Everyone knows that childbirth hurts. From an early age sitcoms set in labor and delivery and knowing looks between women give us the general idea even if the rest remains an abstraction. For the Christian, Genesis 3:16 explains the cause of the pain. After Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden, God shares part of the cursed consequence,
I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.
I thought I understood what this seemingly straightforward passage meant as a kid. My twenties and thirties have taught me otherwise. While Genesis 3 certainly gives context for the morning sickness and the contractions I experienced a year ago, the pain that was promised manifested itself much earlier. I felt it in years spent trying to conceive, in countless monthly cycles of brokenness and despair. I felt the curse in hard ultrasounds, in surgeries, and injections. In losing one baby even while his/her brother’s heartbeat continued on the same screen. Today I feel it in the uncertainty of what growing our family will look like or mean. I feel it in the doctor’s appointment I avoid scheduling because I’m afraid to reenter a world that brought so much pain with it.
My friends feel the weight of it too. It’s a sisterhood of brokenness no epidural can dull. It’s a sisterhood born out of the breadth and depth of what Genesis 3 really means.
One wipes tears from her eyes as she celebrates her thirty-ninth birthday alone. Undesired singleness and the accompanying unmet expectation of becoming a mom is hard to bear, particularly in a world that often fails to recognize her grief.
Other friends feel it in prolonged NICU and PICU stays. Christmases and birthdays spent under the glow not of trees or candles, but medical equipment. They feel it as their children face brokenness they cannot fix.
Still others when the joy of a positive test is swallowed by the grief of miscarriage. The joy of learning your baby’s gender and the devastation of a life-altering and/or fatal prognosis at the same time. The trauma of reentering an ultrasound room when the memory of your worst moments that happened in the same location are never far from your mind.
I see it in my friends stuck in the perpetual waiting room of foster care and adoption. Whose piles of paperwork and countless court dates lead to still more. When a yes leads to a no and an already tender heart has to deal with the fall out.
I see it when a wayward son or daughter stays estranged despite a parent’s best efforts to reconcile. In the faces of friends who have buried children, whose hearts are reminded of the deepest ache of all every missed milestone, holiday, or anniversary. When a “full” table will always feel incomplete.
I see it in post-partum depression. When what is supposed to feel like the greatest joy, doesn’t. When sharing the darkness dredges with it guilt, shame, and fear of condemnation.
I see it in the everyday hard parts of childbearing and raising. The problems that while “smaller,” make the daily grind a struggle.
The curse of Genesis 3 hurts a hundred different ways to a hundred different women I know. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be in ways that are both big and small, temporary and lasting.
One of the things I’m most thankful for when it comes to the Christian narrative is context for the brokenness we all know and experience. Incredibly, Genesis 3 doesn’t just provide the context, it also provides the antidote. Someone born of woman through the pains of childbearing, will come and crush the head of the snake to rescue, redeem, and restore what was broken and cursed.
I think that’s why this picture by Sister Grace Remington has meant so much to me the last few years. It’s a picture of two women, two moms, who knew the depths of the pain of childbearing. Two moms who buried sons, who knew not just the physical toll of the curse, but the heart wrenching emotional cost as well. There is pain in the painting, but it is overwhelmed by hope. It is rightfully called, “Mary Consoles Eve” as the snake crusher in her womb realizes the words of “Joy to the World,”
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
We celebrate it at Christmas yet even as decorations are boxed and stored, the pain and brokenness are still there. He came and defeated the snake through his death and resurrection, yet we live in the tension of the already but not yet. It’s only January, but 2017 has already known countless tears related to bringing forth children.
For me, the personal way this has touched my own story has caused me to need and know God and long for heaven in a way that nothing else in my life has. Knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection also means sharing in the fellowship of his sufferings. If we let them, the tears can cause us to cry out for his return in a way that we might otherwise miss. The promise of no more pain, no more tears, no more death means something deeper to those who feel their heaviness acutely. The promise that no longer will there be any curse, feels greater to those who know the extent of its heartache.
He gives us these promises for the “not yet,” but thankfully He also provides them for the “already.”
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
The God who is with us in our suffering and pain understands it because he put on flesh and experienced it. We do not have a high priest who is distant, but one who came near and can empathize with us in our weakness. The one who was marred more than any other man is well acquainted with grief and invites us to come to Him with ours.
All of creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth longing for his return. Because of his great love for you and for me, Jesus entered into those groans that touch and encompass everything around us. Because of his great love, the curse has an expiration date. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.