was the last time you prayed for a need to be met?
2. When was the last time you truly thanked God for meeting that need?
You see, as humans we are prone to building idols, and the main idol that crops up is the idol of self. We become more concerned about self-esteem, self-fulfillment and loving ourselves than we do about loving and serving God. We begin to believe the lies of certain philosophies that tell us the most important thing is that we "feel" a certain way. But God did not call us to a FEELING, He called us to a DOING. God called us to live in obedience to the scriptures. Christ himself said that His food was to do the will of God. When was the last time you hungered to do the will of God?
Faith, love, holiness and self-control appear again in 2 Peter 1:5-9. We are told that we should be making every effort to increase faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness and love in our lives. Why? Because they will keep us from being ineffective and unfruitful in our knowledge of Christ.
Do you feel unfruitful or ineffective as a Christian? Perhaps you need to look at what you have been pursuing. Are you seeking to please God, or are you seeking to please yourself? Are you building your faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, etc? Or are you building your comfort, pleasure, fortune and reputation?
I mention this because I believe that one of the reasons that American women, even Christian women in America, have such pain in childbirth is sin. I am not talking about the sin of Eve in the garden, I am talking about the sin in each woman's own life, sin she may not even realize she is taking part in.
All sin has consequences. The worst of which is that sin changes our relationship with God. God can have nothing to do with Sin because he is holy. In Psalm66:18 we are even told that God does not listen to our prayers when we harbor sin in our lives. Think of God as a light in a room, you cannot bring a handful of dark into a light room. The dark must disappear. Our sins are darkness, which cannot exist with God. Our sin pushes God away, or more rightly, pushes us away from God. The only way to get close to God is to get rid of dark by repenting of our sin.
If you have unrepentant sin in your life, you separate yourself from God, pure and simple. One of my favorite sayings is, "If you don't feel close to God, somebody must have moved, and it wasn't God." Take a look at your life, do you feel separated from God? If you are honest with yourself, you probably even know of what the sin is that you need to repent.
I believe the effects of unrepentant sin will also be felt during pregnancy, labor and birth. How can you depend on God during your labor, if you have been separated from Him? Many women like to meditate on Philippians 4:13 which says "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." But if you have been separated from him, you are not doing anything through him.
It is very humbling to be confronted with sin in your life, I know, it happens to me all the time. But there is no other way to grow closer to God than to repent of sin and follow Christ. The word "repent" means more than just to say you are sorry. It literally means to turn 180 degrees in the other direction! We must begin to take our sins seriously, acknowledge them, seek forgiveness and then go the other way.
How can sin cause pain in labor?
One of the earliest contemporary investigators into the problem of pain in childbirth was Dr. Grantly Dick-Read. He was interested in why some women had tremendous amounts of pain while other women seemed to give birth with almost no pain. Through his research he discovered what he called the FEAR - TENSION - PAIN cycle. "
Basically, Dr. Dick-Read realized that the more frightened a woman was when she was laboring, the more tension she had in her muscles. This tension was the cause of the pain. When the woman felt the pain, she would become more frightened and the cycle would continue causing worse and worse pain.
You may be wondering how muscular tension caused pain. The simplest way to explain it is that the cervix and uterus do not have very much ability to feel pain. They are not designed to send pain signals to the brain. But, during a contraction, the uterus tightens and pulls forward slightly. When this happens, the uterus can pull or push on nearby muscles. If these muscles are tense (as opposed to relaxed), the pressure of the contracting uterus causes the muscle to feel pain.
Dr. Grantly Dick-Read proposed that if a woman were able to overcome her fear it would help her reduce the tension in her body, and if she reduced the tension, she could reduce the amount of pain she felt. This theory is the basis used for most natural birth classes today. Women are educated to make them less fearful of what will be happening, and taught to actively relax their muscles to prevent the unnecessary pain.
The fear goes one step further as it triggers what is known as the fight or flight response. The uterus has two opposing muscle groups, one running up and down, and the other running "from east to west." These muscles have to work together to push the baby out. However, when your body is producing hormones from fear, these muscle groups work against each other, making your labor ineffective or dysfunctional. It is believed that this is a safety mechanism of your body that prevents your baby from being born somewhere dangerous.
So, how does the sin cause pain? Basically, when you are separated from God by your sins, you are not leaning on God as your strength as you should be. Because of your guilt, you are unable to cast your anxieties on him, and will be susceptible to worry and fear. And now we know that fear can cause pain.
But more importantly, when you do not Give your anxieties to God, you are not at peace. That lack of peace can manifest itself as tension in your body which causes your labor to be more painful than it need be. Or, that lack of peace can cause you to begin to lose your faith during the most difficult times. Nothing could be worse than to doubt God's strength is able to help you during the most stressful time of labor. Instead of resting in His peace, you begin to struggle to help yourself.
I see a parallel between Dr. Dick-Read's FEAR-TENSION-PAIN cycle and the way that our sins can cause a lack of peace leading to more pain. But, rather than FEAR-TENSION-PAIN it could be SEPERATION - LACK OF PEACE - PAIN.
The way to break the fear-tension-pain cycle is to educate yourself to remove the fear, and actively relax your body to reduce the tension. Philippians 4:6-7 says that when we give God our worries, God will give us peace. So the way to break the separation-lack of peace-pain cycle would be to pray and confess sin to allow God to restore the relationship and shower you with peace.
I would like to mention that peace is not a prerequisite to having a natural birth. Teachers of pagan principles have students who achieve natural births without ever knowing who God is. Once again, I believe these women are benefiting from a system that God put in place at the beginning of time. These women are able to achieve some results because they can relax their bodies and have removed most of their fear.
The body does not need peace to give birth, but peace adds a whole new dimension to the picture. It takes a lot of work to actively relax your body. It is a difficult task that takes time to learn, practice and master. It takes even more work to learn to relax when you feel pain, especially since our first instinct is usually to tighten a muscle. To achieve total relaxation for the duration of a normal labor takes a lot of mental concentration and focus. Distraction of any kind works against a laboring woman's efforts to relax.
Peace goes beyond the relaxation of the muscles and allows the mind to relax and rest in God's goodness. Distractions fall away and suddenly you are able to relax through them. Even when difficult situations arise, the peace of God allows you to stay calm and relaxed, trusting that God is working out His plan for you.
Having peace does not change the work that your body is doing. Having peace does not change the way your body does its work. Having peace may not even reduce the amount of pain your body feels during labor. But having peace does change your attitude, and a changed attitude allows you to perceive things differently. Your contractions will certainly still be very strong, they still have to push out a baby, but they will not be overwhelming.
You see, that is the secret to the strength of God. Resting in God, and being supported by His strength does not mean that you will not experience any problems, difficulties or pain. If you were having a great day, and everything was pleasant and enjoyable, you might not need the strength of God! No, the strength of God is not there to take away the bad, but to give you the strength to get through it.
Remember that verse from the beginning of this chapter that women like to labor by, Philippians 4:13? I think it is important to take the verse in context, and so I would like for you to look at verse 13 again, but this time with verse 12 in front of it.
"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
You see, relying on the strength of God does not take away your unpleasant circumstances; it simply brings you through them. Psalm 119:165 says, "Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble." Those with peace are not taken out of difficult situations; they simply come through them still trusting in God.
How can I have peace in labor?
There is no secret formula to follow. There are no short cuts. If you want to have peace during your labor, you must begin to work during your pregnancy (or even before) to bring yourself into a right relationship with God.
A good first step toward building a right relationship with God will be to confess and repent of sins in your life. As frightening as this seems, the value of a repentant heart is immense. It is impossible for you to have a right relationship without acknowledging God as your authority, and confessing sin is one way to begin living under the authority of God.
Some women may find it takes a long time to face a God they have been taught is unforgiving and harsh. Others may find that the embarrassment of past sins makes it difficult to be honest about sin in their lives. For others, the pain of admitting their relationship was not where it ought to be will seem overwhelming. I assure you, God is very loving and wanting to forgive you of your sins. He is able to restore your relationship and heal your wounds, however deep they may be. He is not interested in belittling or embarrassing you, only in making you whole again. However, God is a gentleman and will not do this without being asked. He is simply waiting for you to invite Him.
Are There Other Causes of Pain?
In some labors, the position of the baby or poor health of the mother can increase the sensations of pain that the mother feels. Sometimes pain is an indicator that there is a true problem with the labor. Contractions that do not end, vaginal bleeding and sharp abdominal pains can all be indicators of a potential problem.
Dr. Grantley Dick-Read explained that fear is THE major cause of pain during labor. This is because fear causes the body to release chemicals that alter the progress and the process of the labor. For more information about this process, please read the Fear/Tension/Pain Cycle article.