Is it wrong to interfere with the pain of childbirth? Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, a retired board-certified obstetrician and mother of three, answers this question from the perspective of her experience in light of God’s Word.
Is it possible to have pain free or low pain childbirth from a biblical perspective? Pregnant with my first child, I have been reading/hearing about many secular books that discuss fear/tension/pain expectations and even cultural biases that contribute to pain in childbirth but that it is quite possible to avoid a lot of pain in childbirth. I have ordered an out of print Christian book that says the same thing and that the use of 'pain' in the Bible doesn't have to mean painful labour. I know everyone's different but that anecdotally that it's possible to have low pain/pain free childbirth. I just find it disappointing that most Christians don't seem to think this is the case! I am also very confused! Any articles on your website that mention it talk about pain after the Fall. Sorry if this is too new agey and far out a concept. I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask.
– S.W., Australia
The Correspondence department asked me to respond to your question about pain in childbirth. Needless to say, as an obstetrician practicing in the modern world, I cared for women with a variety of goals for their childbirth experience and explored the issue of pain control as I considered their positions.
God told Eve that He would greatly multiply her sorrow and her conception and that in sorrow1 she would bring forth children (Genesis 3:16). Part of the sorrow of childbearing is the sorrow that comes with bringing another sinner into a world full of strife (Romans 3:23). We do tend to adore our precious babies, but as we raise them we discover they are just as human, fallible, and sinful as we are. Indeed, our children sooner or later prove to us that they need the grace of Jesus Christ as much as we do!
As to the question of whether it is biblically wrong to try to diminish pain in childbirth—a question I have often heard—I would answer with an emphatic “No!” The extreme pain of childbirth is part of the Curse, but so are sickness and death. We live in a cursed world as a result of sin, and that Curse affects all areas of our lives, not just childbirth.
Dr. Tommy Mitchell recently responded to a similar question. He was asked, “Is there some special spiritual level you achieve by suffering through childbirth?” He replied, “No, it’s just part of living in a fallen, cursed world. I don’t see the pain of childbirth as some special ritual that women must suffer through.”
The groaning and travailing in pain by the whole creation as described in Romans 8:18–23 constantly reminds us that we need our Savior and only He can fix our world and our hearts. Nevertheless, in compassion for one another and in imitation of the compassion of our Lord, we try to relieve the suffering of the sick and dying. To suggest that there is anything unbiblical about relieving pain in childbirth as much as is safely possible makes about as much sense as refusing to ease the suffering of the sick and dying.
Furthermore, if a particular woman has her babies with minimal difficulty and pain and another suffers greatly, I personally can ascribe no more spiritual significance to the difference in their experiences than I can to two people who have mild versus severe cases of the flu. I have even known couples who, having labored without medication, felt they had been especially spiritual and somehow deserved brownie points from God and the exalted respect of lesser, weaker women who had used medications.
You also raise the question of the various techniques for avoiding or minimizing pain. There is a lot of good information out there as well as a lot of bad information. Cultural practices and personal attitudes both do have an influence on expectations and responses to the natural processes of labor. Furthermore, the degree of tension or relaxation in the mother undoubtedly affects not only her subjective experience but also her body’s ability to facilitate the process of labor.
Moreover, as you mentioned, there is a lot of New Age philosophy to be found in some materials. I would caution you to distinguish carefully between suggestions that impart knowledge, teach you what to expect, and arm you with some practiced mental and physical techniques to deal with pain and fatigue versus those that suggest the existence of various metaphysical fields and energies and such things that have no scientific basis. Some of these concepts are rooted not in the innocent untapped richness of other cultures but in New Age spiritual sources, often drawing on pagan roots. As a discerning Christian you want to be aware that both Christians and non-Christians can be drawn into deeply damaging involvement with New Age spiritualism by the promises offered by various New Age alternative health care practices.
All that being said and the spiritual warnings given, by all means discuss with your obstetrical care provider any suggestions you have found for a prepared childbirth as well as his or her recommendations about medications and anesthesia. It will be important for you and your caregivers to have a good working relationship of mutual trust and understanding. Then you’ll know that your caregiver is doing things “for you,” not “to you.” In the atmosphere of that trusting relationship, you can handle the stress of the situation much better. Then, having taken whatever classes and read whatever books you’ve read, you’ll be able to face the pain of the process, whether little or great, and also to deal successfully with any surprises that come up. (I’ve seen women reproach themselves for “failing” at the unmedicated delivery; sometimes circumstances just aren’t what anybody expects on the front end.) The best suggestions for one person are not necessarily the best for another, either medically or psychologically, and sometimes plans need to change midstream.
May God bless you as you enter this new and exciting time in your life. I’m sure you realize that having the child is only the beginning, but there is something phenomenal about having that little baby come into the world. I recall vividly that I was fearful of not loving my first baby because I spent much of my pregnancy on bed rest, deprived of my usual work and greatly inconvenienced. I secretly resented having to be a “glorified incubator.” To my great relief, just as Jesus speaks of the memory of the travail of labor evaporating when a child is born (John 16:21), all my resentment was replaced with joy and delight in the responsibility as soon as my daughter was born. I hope you not only have a good experience and a good outcome with your pregnancy and delivery but also enjoy your new adventure as a parent.
Elizabeth Mitchell, MD
For more information: See The Evolution of Childbirth?
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