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The Childbearing Games

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Until very recently, I have always read Genesis 3:16 in a very specific way. This is the famous (or infamous) verse in which God declares the consequences of Eve’s sin in the Garden. In it He states, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.”

To me, this verse has always meant one thing and one thing alone: labor pains. Fortunately, God also allowed for the invention of the epidural. Problem solved!

Right?

A year ago I would have shouted a hearty and optimistic, “YES!” Today, I’m not so sure. I can’t help but wonder if this consequence of sin is about more than labor pains. I wonder if it is more far-reaching and complex than I have ever given it credit for. After all, this is a state of brokenness that impacts all women, not just those who are able to give birth biologically.

Take a step back from the process of labor and delivery. Look at the larger experience of womanhood, and notice how much pain, fear, vulnerability, and desperation exists between women and the process of child-bearing — long before a woman ever conceives.

First, think of the culture of fear that surrounds having children. Children are often talked about as life-ruiners, a rhetoric connected to increasing delays in childbearing, as well as many decisions to abort pregnancies.

Think of women who struggle with infertility and the heartbreak that accompanies this struggle. This agony is nowhere more clear than in the Old Testament, as women like Sarah and Hannah yearn and weep for children.

Consider single women who desire to marry and have children, and must face the possibility of never even being able to try.

Then there is the process of pregnancy itself, a time that should be filled with hope and excitement, but instead invites discouraging and depressing “advice” from older moms. At a time when I am already feeling overwhelmed and scared, many well-intentioned women contribute to my fear, warning me about how I will “never sleep again,” how my body will “never be the same,” and other cheerful predictions about how difficult my life is about to become. While I understand the need to prepare for the challenges of motherhood, the negative advice seems to come more frequently than the positive.

And then there is the guilt of pregnancy and motherhood. Every time I take a sip of caffeine, I feel the need to loudly explain to everyone around me, “Please don’t judge me! I consume FAR less than the recommended 200mg limit, and my doctor says that caffeine in moderation is perfectly fine!” When it comes to food and activities during pregnancy, there are so many do’s and don’ts! Plus, Ike and I are taking a birthing class in which epidurals are talked about as though they are a total failure on the part of the mother. I also attended a breastfeeding group that was incredibly intense and scared me so much that I probably won’t go back. Many women have extremely strong opinions about pregnancy, labor, delivery, and parenting, so it’s easy to feel judged if you don’t live up to their standards.

And finally, the pain of childbearing does not end after the baby arrives. Decades later, children can still break their mothers’ hearts.

Now I don’t want to be a downer about all of this. Children are amazing miracles and I can’t wait to meet my son. Every time I feel his precious kicks and rolls, I can’t wait to kiss his cheeks and squeeze his tiny thighs. I can’t wait to see Ike as a dad, and I can’t wait to grow in my relationship with God while I grow as a parent. What’s more, this pregnancy has already strengthened my marriage and my faith.

The only reason I highlight the many “pains” of childbearing is to show that many of them are actually unnecessary. In fact, we might even be the source of this “childbearing pain” in one another’s lives. But it doesn’t have to be this way. While we cannot shield ourselves from the effects of the Fall — not entirely — we are a redeemed people whose call is to model the redemptive work of our God. In the same way that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to overcome the effects of sin, we are called to do the same.

When it comes to the pains of childbearing, we can work toward redemption in a number of different ways:

  • Being sensitive to and comforting friends who struggle with infertility
  • Embracing single women into our family lives and the raising of our children
  • Being honest with mothers-to-be about the realities of motherhood, but also casting a vision of hope and joy that is consistent with Scriptural language about the blessing of children
  • Creating a culture of motherhood that is not competitive or judgmental, but is loving and supportive
  • Making space for the vocalization of parenting struggles, while also guarding our language about our children so that it does not devolve into complaining
  • Speaking truth into one another’s hearts so that we can all remember, at the end of the day, that our children’s paths lie in the hands of God, and they are not ultimately ours to control

In many churches and in many small groups, this kind of redemptive work is already happening. Women are supporting one another through the hills and valleys of motherhood, and in so doing, they act as agents of hope and resurrection. Even so, as a mother-to-be, I would ask many of you to remember that the pain of childbearing comes not from labor alone. It is a pain that takes many forms, and it can even come from other women.

Fortunately, God does not require us to bear this pain without hope. He sent His Son and He created His church, all with an eye to redemption. Let us be women who do.

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Sharon Hodde Miller loves to write, loves women's ministry, and especially loves combining the two! After majoring in Religion at Duke University, she worked for Proverbs 31 Ministries where she learned the ropes of women's ministry. Following her time there, she returned to Duke where she not only earned a Master of Divinity, but snatched up a smokin' smart husband in the process! She and her husband now live in the Chicago area -- with their new son -- where they are both pursuing their Ph.D.'s at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Sharon has a particular passion for discipling women with Scripture and theology, which is the heart behind her blog, She Worships. In addition to Ungrind, she also contributes regularly to Her.meneutics and CultivateHer.com.

4 Comments
  • Thank you for mentioning the pain that we as singles face in coming to terms with the reality that we might not marry and have a family. I have never related it to the verse in Gen., but it makes perfect sense.

  • I have never thought of the Genesis verses in this way before. Thank you for opening up a new perspective. You are SPOT on with al of the negativity that can surround pregnancy. I was really discouraged by the amount of downer advice I received from older and experienced moms. I make a huge effort as a new mom to focus on the positive while also trying to be vulnerable and honest about the difficulties in raising children. It’s a very thin road to walk but a worth one at that.

  • Monica

    The idea of ‘pain in childbearing’ being much bigger than labor pains first dawned on me following a miscarriage. Thanks for writing about it…I wasn’t sure if I was making a bit of a leap and never felt the freedom to discuss it.

  • Julie

    A beautiful reminder. As someone who has given birth to and buried a baby, I’ve often found myself in a roomful of women recounting their birthing stories and have wished the floor would open up and swallow me whole. I truly appreciate those who are sensitive to my pain amid a topic that seems routine to many. Thanks!

Articles

When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Articles

Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

As you read, we hope you consider us friends, the kind you feel comfortable sitting across the table with at the local coffee shop. You can read more about me HERE and our team of writers HERE.

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The Childbearing Games

by Sharon Hodde Miller time to read: 4 min
4