Why So Much Pain?
A friend of mine once said that because he had stepped on a Lego block with his bare foot, he now knew what childbirth felt like. Of course, he was only joking, but in all seriousness, why does birth pain hurt so much? “Why? Why all this pain?” a laboring woman sobbed in my arms in a delivery room. Various world religions propose different explanations. What do you believe is the answer? Do you think birth pain exists just for physiological reasons? Or is there something more to it? What do your neighbors think about this common human experience? It would make for an interesting conversation to ask your friends what they believe to be the origin of birth pain and if they think it serves a metaphysical purpose.
Even the scientific community has attempted to quantify the physical pain experienced by women in labor.1 Such a task proves to be elusive, as pain is experienced in many other capacities—it’s not just physical. Can you measure the emotional toll of the past nine months (combined with present circumstances in the delivery room), the mental distress that “this is really happening,” and the often alarming capacity for spiritual uneasiness when the contractions are coming too slowly (or quickly)? How do you explain the reason why many women who do not acknowledge God (or any “god”) in their everyday lives suddenly cry out to a higher power when they are in the throes of labor? Who can comprehend the culmination of all manner of pain when it is time to push? And how does one summarize the tidal wave of different emotions that swell when you leave the delivery room and live through the joy-mingled pain of raising children?
If what C. S. Lewis says is right—that pain is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world”2—then women experiencing birth pain might be the most spiritually attentive people in the world.
Where Did This Megaphone Come From?
We read in the Bible that God had commissioned Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, but in judgment for their sin God said he would now “multiply pain” in being fruitful. It’s a play on words in the original Hebrew language. God told Eve her pain would be multiplied in her multiplying. The curse affects childbearing beyond the womb. 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.” (Gen. 3:16)
We recall that Eve, created in God’s image, had been given an extraordinary role to play as she and Adam were told to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). This particular judgment directly frustrated Eve’s procreative capacities, hindering her from easily carrying out God’s creation mandate. And now today—all over the world—women in different seasons of life experience hormonal imbalances, fertility issues, miscarriages, pregnancy complications, menstrual pain, stillbirth, menopause, and maternal death. We can only imagine Eve’s prefall aptitude for childbearing.
Our multiplied pain in multiplying is intended to point us to a profound theological reality: we need a Deliverer.
Because we see in God’s Word that birth pain is a particular aspect of judgment for our sin, we understand that a woman’s labor pain is unlike that of amoral animals. When human beings are delivered through pregnancy and birth pain, there is more going on than biological processes and physiological mechanics. Our multiplied pain in multiplying is intended to point us to a profound theological reality: we need a Deliverer. We will see later in this book how our Deliverer also experienced pain in his labor of multiplying. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves . . .
Can You Hear Hope?
At time of this writing, approximately 7.6 billion souls are dwelling on this earth. One hundred percent of us were born through or despite the existence of birth pain (including those of us who were conceived or born via surgical interventions that were developed to counteract the obstacles we face in reproduction). All mothers and babies who are delivered through pregnancy and labor are recipients of God’s undeserved common grace, which includes all of us. Corporately we have plenty of reason to praise God at all times in every way. On this corporate level—as those who have been delivered by the grace of God—we can reflect on birth pain and see a distinct picture of our plight as sinful, rebellious creatures. Oh, how we need someone to deliver us! We are helpless to save ourselves.
Personally, individually, we hear through the megaphone of birth pain a call to repentance and faith in Christ. Can you hear it? As he hung dying on the cross, despised and rejected by God and men, Jesus travailed under the just wrath of God for our sin. Jesus willingly did this in our place as our substitute—he is the Lamb of God. A glorious transaction was made on that cross: Jesus purchased redemption for his offspring. What a costly hope we have in Christ, who paid for our salvation with his blood.
It ought to be explicitly said now: No mother can make atonement for herself (or anyone else) in the birthing room. Only the blood of Jesus could satisfy the wrath of God against our sin. There is no merit achieved by undergoing a painful labor (neither is there merit lost through receiving painrelieving medication). Our labor pain has a divine origin and significance, but we serve a God of mercy (Ex. 34:6); he does not demand that we suffer through it without help.
In our place condemned for our sin, Jesus’s pain was multiplied in his multiplying. Jesus satisfied the wrath of God at the cross, and by his blood he ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). And now everyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ—whether male or female, child or adult—can hear through the megaphone of birth pain that God’s righteous judgment for our sin was borne on the cross by his sinless Son. The Bible says that when Jesus’s travails on the cross had reached their end, he declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
1. Julie Bonapace et al., “No. 355—Physiologic Basis of Pain in Labour and Delivery: An Evidence-Based Approach to Its Management,” Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada 40, no. 2 (2018): 227–45.
2. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (1940; New York: HarperCollins,1996), 91. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
This article is adapted from Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood by Gloria Furman with Jesse Scheumann.
- The Rightful Risks of Motherhood (Gloria Furman)
- How Birth Teaches Us to Boast (Gloria Furman)
- How Pregnancy and Labor Point Us to the Gospel (Gloria Furman)