When I went into labor with my first child, I knew three things: that God had cursed Eve for her sin, that childbirth was therefore the most painful experience in the world, and some outdated and complicated breathing techniques. As each contraction washed over me, I braced myself against the waves, huffing and puffing as my husband counted. When I hyperventilated for the second time, I exchanged the breathing patterns for despairing, terrified sobs. When my doctor pronounced my cervix dilated only 2 centimeters, the nurse rolled her eyes at my theatrics, as if to say, “childbirth doesn’t even hurt at 2 centimeters, lady.” I became hysterical with fear for what the next hours would hold. Surely God has cursed women in childbirth!
In the days that followed, as I held my son, I felt a mixture of both awe that he had come into the world through me, and grief, as my performance in the delivery room had been less than stoic. Because of the “curse,” I felt that God would be displeased if I had had an epidural, so I had refused it. Besides, didn’t my suffering through such pain earn me a “superior mother” trophy of some kind? It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized how thoroughly un-Christian my view of childbirth was.
A closer look at Genesis 3 reveals that the only curses God pronounces are on the serpent and the ground (Gen 3:14,17). While there are consequences for Eve’s disobedience, God’s blessing has not been removed from her. Even in her shame, God promises that through childbearing would come the Offspring who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). This is called the protoeuangelion, or First Gospel. God has not cursed humanity; the entire rest of the story is his plan to restore them into full and abundant life with him.
While pain in childbirth reminds us of that first sin, it also urges us forward in the story—when God himself would be born to redeem all of creation. In fact, Scripture frequently uses the metaphor of childbirth to explain the Gospel, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3. It is the labor of the mother that brings life to a baby—just as we are saved by the word of Christ, not our work.
If childbirth is intended to point us to the Gospel, how might that shape my experience of childbirth?
Do I expect that God is angry towards me, striking me in my most vulnerable moments? No. The truth is that God loves me, is present with me through suffering, and is carefully co-creating with me to bring new life. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).
Am I ever a “failure” because I wailed too loud, asked for an epidural, had an emergency cesarean, or fell short of a nebulous “perfect birth? No. The truth is that I am incapable of being removed from God’s grasp, even by bad decisions or unexpected complications. My “performance” in childbirth and in birthing do not determine my identity.
Should I have an inflated ego when I’ve labored in excruciating pain without medical relief? Am I more spiritual because I’ve experienced the full force of the pain of childbirth? No. The truth is that I receive that as a grace given to me by a merciful God who sustains my every breath.
The Gospel is a profound antidote to my shame and my pride in childbirth. The Gospel tells me who I really am—loved and redeemed by Jesus, by grace alone. I am not cursed, I am not a failure, and I am not better than anyone else. Because Christians have the presence of God with them in all circumstances, childbirth becomes an altar where fear is laid down and God is worshiped for his creative power and attentive care.
As Christians who give birth, we can proclaim the Gospel under any circumstances. We accept good things from God’s hand as grace to us who have not earned it. We cling to Christ in hardship and trauma, and call out for the day when he will wipe away every tear. And we reject shame and guilt over not being perfect mothers (in birth or beyond), because we know that Christ is glorified through weakness, and that his perfect love casts out fear.
Aubry G. Smith
Aubry G. Smith is a childbirth educator, doula, and author of Holy Labor: How Childbirth Shapes a Woman’s Soul (Kirkdale, 2016). An Arkansas native, Aubry now lives with her husband and three children in the Middle East, where she educates and empowers multinational expatriate women giving birth in a foreign culture. Aubry can be found at www.aubrygsmith.com and www.facebook.com/AubryGSmith.