The Pain of Childbirth

It was a dark, stormy and windy evening. The trash cans had been put back in the house out of fear that they would blow away. We rushed to the hospital only to find out that it was a false alarm and we’d have to go back home. I’ll never forget the sound of the pain, the cries of “make it stop,” the rush back to the hospital and the pushing, seeming to no end until finally our daughter was born. What a beautiful feeling that was, but why was it preceded by so much pain and hardship?

I’ve always found offensive the argument that because Eve ate from the fruit, women deserve to have pain in childbirth. How can one woman’s actions lead to punishment for all who follow? Furthermore, childbirth is such a beautiful thing, so why would G-d make the mother suffer before her child is born? Other mammals naturally bear many children without epidurals, episiotomy’s and other medical procedures, so why is it so hard for humans?

At LaMaze class, the instructor shared that the closest a man can come to experiencing childbirth (and it’s still a stretch) is passing a kidneystone. The difference is after the kidneystone passes, you’re left with nothing, whereas after the pain from childbirth you have a beautiful new baby. Nevertheless, G-d could have made the biological process however G-d wished, so why make it a painful one?

Rashi has an interesting take on this topic. He notices that the verse reads הרבה ארבה עצבונך והרונך, בעצב תלדי בנים, “I shall increase your pain and your pregnancy-in pain you shall give birth to children.”[1] He comments on why it says “pain,” עצב, twice, both before the word “pregnancy” and before the word “give birth.” He writes that the pain is from the raising of children.[2] Interestingly, as pointed out by the Etz Hayim Humash, the word עצב is not the typical word for “pain”-that rather is כואב or צרה. This instead is referring to a type of emotional pain experienced when things do not go the way one hoped.[3]

It’s immensely difficult to teach one’s children the values and ideals which one aspires them to have in their lives, especially when the children decide to go in a different direction than the parents intended. It’s emotionally painful when you’re children retort, “You don’t understand me and you never will” after years when you stayed up late at night changing and feeding them, you taught them their first words and gave them a good education.

Why would Rashi list the עצב of raising a child before the עצב of pregnancy or that of labor? I believe this is because he recognizes that the former עצב is always there, whereas the latter עצב is giving birth is for a finite amount of time. It takes working 24/7+ to raise a child, to ensure that s/he is imbued with the proper values and attributes. It’s a life’s work to do this and at times it’s very challenging. Yet I would argue that one generates reward from all the hard work, often in ways and at times that s/he does not expect. We do the best we can in raising our children; at some point, however, we need to let go of the training wheels and feel assured (although nervously) that we have given them the wings to fly and be successful in life.

As we restart the Torah, let us remember that while there is no turning back in the raising of a child or “doing things differently,” we should always take comfort that we are doing the best we can and that we will see our efforts bear fruit. When our child tells us, “Thank you for all you did for me” or “I’m so lucky to have you as my mother/father” we should shep nachas and recognize that all that hard work paid off. We can only live our own life, not that of our children, and we need to see this עצב, this emotional pain when things don’t go the way we envisioned, in a positive light; that maybe in another aspect we will have a more favorable outcome. Without feeling עצב from time to time we will also miss out on experiencing a feeling of wonder and joy when reveling in the person we helped create. Let us not focus on the pain and the sadness of the past but rather on the hope and excitement that the unknown tomorrow will bring.

[1] Genesis 3:15

[2] Rashi on Genesis 3:15 עצבונך

[3] Etz Hayim Humash, page 21 (Based off Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 100a).

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