The so-called woman’s curse

The baby has been moving a lot more these days, especially at night when I’m in bed.

Sometimes I wish I can carry an ultrasound around with me to see what the heck the baby is doing. Is that a fist jab or a tiny foot kicking or a hip bump? Sometimes it feels like the baby is doing a little gymnastics routine, other times it’s either backpedaling or breast-stroking, and then sometimes I’m pretty sure it let out a series of hiccups.

It is the weirdest feeling, and not all that pleasant, but neither is it unpleasant, nor painful, nor uncomfortable. It just feels really, really weird. Like there are fingers inside me, sliding across my organs as though playing a piano. Like there’s an alien developing inside me, which I suppose is pretty close to what is happening. There’s a living mini-creature swimming in the amniotic fluids of my uterus, gradually growing stronger and bigger by the day. What a bizarre thing to happen to my body, after 34 years of it being my own.

Everything feels abnormal. I can’t lay on my back anymore, can’t walk without feeling like my pelvic floor is literally going to drop to the floor like a heavy sack, can’t sit in any position that’s comfortable for long, can’t eat a full meal without feeling like my squished gut is going to pop out of my gullet. I’m only a week away from third trimester, and I shudder to imagine what it would be like to lug a watermelon-sized belly around for several weeks.

But there’s also wonder and awe: My body is creating a human being! Obviously I’ve known what a woman’s body can do, since I was a toddler watching my own mother’s belly grow with my brother, but now that I’m experiencing for myself all these biological changes, I’m astounded that I’ve never seriously considered the fact that billions of women throughout history, from all over the world, have been bearing and birthing children. That this is “normal,” just part of the natural cycle of life.

Now I see: I have been living in a world full of daily, constant, repetitious signs and wonders, and I’ve been blind to it. I see pregnant women waddling at the grocery store, buy gifts for my friends’ baby showers, celebrate the birth of my nieces– and I would be happy for them, but I didn’t once stop to step back and wonder, Wow. What magic. This is amazing. God is amazing! How ingenius is His creativity? How purposeful is the way He designed the woman’s body!

One of the first things I learned in Sunday School was Genesis 3: the curse of man, the curse of woman, the curse of the serpent. After Adam and Eve listened to the serpent and disobeyed God, God cursed Eve, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Well, jeez. No wonder I didn’t find marriage or child-bearing at all appealing.

Even as a kid, I was never impressed by the women in the Bible. There’s Sarah, the matriarch of Israel, who just seemed like a bitter, submissive woman who did whatever her husband told her to do. She pined away most of her life longing for a child, and then tried to claim her servant’s son before abandoning both of them to wild beasts in the desert. There’s poor pitiful Leah, whose beauty paled in comparison to her sister’s, so she desperately and pathetically tried to earn her husband’s love by bearing him son after son. There’s Tamar, whose greatest compliment was from a father-in-law who claimed her more righteous than he, because she tricked him into sleeping with her– for what? A son. Then there’s Ruth, who submitted to her mother-in-law by laying at the feet of a much-older, wealthy stranger, and oh boy, what did she get in reward? A son. There’s Hannah, who had a seemingly-devoted husband but cried bitterly at the temple each day…for what? A son.

In the New Testament, there’s Mary, whose single greatest act in her life, again, was giving birth to a son. Of course, that child was also the Son of God– and I can appreciate the trepidation she must have felt about what it meant to miraculously conceive as a young engaged virgin– but really, what other great thing did she do in her life besides host Jesus Christ in her womb? Did she lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and blast sweet water out of desert rocks, like Moses? Did she sling a stone into a giant’s forehead, led an army on horseback into multiple battles, and rule over a powerful, prosperous kingdom, like King David? Did she, like Apostle Paul, travel across the Asia Minor, enduring shipwrecks and flogging and starvation and prison, planting churches and spreading the gospel to the world?

No, she did not. She squatted in a manger and pushed out a son. As a girl looking for female role models in the Bible, it seemed to me that the women exemplified as great figures of faith in the Bible were mostly all…mothers. Or wives. Or wives longing to be mothers– but not even daughters will satisfy them, only sons. The only truly badass woman was Deborah the warrior prophetess, and she doesn’t even get one-tenth of the space that most other men in the Bible get. I felt disappointed and dismissed as a young Christian female who admires and longs for chutzpah and charisma, aplomb and glory. Is this the best God expects out of us? To be wives and mothers? Surely, Lord, there’s more for us.

But I also felt uncomfortable with today’s societal expectation that we modern women should be able to “have it all.” That we can have our careers and independence and marriage and motherhood, that we can balance both the traditional masculine accomplishments and our femininity/sex appeal. Sure, it’s challenging to balance all those responsibilities, but a strong able woman makes it work somehow, so yes you can, you beautiful badass queen! That idea feels just as oppressive as the idea that a good Christian woman’s place is at home organizing Easter plates and homeschooling five kids, bonus points if you can play hymns on the piano and have adopted kids with disabilities from Russia or China.

Of course, the hubris in me still aims to be that woman who manages both motherhood and career with breezy class. We all (or maybe it’s just me) admire Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett for “having it all,” yet also hate her guts for merely existing, for setting a near-impossible bar for us earthling women by not only projecting brilliance in her academics and career path, but also somehow raising seven children, two adopted from Haiti and one with Down syndrome. I don’t know how she does it, but it makes my dirty soul feel better to believe that she cheated somehow.

I have been rethinking a lot of my low view on motherhood since I found out I’m pregnant. I don’t feel confident to call myself an omma yet– that still kind of freaks me out a little– but in bed at night, as I lay quietly feeling my unborn child do karate chops and somersaults, I don’t feel fear or anxiety. I feel awe. I feel wonder. I feel…like a miracle. Like I’ve been sprinkled with a fistful of magic dust. And I telepath-talk to the child, Hello there, little one. Are you for real?

What mystery– this powerful, magical thing a woman’s body can do. And I wonder, why us? Why did God choose to design the female body, and not the male’s, with the ability to do the most supreme thing any human being can ever do: create life? Nothing God does is accidental– He is an intentional creator, an unmatched imaginator who designs and builds with precision and purpose.

So I ask again: Why us? Why woman? God could have easily made both men and women able to bear children. But instead of choosing the man, the “stronger” sex with the (typically) bigger bones and muscles, God chose the “weaker” sex, the woman, to endure one of the most amazing and taxing experiences on the human body. And women throughout millennia, short and tall and big and small, of all race and ethnicities and ages and socioeconomic background, have continued the miracle of life by the natural functions of their bodies.

But that act is not without pain and sacrifice. I think of the Genesis 3 curse, the pain of childbearing– and from everything I’ve researched, pregnancy, labor and birth, and the postpartum stage do sound rather awful, even with medical advances such as the epidural. All that fluids and organisms that come out of us? Gross! Our body is rarely ever the same after we tear our body apart to push out a fully-formed human, and neither does our heart completely heal from the all-too-common traumas of miscarriages or stillbirths or infertility.

Yet even with all that discomfort and anguish and lifelong scars, the Genesis 3 curse does not erase this mindblowing marvel: The woman’s potential to bring life to earth. And to me, the most incredible thing about this act is the amount of self-sacrifice it takes. Think about it: The most powerful thing a human body can do is inextricable from self-giving sacrifice, from the uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy to the searing pain of labor and delivery, and then the long, aching process of recovery while nursing a newborn who gives nothing but demands everything.

Even the so-called woman’s “curse” has redemptive, gospel characteristics embedded in it. I see God’s goodness and wisdom in this “curse”– that His ultimate purpose isn’t to punish and inflict pain, but to redeem and glorify the woman, and kiss her with an embodied taste of His own self-giving sacrifice when He willingly died on the cross for us. With this ability to bear child is God’s desire to make His heart known to us in the most intimate, visceral way possible.

And so the woman’s weakness is her strength, her suffering her crown. God’s “curse” becomes a blessing, one designed specifically just for the woman. Not something to ever poo-poo at, even if she never becomes the second-most powerful man in Egypt like Joseph, or builds the temple and composes wisdom literature like Solomon did.

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