Throughout this pregnancy, I have been trying to read as many uplifting and empowering birth books as I can get my hands on in preparation for my upcoming birth. So I’ve read a lot of standards, somewhere have misplaced Dr Sears’ Birth Book (kinda irritated about that) and read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, as well as her latest, Birth Matters. Some books have been more… dry and textbook like, like Sheila Kitzinger’s book (unfortunate yawn fest for me that I was unable to finish) but other’s have been eye opening, encouraging, and yes, I believe, empowering.
But the BEST book I have read so far is the one I am reading right now; Grantly Dick-Reads’ Childbirth Without Fear. Despite being written aver half a century ago, this book is the bomb diggity for any woman preparing to give birth. This guy GOT IT right in the era of twilight sleep and when strapping laboring women to beds for hours with their feet in the air was considered “normal.”
My favorite chapter so far as been the one I just finished about pain in childbirth according to the Bible. Just this past Sunday, my BFF and I were discussing Genesis 3:16,
To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”
This passage puzzled me, because the reality is that that many many women in various cultures experience little to NO pain when giving birth. Reality cannot contradict Scripture, because God is the Author of reality. So what gives? If He says childbirth is going to hurt, it should ALWAYS hurt, right? And YET the experience for many women, (most in other cultures that practice uninterfered with birth) is that birth can be relatively painless, and in fact, at times, even joyful, blissful, ecstatic, and yes… orgasmic.
This does seem to be more in line with a God who specifically designed His creation to give birth, so why would Scripture say something that meshes with neither His design, nor the reality experienced universally by His creation?
As it turns out, I am not the first to pose these questions. Dr Dick-Read had the same ones, and so he consulted some biblical scholars and folks willing to check out the original Hebrew. And here’s where it gets interesting. The word translated as “pain” in the Revised Standard Version and NASB (quoted above) and as “Sorrows” in the KJV is “etzev.” According to the scholar Dick-Read consulted, this word is most accurately translated as “labor” or “toil.” In fact, we see it used in such a manner in the very next verse:
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life. Genesis 3:17
So, WHY on earth would translators use one word to translate one verse and a completely different one for the same word in the very NEXT verse? Especially to choose a word that has a completely different meaning and connotation? Baffling, eh?
The key, it seems is in the mindset and perspectives– the paradigm– of the translators of Scripture– not of the Scripture itself.
Around the time of James I, commissioner of the King James Bible, childbirth was a dangerous, harrowing experience. Doctors and barber-surgeons had pushed midwives out the door (midwifery was a burnable offense for witchcraft) and were imposing “scientific” methods such as laying on one’s back to labor (the easier to monitor the patient’s “progress”) and lack of sanitation and hygiene meant rampant spread of disease. A doctor might go from working on a sick patient to delivering a baby– no hand washing in between. Yes, as far back as the Middle Ages this was already taking place.
The accepted reality was that childbirth was painful, dangerous, and a HORRIBLE experience. And by GUM if that was the reality, then God must have MEANT it to be that way. (We humans seldom stop to question ourselves as to whether or not we may be making things bad, we just accept them as the Way Things Are.)
And so, when translating the Scriptures into English, the translators imposed their “reality” upon the Word of God. Despite the fact that there are perfectly good and useful words in Hebrew that can be translated as pain, sorrow, or horrifying agony, and NONE of those words appear anywhere near the childbirth verses, THOSE are the types of words they interjected into any and every reference to childbirth in Scripture.
Instead of the picture the original language paints, that childbirth would be more work than it was originally designed to be, translators since that time have made childbirth out to be something God has cursed into some kind of horrific punishment for daring to obey His initial command to be fruitful and multiply. It hardly makes sense, but, well, to THEM, that’s just how it WAS. And how it has been ever since.
When the use of chloroform and narcotics were first introduced to “ease the pain” of childbirth, folks argued against it vehemently, claiming it went against Scripture and that women were meant to really feel and endure the agony of childbirth. How misguided and sad. When God NEVER intended for childbirth to be some terrifying experience to be endured. Look at what He designed our bodies to do when uninterfered with and left to birth naturally and safely: we release copious amounts of oxytocin, the “love hormone” which is also released while nursing, snuggling, kissing, and orgasm, but NEVER in as great quantities as it is at the moment of birth. No wonder some women have reported the most powerful orgasms they have experienced was during the birth of their child!
When fear and adrenaline are not factors during a normal birth, and when synthetic hormones are not introduced to short circuit the body’s natural response, women can experience childbirth the way God intended– as a life affirming, love inducing, celebration of His awesome plan and design. Sure, because of the Fall, we have to work for it now, but that certainly doesn’t diminish the joy and utter wonder of that moment when a brand new little person separates from his mother and the one become two, who become one again through bonding.