Share
A- A A+
Free Email News
Life Before Birth
by Gary E. Parker

US $13.00
View Item
Fearfully & Wonderfully Made DVD
by Dr David Menton

US $13.00
View Item

Feedback archiveFeedback 2008

Pain in childbirth: result of the Fall or fear?

Published: 26 April 2008 (GMT+10)

Pregnant woman

Photo sxc.hu

This week’s feedback comes from a keen reader of Creation magazine, RL, a licensed Christian midwife from Canada. She takes issue with our Creation for Kids section in 30(2), about the claim that pain in childbirth is a consequence of God’s curse on Eve (Genesis 3:16) after the Fall. Her letter is published in full, then with point-by-point responses.

I greatly appreciate Creation magazine! Thanks for helping us have truthful answers that can be given with love and meekness. As a Christian midwife, I would like to point out a serious error in V.30, No.2 (Creation for Kids), which says that Eve ‘would have great pain in child-bearing.’
When God gave Adam & Eve their consequences after the Fall, He used the same Hebrew word for each of them (etsev). If God gave Eve pain in childbearing, then He gave Adam pain in tilling. If He gave Adam hard work and sorrow, then He gave Eve hard work and sorrow.
The difference in interpretation comes from the cultural influence of the translators. This is serious because teaching women that they must have pain creates fear, and fear causes tension, which causes pain. Many women do in fact give birth without fear and pain. Christians should be the first to be able to trust God's design.
Adam's sorrow is felt by the scientist and the surgeon who have never worked a garden; they deal with the results of a fallen world everyday. Eve's sorrow is felt by women who give birth without pain; they are reminded each day that they bring children into a fallen world.
For a comprehensive study, Natural Childbirth and the Family, Helen Wessel.
Thanks again for such a great resource!
RL
Canada

I greatly appreciate Creation magazine! Thanks for helping us have truthful answers that can be given with love and meekness.

Thank you for your generous comments. We are glad you find it helpful.

As a Christian midwife, I would like to point out a serious error in V.30, No.2 (Creation for Kids), which says that Eve ‘would have great pain in child-bearing.’ When God gave Adam & Eve their consequences after the Fall, He used the same Hebrew word for each of them (etsev). If God gave Eve pain in childbearing, then He gave Adam pain in tilling. If He gave Adam hard work and sorrow, then He gave Eve hard work and sorrow.

Your Hebrew is reasonably accurate. Genesis 3:16 says:

I will surely multiply your pain/sorrow in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.

The second ‘pain’ in the passage uses עצב ‘etsev, but the first uses a related word עצבון ‘ itstsevôn. ‘Itstsevôn is the one that’s also used of the consequences for Adam. Hard labour in tilling the ground can be painful, especially to someone not used to it. But with Eve, both related words are used, as an emphatic device that’s common in biblical Hebrew, indicating something stronger.

The difference in interpretation comes from the cultural influence of the translators.

One reliable commentator, H.C. Leupold, says in Exposition of Genesis:

16. To the woman He said: I will increase very greatly thy pain and thy conception; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; unto thy husband thou shalt be attracted, and he shall rule over thee.

Baby, soon after birth

Photo sxc.hu

Divine wisdom and justice dictate this sentence. Justice is made apparent in the fact that in the three elements embodied in the sentence each stands in direct relation to the misdeed of the woman, being a penalty commensurate with the wrong. In this way divine wisdom displays itself; for such punishment is calculated to keep awake in womankind a direct remembrance of the fateful deed of the first mother. The first part of the penalty is found in the words: ‘I will increase very greatly thy pain and thy conception.’ This does not imply that pain would have been the normal thing for womankind. Nor is this the pain connected primarily with childbearing; although that is included. What is done is that woman from this time onward has numerous forms of pain laid to her lot. Physical infirmities of a painful kind are in a great measure her portion. Because of her more delicate makeup many things besides cause her a greater measure of mental and spiritual pain. The just retaliation lies in this that she who sought sweet delights in the eating of the forbidden fruit, finds not delights but pain—not joy but sorrow. For ‘itstsebhon includes both ‘pain’ and ‘sorrow,’ in fact, everything that is hard to bear. The conjunction before ‘conception’ is to be taken in the sense of ‘and in particular,’ a meaning found e. g. in (#Ps 18:1) (Heb.); (#Isa 2:1). Nowhere shall the rich measure of ‘pain’ be more in evidence than here. We have here more than what a hendiadys (‘the pain of thy conception’) allows, for (cf. K.W.). ‘Conception’ will be multiplied. When its painful character becomes apparent, woman will seek to have little of it, but her common lot according to this word will be a frequent recurrence of it, as, barring a few exceptions, the history of the race amply testifies. To allow for no misunderstanding of the word at this point, for frequent conceptions might in themselves at first glance not appear to be an evil, the explanatory sentence is appended without a connective (K. S. 338 p): ‘In pain thou shalt bring forth children.’ This asserts that each conception shall culminate in the pains of parturition. This form of the word for ‘pain’ is briefer than the preceding one, but since the same root appears in both, we used one word for both. ‘Misery’ (Besckwerde) would also cover the term quite well. …
17. And unto the man He said: Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife and hast eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee saying: Thou shalt not eat of it, cursed be the ground on thy account; in misery shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life
It shall yield produce, but the winning of it shall always be attended by ‘itstsebhôn, ‘misery,’ ‘toil,’ ‘sorrow.’ The former ease of tilling the soil shall be a thing of the past. On no place of the earth’s surface can such toil be evaded. In some places there may be more of it, in others less, but ‘toil’ is the common lot of man. The immediate cause for this is the fact that ‘the ground is cursed.’ A divine word blighted its fruitfulness. There was a deep reason and a necessity for that. It was no longer fitting that an imperfect man dwell in the midst of a perfect dwelling place. Divine pedagogy makes the outward circumstances correspond to the inward state, so that man might the more keenly feel his wretchedness.

It’s somewhat difficult to blame this on ‘cultural influence’, since the reasoning is based on biblical teachings, as will be shown below.

Biblical teaching on childbirth pain

The Septuagint translation of Genesis 3:16 (c. 250 BC) has the Greek λύπη lupē for pain to translate both words, ‘itstsevôn and etsev. This is the same word as in John 16:21, where Jesus Himself said:

A woman giving birth to a child has pain (lupē) because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.

Jesus accepted the fact that women giving birth suffer pain and anguish, and didn’t blame it on fear. There are other biblical teachings that also accept as a given that childbirth is painful, not just for fearful women.

Notice that Jesus accepted the fact that women giving birth suffer pain and anguish, and didn’t blame it on fear. Importantly, He said this was something that occurred during the birth process and was soon over. This rules out the idea that the ‘pain’ being referred to is ongoing sorrow because of the fallen world they are bringing their children into.

There are other biblical teachings that also accept as a given that childbirth is generally painful, not just for fearful women.

Revelation 12:2:

She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.

Once again, the pain that caused her to cry out was due to childbirth, not to fear. Here, the word for suffering pain is βασανίζω basanizō, which is also used for the torments in Hell.

Childbirth pain is also used as a simile for agony.

Micah 4:10:

Writhe in agony, O Daughter of Zion, like a woman in labour, …

I see no hint that God’s Prophet considered that childbirth agony was only in her mind.

Jesus used it metaphorically of coming troubles:

Matthew 24:8:

All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Figurative language, such as simile and metaphor, is still important, because underlying the figure is a reality. For example, the expression ‘as strong as an ox’ is figurative, but behind this figure is the reality that an ox is strong. So using birth pangs figuratively for other agonies and troubles shows that there is an underlying reality of pain in childbirth.

This is serious because teaching women that they must have pain creates fear, and fear causes tension, which causes pain.

But as above, the Bible teaches several times that pain in childbirth is to be expected, and is used figuratively to epitomize pain.

Practical experience

Experience must always be interpreted in the light of Scripture, never vice versa. For example, your fellow Canadian Mary Kassian, who has qualifications in both rehabilitative medicine and systematic theology and is a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (USA), writes in her excellent book Women, Creation and the Fall:

Childbirth is painful. I had read about it and believed it before the birth of my first child, yet nothing could have prepared me for the intense agony of labor. Labor pain is simply inexplicable to one who has not experienced it. Dr Ronald Melzack, a leading expert in the field of pain, has recently completed research on the intensity of labor pain. He found that, on average, labor pain ranks among the severest. According to his study, it may be exceeded only by the suffering of some terminal cancer patients and often is worse than having a finger amputated without anaesthetic.[1] It is difficult to imagine a relatively pain-free birth process; however, this is what the Creator had in mind prior to the Fall. Thus, the first part of the judgment on woman decreed physical and mental pain as well as emotional grief and turmoil in childbearing.2

There is no doubt that fear can exacerbate pain, and that some fortunate women may experience a pain-free labour on occasion.3 But it’s hard to believe that the pain generally experienced is all in the mother’s mind, i.e. not related to external physical stimuli. A medical doctor friend of mine relates that in most births the perineum is stretched immensely, so much that it not infrequently tears as a result. This is why it is often cut prophylactically.4 Prof. Kassian above makes it clear that the intensity of her own childbirth agony wasn’t expected, so it can hardly have been caused by fear. For another experience, my wife relates:

If a woman in labour is administered pain medication for the labour pains, she cannot be experiencing purely fear-induced pain when it wears off. If it were fear-induced, then the pain would return only after the woman rediscovered her fear upon awakening. Whereas I was knocked out during the 24+ hour protracted labour with my son, and I assure you it was the pain that woke me each time the meds wore off. I had no reason to wake up in fear (drugged sleep=no fear).

Baby

Photo sxc.hu

Also, extreme pain can be an indicator of an underlying problem. If a woman is led to believe that the pain is all in her head, she might incorrectly ignore God-given pain signals, especially as pain tolerance level is relative. If I had believed that all the pain related to my own labour was purely fear-induced, then my son would not be here today, and I might not be either, because severe pain prompted the doctors to an immediate, responsive reaction.
Many women do in fact give birth without fear and pain.

Whether that is due to anesthesia, or the exceptional cases referred to earlier, it is always a blessing. But as indicated, I would gently reject the inevitable ‘fear-pain’ linkage.

Alleviating the Curse

Christians should be the first to be able to trust God's design.

Yes, and God’s design of pregnancy and childbirth is beautifully and powerfully demonstrated in the DVD below. But Christians should also be the first to realize the limitations imposed by the Fall. Otherwise, by neglecting this aspect of biblical teaching, we might reason that we should never use vaccination or antibiotics, because we should instead ‘trust God’s design of the immune system.’ Also, should we trust that the appendix will always recover from appendicitis without removal?

What about women who need a Caesarian? Did Julius Caesar’s mother have more fear than other mothers, so that the baby just would not come out? Sometimes they really are necessary to save both mother and baby. (Note that I don’t deny that there are unnecessary Caesarians, and this is largely due to the unfortunate lawsuit of former US presidential candidate John Edwards, winning millions (a large chunk of it for himself) by claiming that failure to perform one in time resulted in cerebral palsy.)

There is a biblical principle that it’s a blessing to alleviate aspects of the Curse. That’s why Jesus healed sicknesses and disabilities…and this also motivated James Simpson to develop anesthesia for childbirth pain, to alleviate this aspect of the Curse.

Also, there is a biblical principle that it’s a blessing to alleviate aspects of the Curse. That’s why Jesus healed sicknesses and disabilities, raised the dead, and praised the Good Samaritan for taking care of a badly beaten traveller. Similarly, biblically-based compassion for those afflicted by effects of the Curse has motivated the founding of orphanages and hospitals, and the abolition of slavery.

This principle also motivated James Simpson to develop anesthesia for childbirth pain, to alleviate this aspect of the Curse. He also argued that anesthesia can’t be wrong, since God used it to make Eve from Adam’s rib. His most famous patient was Queen Victoria herself, who was so grateful for what she called ‘blessed chloroform’.

Adam's sorrow is felt by the scientist and the surgeon who have never worked a garden; they deal with the results of a fallen world everyday. Eve's sorrow is felt by women who give birth without pain; they are reminded each day that they bring children into a fallen world.

This much is true.

For a comprehensive study, Natural Childbirth and the Family, Helen Wessel.

Of course, CMI can’t take sides on such matters outside our mandate, which is defending biblical authority, especially about creation by the Triune God. We neither support nor oppose various approaches to childbirth.

I read an alternative perspective from a mother who didn’t think that she had to go through the ‘wonderful experience of natural childbirth’ that was allegedly necessary to be a complete woman. Rather, she said that her object was a healthy child; childbirth was merely a means to this end, regardless of how it was accomplished.

Thanks again for such a great resource!
RL
Canada

You’re welcome
Jonathan Sarfati
CMI–Australia

Recommended Resources



References

  1. James Carlisle, Labor’s pain still severe—survey, Edmonton Journal, section D, 14 October 1985. Return to text.
  2. Mary Kassian, Women, Creation and the Fall, p. 25, Crossway, Westchester, Illinois, 1990. Return to text.
  3. External physical stimuli can sometimes be blocked from causing a conscious pain sensation by a process akin to self-hypnosis, as a recent report of painfree major surgery while a person was awake attests. But this is different from the suggestion that pain during an operation, for example, is invariably due to anxiety and not the surgeon’s knife. Return to text.
  4. Though recent studies suggest that episiotomy is not necessarily a wise course of action. Return to text.

Derek C. wrote: “This is an awesome website. As a Christian who’s finally just turning my life over to God (for good), I needed somewhere to look for answers when I had no one to ask.” Help keep the ‘awesome’ going! Support this site

Copied to clipboard
5730
Product added to cart.
Click store to checkout.
In your shopping cart

Remove All Products in Cart
Go to store and Checkout
Go to store
Total price does not include shipping costs. Prices subject to change in accordance with your country’s store.