The Birth of Jesus: Did Mary Experience Labor Pains?
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Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace to people of good will... It's Christmastime! The time when Catholics, Protestants, and all people of good will remember and celebrate the birth of baby Jesus! And truly, like the classic song says, "It's the most wonderful time of the year!"
Yes, it's Christmas 2020, but just how wonderfully pain free was the birth of baby Jesus for Mary on that first Christmas? She delivered the baby herself: "And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 26:6-7 DRV)
So, here is a question that has been debated for centuries: Did Mary experience childbearing pains when she gave birth to Jesus? The faith-filled answer is no, she didn't. She is the New Eve, conceived without stain of Original Sin (Mary is the Immaculate Conception) and not subject to the Sin Curse, which the "Old Eve" was subject to: "To the woman [Eve] also he [God] said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children..." (Genesis 3:16a DRV)
According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, the word "sorrow" used here has the meaning: "Emotional, mental, or physical pain or stress. Hebrew does not have a general word for sorrow. Rather it uses about fifteen different words to express the different dimensions of sorrow. Some speak to emotional pain (Psalm 13:2 ). Trouble and sorrow were not meant to be part of the human experience. Humanity's sin brought sorrow to them (Genesis 3:16-19 ). Sometimes God was seen as chastising His people for their sin (Amos 4:6-12 ). To remove sorrow, the prophets urged repentance that led to obedience (Joel 2:12-13 ; Hosea 6:6 )." (StudyLight.org)
It's common knowledge that repentance is a "turning from sin" and literally "returning to God". So a returning to God leading to obedience removes suffering, according to the prophets. This is how St. Paul, not at all a fan of expanding the role of women in the Church, can write to Timothy concerning matters of the Church: "For Adam was first formed; then Eve. And Adam was not seduced; but the woman being seduced, was in the transgression. Yet she shall be saved through childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety." (1 Timothy 2:14-15 DRV) St. Paul's position can be deemed controversial and is offensive to many, but remember, our context here is whether or not the Blessed Virgin Mary experienced labor pains and the accepted answer is no, she did not.
Let's look again. "Yet she shall be saved through childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety." The word "through" here doesn't mean "by" or "because of", it means "from the beginning to the end of", and the word "saved" is used here in the normal sense of "keep safe or rescue from harm or danger". So, St. Paul did not say a woman is saved by or because of childbearing, instead he literally said, "...she shall be kept safe and rescued from danger or harm from the beginning to the end of childbearing..." This is a magnificently important blessing in light of our modern, 2016 World Health Organization childbearing data: "Giving birth can be a long and painful process. It can also be deadly. The World Health Organization estimates that about 830 women die every day because of complications during pregnancy and childbirth – and that statistic is actually a 44% reduction on the 1990 level." (BBC - Earth - The real reasons why childbirth is so painful and dangerous)
Globally, poor nutrition throughout the formative years (too little protein, too much carbohydrate) seems to be a major factor, both with the narrowing of the mother's pelvis and the increased size of the baby in the womb. According to the above WHO statistic, about 302,950 woman die every year from problems with pregnancy and childbirth. That is a horrifying number. Yet, more horrifying is a shocking global statistic. In developed countries (which account for 6.6 million abortions a year), C-sections are fast becoming a normative solution. In developing countries, without access to necessary healthcare, 49.3 million abortions a year are performed. (Abortion Worldwide 2017: Uneven Progress and Unequal Access | Guttmacher Institute) That is 1 billion human lives every 20 years.
But let's not take the statistics at face value, because statistically 35 women out of 1,000 worldwide have an abortion every year, which means every woman will have an abortion once in her lifetime. That's just not true - and the vast majority of abortion worldwide is to save the mother's life. Be that as it may, the Catholic Church does not permit "direct" abortion to save the mother's life, only morally-neutral indirect procedures, such as cancer treatments, surgery for ectopic (tubal) pregnancy etc., which indirectly kill the fetus as a result. The teaching is, we cannot perform a direct intrinsic evil (killing innocent life) to gain a greater good. It's a hard teaching.
But Almighty God is all good and deserving of all our love. In St. Paul's instructions to Timothy God has given mothers-to-be great grace: "...she shall be saved through childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification [holiness], with sobriety."
The Blessed Virgin Mary is full of grace, being conceived without any stain of Original Sin. She is the New Eve - not under the Sin Curse - and remained in a state of grace, becoming Spouse of the Holy Spirit and preserved from actual sin. She is the epitome of obedience and ultimate fulfiller of St. Paul's words: "...she shall be kept safe and rescued from danger or harm from the beginning to the end of childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification [holiness], with sobriety."
I am persuaded that from the moment of her immaculate conception in her mother's womb, to Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit in her womb, and through to his birth and beyond, Mary, being singularly blessed among women, continued in faith, and love, and holiness with sobriety. She, being blessed among women, was kept safe and rescued from danger or harm from the beginning to the end of childbearing. However, God told Eve that He would multiply her physical pain and stress in childbirth. That implies that before the Sin Curse there was in fact some degree of physical pain and stress, perhaps a light affliction, to multiply. There had to be something to multiply. Zero multiplied by anything is still zero. Mary, except for sin, is a fully human woman. Any woman who has been in labor, or anyone who has witnessed a woman in labor knows it is physically painful and stressful. The question then shouldn't be, "Did Mary experience labor pains?" but rather to what degree?
For those of us who don't know, "Pain during labor is caused by contractions of the muscles of the uterus and by pressure on the cervix. This pain can be felt as strong cramping in the abdomen, groin, and back, as well as an achy feeling. Some women experience pain in their sides or thighs as well. Other causes of pain during labor include pressure on the bladder and bowels by the baby's head and the stretching of the birth canal and vagina. Pain during labor is different for every woman. It varies widely from woman to woman and even from pregnancy to pregnancy. Women experience labor pain differently — for some, it resembles menstrual cramps; for others, severe pressure; and for others, extremely strong waves that feel like diarrheal cramps. It's often not the pain of each contraction on its own that women find the hardest, but the fact that the contractions keep coming — and that as labor progresses, there is less and less time between contractions to relax." (Dealing With Pain During Childbirth (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth)
Let's have another look a Luke 26:6-7 - "And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered." In other words, Mary went into labor. And from the next sentence we learn that it was an easy labor and delivery: "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." We know it was an easy labor and delivery, because St. Luke, being a physician, would have written, "And she travailed and brought forth her firstborn son", if it had been the normal, painful and laborious effort of childbearing. Compare Psalm 48:6 (KJV): Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail.
So, did Mary experience labor pains? To a greatly lesser degree, according to St. Luke the physician; she was full of grace, went into labor, it was an easy labor and delivery, and she brought forth baby Jesus herself.
Jesus, Mary, I love you! Save souls!
Have a blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year!