“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.” – John 16:21
In the creation story, God curses the human race for its sin and lack of trust in Him as a Good Creator. This curse results in an increase in pain and suffering for both men and women. The specific curse for women was increased pain in childbirth. Often times when Christians speak of childbirth, we completely skip discussing the effects of the curse and jump right to the amazing joy that children bring. Often times, the consistent pain of gestation and the agony of labor are completely avoided in our conversation about the beauty of pregnancy. But, part of redemption is knowing the suffering, pain, despair, and darkness that comes before the gladness, joy, happiness, and the light. Part of the Christian’s witness to the beauty of pregnancy and childbirth is being honest about its inherent pain and suffering. When the whole of pregnancy is acknowledged, then and only then, will we see the true beauty of pregnancy and new life.
I see no better way to discuss this truth then expressing the deep admiration I have for my wife, Stephanie. Stephanie is currently seven and a half months pregnant with our twin boys, Abel James and August John. Her pregnancy has not been easy, and the labor will not be any easier. But, Stephanie amazes me every single day with her love and deep affection for our sons. And, her love for our boys is best realized in showing all the pain she has, is, and will suffer for them.
Stephanie’s pregnancy started with seventeen weeks of morning sickness. Often she would vomit more than fifteen times in a single twenty-four-hour period. Cologne, Indian food, having an empty stomach, even elevator rides, would all trigger her digestive system to revolt in disagreement. Even if there was nothing in her stomach, she would experience constant acid reflux and dry heaving. At week sixteen she hit the climax of her morning sickness when she also got a stomach bug and had to be hospitalized for two days. The stomach bug depleted her body of all its electrolytes and made her tachycardic. The boys didn’t help, because they just kept taking what they needed from their mom. For two days, she had a heart rate of over 125 bpm and could barely walk because of how week she was. But, she persevered.
After the hospitalization, Stephanie’s morning sickness did start to subside, and she had a brief respite from any major discomforts. But starting at around week twenty, her body began to prepare for the birth, and the constant pains of a changing body structure started. Abel and August’s growth has started to hurt and pain Stephanie’s body. Her abs are stretching and separating, causing consistent pain and discomfort. Every part of her body has become more sensitive, hitting into something by accident feels like getting punched. Around week twenty-six, Stephanie started to get increasingly short of breath. Abel and August are getting so big that they’re constantly pushing Stephanie’s intestines and stomach up, which presses on her diaphragm and lungs. Stephanie can actually no longer sleep on her back because she literally cannot breathe. And, her nighttime sleep, in general, has transformed into three power naps, causing increased tiredness. These are just some of the physical and anatomical changes that cause constant pain for my wife.
But, Stephanie also has emotional pain as well. When she was hospitalized, we sat in the emergency room and had two nurses try and find the babies heartbeats. These labor and delivery nurses could only find one. An ultrasound was then scheduled to check on the health of the boys. We waited for three hours, and those three hours were some of the most painful in our lives. Stephanie, more than I, felt the emotional weight of not knowing if one of our sons was alive. We cried together, read Psalms, prayed, and waited. God was good to us, and both of the boys were healthy. At our week twenty ultrasound, we found out that both the boys were very small even for twins. One was the 11th percentile (for the size of babies in the U.S.A.) and the other the 13th. Stephanie felt for the boys, wanting desperately for them to grow. They did grow for a while, but at week twenty-eight we were told that one baby was growing while the other’s growth had been stunted. Abel was at the 27th percentile while August was only the 9th. Stephanie and I were both devastated and scared. But, Stephanie is the one who literally feels the boys grow and move in her. One of the boys in hidden under her placenta and is harder to feel. This paired with knowing one was smaller caused increased emotional pain and anxiety for Stephanie. We cried together more and prayed desperately for God to grow August. And, grow August He has. All this to say, mothers do not only have physical pain during gestation, but they also experience emotional pain.
Let’s be honest. For almost all women: pregnancy is difficult; it is painful; it is stressful; it is hard work; and, in reality, pregnancy is accursed. But, what a beautiful curse it is, for it is a curse that displays fully the message of divine redemption. Gina Loehr wrote on pregnancies saying, “Women will be saved through childbearing,” St. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy. If bearing a child in one’s body is salvific, it is because the experience leads us into the redemptive mystery of the cross. As Christ offered his body and shed his blood to give us life, so too every mother offers her body and sheds her blood to give life. The new life every mother brings to the world follows the “Passion” of pregnancy and labor. Let’s not pretend the Resurrection should come without the cross.” These words ring true for a husband watching his wife experience the pain and suffering of child-bearing.
Stephanie has been such a beautiful display of Christ to me these past seven and a half months. She is literally giving of herself every single day. She is giving her body, her nutrients, her hormones, her oxygen, her blood, her literal life to our beautiful twin boys. She is giving shelter and food to these helpless human beings. Jesus once taught, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” I do not think it is far off to say that mothers, when they bear and raise children, are doing these same actions to the least of these, the most vulnerable, unborn children. For when a baby in the womb is hungry, the mother feeds it; when it is thirsty, she gives it drink; the baby is a stranger to her body, and she welcomes it; it is naked, and she covers it.
Stephanie has yet to give birth. But, her labor will be the climax of her pregnancy, the darkest night. It is in this darkest night, that we by the grace of God will see the light of our children’s faces! If gestation is represented by the passion of Christ, then labor is the cross. As Rachel Stone writes, “Birth is not passive, pointless, cruel suffering. It is active work—labor…These mothers suffered pain, perhaps even risked death, to bring forth someone new, to bring forth new life…And so when Jesus goes to the cross “for the joy set before him,” as the writer of Hebrews puts it, it’s not masochistic, nor is it passive. He puts forth strength and endurance; like childbirth, it is a commitment to struggle.” Even in Acts Chapter Two, when Peter is preaching on Christ’s death on the cross, the specific Greek word ōdinas (ὠδῖνας), used for the “agony” of Christ’s sufferings, is best translated as “birth pangs.” This paints for us a vivid image of Christ’s salvation of mankind through his death on the cross as a birth. How beautiful it is that our Lord empathizes with women by speaking of his salvation of all mankind as birth! The same way Jesus gave birth to new spiritual life in his death and resurrection, so to Stephanie will give birth to the new life of our twin boys. Birth is the last great sacrifice before the joy of new life and resurrection! As Jesus taught his disciples, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.” And, this is the beautiful curse, known as child-bearing: that deep pain brings even deeper joy.
Women experience pain, and then bring new life into the world. And, we need to continually proclaim how beautiful this process is, but also how hard childbearing and birth is. Women experience continuous pain and the greatest pain in the world to give children life. And, all women and mothers deserve constant support, praise, love, and honor for the way they carry their cross. The more we understand and discuss this pain the greater we can support the needs of women. We need a culture that understands the deep pain that child-bearing brings, so we can more fully experience the joy of new life.
I write these words as both a praise to my God who gave birth to resurrection life in the person of Jesus Christ and as a thanks to my wife, Stephanie Augusta Elliott. Your pain, your sacrifice, and constant work to support Abel and August do not go unnoticed. You are a beautiful image of Christ’s sacrificial love every day. I love you, and always will!