If you’re anything like me, you likely grew up learning about childbirth through watching movies, hearing birth stories from our mothers, and maybe from a smattering of other people like friends at school, women at church, and people on the internet. Believe it or not, another way we were educated about childbirth is through the Bible. Many of us were taught that pain in childbirth is a curse from God as a result of the fall. Let me refresh your memory. (Skip to verse 16 if you don’t want to read the whole story.)
Genesis 3:1-24, English Standard Version
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it, ’cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
What Was Cursed by God?
I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon about women being cursed by God with pain in childbirth, but the idea was often tossed around and never challenged as many women certainly feel cursed with having to deal with the pain of childbirth. But is that what the Bible actually says? Is pain in childbirth a curse from God?
Let’s jump back to scripture. What does it specifically say was cursed by God?
vs. 14 “The Lord God said to the serpent, cursed are you above all livestock”
vs. 17 “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life”
The two things that were cursed by God were the serpent and the ground. The woman was not cursed.
Is Pain in Childbirth a Curse by God?
So if pain in childbirth isn’t one of the curses in Genesis 3, what does the Bible say about childbirth in Genesis chapter 3? Nothing. It doesn’t! Let me explain.
It’s clear that God doesn’t specifically say to the woman “I am cursing you, Eve, with pain in childbirth.” It does say, however, that we will have pain in childbearing and bringing forth children.
Let’s start with the word “pain”. What sort of pain are we talking about here? According to The Bible Project the Hebrew word translated to pain doesn’t mean physical pain, it means emotional pain. This word pain is similar to the word pain in vs 17 in regards to the ground. This word means difficult and toil.
Next, let’s take a look at the word childbirth or childbearing. “The Hebrew word here translated for childbirth does not actually mean childbirth. There are perfectly good words for childbirth. Herayon is the word for childbirth, and this isn’t it. This word means the process of conception, not the moment of birthing children.” (The Bible Project)
“He Will Rule Over You”
“Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” Prior to the fall the man and woman were supposed to rule together, but now there would be conflict. The man would now rule over the woman, and as you clearly see in the generations of families in Genesis, distrust, suspicion, and the abuse of women would begin.
Pain in Childbirth vs. Turmoil in Families/Parenting
What I’m hearing is that a consequence of Adam and Eve’s choices is that the process of raising children and being in a family will now create lots of emotional pain, toil, and be difficult. What was supposed to be a beautiful flourishing, multiplication will now also include infertility, polygamy, jealousy, infidelity, rape, murder, abuse, and abandonment. Bringing a beautiful baby into a world full of sin and strife will also include sorrow.
Have you ever read the story of Hagar? It’s sad and a good example of how having children is painful. Basically Abraham and Sarah were married, old, and childless, and instead of waiting for a blessing from the Lord, Sarah told Abraham to sleep with her servant, Hagar, so that Abraham could have a child. Abraham agreed (gross) and the plan worked. Except now, conflict erupted between Sarah and Hagar, and Sarah was abusive towards Hagar. Eventually, Hagar left/was made to leave. The first time she left she had an encounter with The Lord and felt seen, which touched her deeply and fortified her for the sorrowful days ahead.
“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13
The Effects of Believing Pain in Childbirth is a Curse
The children of God have often got things wrong over the years. Ideas believed to be true have been passed down, generation to generation, without much thought. Could the belief that pain in childbirth is a curse from God be one of these ideas? If so, how has this belief impacted women?
One of the ways this has impacted women is through the belief that because pain in childbirth is part of the curse, it is morally wrong to pursue pain relief in labor. Instead of getting an epidural or using any sort of pain management techniques, women should accept their labor pain as a just punishment. (If this is true, then farmers shouldn’t use Roundup. Think about it.)
Another way this belief has impacted women is by fueling the fear that surrounds childbirth. Many women are afraid of giving birth. Between the stories that are shared between women, the movies we watch, obstetrical abuse and violence, and the confusion surrounded the curse, it’s not a shocker that women in my childbirth classes are feeling a little bit anxious about their upcoming birth.
Is Pain in Childbirth a Curse?
I am not a theologian, bible scholar, or fluent in Hebrew or any other biblical language. However, I do have a calling to help women with childbirth and identify as a women’s advocate. Ladies, this is what I know.
- Pain in childbirth is not a curse from God.
- The effects of sin are far-reaching and childbirth is not exempt.
- Childbirth is painful, and so is bringing a baby in a world full of sorrow.
- There are benefits of pain in childbirth.
- God loves you, sees you, and is with you. Because of this, take courage.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
What Do You Think?
Based on a quick google search, I’m pretty sure what I wrote here is a minority opinion. What’s yours? Leave a comment and let me know what you think?