|© 2011 Aaron-H, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio|
I'm just returning from a conference at which I presented my thesis on Gen 3:16a, the famous "curse" of Eve, foretelling of the painful lot of childbearing. (For the record, it is not a curse, and it has to do with more than childbirth.) As with the rest of the Scriptures, how we translate, interpret, and teach Gen 3:16a has profound consequences for daily life. For instance, my thesis implicitly raises the question, "What was God's design for fertility, and what broke when the Shalom of Eden was shattered by sin?" Or, put another way, "What parts of our reproductive experiences are not things God desires for us?"
Overall, there is far too little scholarship in this area. We need more and better scholarship, especially from women. But we know enough to claim one thing in near unison as a Christian witness -- our bodies are broken.
Now hear me clearly: not everything about our bodies is broken. Most of us are capable of dancing and singing and running and thinking -- all fully rooted in our flesh and blood. And many of us women can grow babies and then feed them through our bodies. These are amazing and beautiful things. But fundamentally, something has gone awry, something is out of alignment. We have cancer and diabetes and mental illness, also rooted in our flesh and blood. And many women experience infertility and miscarriage and failure to breastfeed. And while, yes, healthy lifestyles and medicine can prevent and treat many of the body's ailments, the brokenness of the body remains.
I'm sure there are many people who believe that all of these ailments are environmental, meaning that if everything outside the body was perfect, and if the body received just the right care, the body would not suffer these afflictions any longer -- we could, in theory, live in perfect bodies. But within the framework of the Bible, we embrace something different; we embrace a story that we are fundamentally broken, body and spirit. Our very DNA is askew and things just don't work the way they are supposed to all of the time. The most obvious evidence of this is that we all die; there is no escaping our broken bodies.
With that in mind, what I'd like to address is this: The belief that women's bodies are fundamentally flawless and, given the right circumstances, able to birth without problems. I read or hear something like these sentiments quite often:
"Your body will know what to do if you listen to it."
"Women have been tricked into believing their bodies aren't capable of birthing without intervention."
"Let nature take its course and all will be well."
Yes, birthing a baby is natural and amazing for many, but it is also horrible and life-taking to many others. Our bodies don't always know what to do, sometimes we do need interventions, and nature's 'course' always, eventually, leads to one thing: death.
|© 2012 eyeliam, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio|
BUT, I also realize that our bodies are broken, and that means that our birth experiences will often be broken. Hemorrhages happen, preeclampsia sets in without warning, and shoulders get stubbornly stuck. And these aren't things that can be 100% prevented, because we have broken bodies in a broken world. These failures are natural, and despite what many current trends claim, not everything that is natural is good for you.
This might seem like I'm being nit-picky, and that this conversation is not very important to the average woman. But I vehemently disagree. If we believe that our bodies are fundamentally capable of birthing perfectly when left in their natural state, failing to achieve this ideal birth experience can have profound consequences. Women who believe that natural birth is inherently good and fail to achieve that good birth often blame themselves, or they blame their caregivers. When a woman has a miscarriage, goes into pre-term labor, or fails to breastfeed: "What did I do wrong? I failed my baby and my family." And that's just the beginning.
So while I believe that God does intend for us to birth without danger and fear, those things are now a part of the equation that will not and cannot be removed until we are in the New Heavens and New Earth. And while we should be rolling back the curse and ushering in the Kingdom of God, we must be wise and admit that we are not there yet. Yes, our bodies were made to birth beautifully, and often times we can do just that, but it is impossible to remove the risks of birthing so long as we birth with bodies that are on a trajectory to death.
If natural birth is the goal, ladies, please do not forsake the reality of broken bodies while reaching for this goal. Let us not turn our bodies into false gods, placing belief in them as if they deserve it. They do not. There is one body worth believing in to help us, and that is the crucified and resurrected body of Jesus of Nazareth. He knows what it means to be broken, and in Him alone should we place our hope.