Back in the early 1980s when the practice of homeschooling began to surface as an alternative to customary day-school options, the sentiments of many were less than favorable. Homeschooling parents were warned that they would tire of the endeavor, that their children's educational progress would be hampered, that they would grow up unable to successfully interact with others, and that success as an adult would be stifled. Decades later, thousands of homeschooled graduates have demonstrated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are responsible citizens, who work to support themselves and their families, and prove to be assets wherever they serve. Rather than be at a disadvantage because of being homeschooled, many educated in this manner often demonstrate an "unfair" advantage. Excellent results changed the minds of critics and struck a blow to the "expert" mentality that got its start with Dr. Benjamin Spock, who convinced parents that they needed to be guided by people who were highly trained and knew more than they did.
Thanks to the foundational thesis supplied by R. J. Rushdoony,1 large numbers of Christian families removed or never placed their children in state schools and thus recaptured an important area of family life. The pioneers of the modern movement acted on faith, believing that if they applied the Bible's directives to teach children to love God and keep His commandments, they would be blessed. Today, homeschooling has become an accepted practice, although efforts to stifle and regulate it still persist. Thanks to many faithful homeschooling advocacy groups that combat legislative efforts to steal from the family that which God commanded it to do, homeschooling continues to be a growing movement.
Education, however, is NOT the only area where Biblical considerations have been usurped by so-called "experts." Like education, modern medical childbirth procedures, along with how, when, and where a child will be birthed, merit reevaluation from a scriptural perspective.
Far from being a neutral area of life, the issues of labor and delivery, and the customary practices routinely followed, will either reflect the wisdom of God's created order or they will reflect a humanistic makeover of that order. Too few prospective parents have examined these issues from the Word of God and have uncritically assumed the validity of letting modern medical science practitioners make decisions for them, usually within a framework that sees childbirth as pathology rather than a reflection of God's creative wisdom. To fully bring all areas of life and thought under the dominion of Jesus Christ, we need to recover a better-informed Biblical mindset concerning childbirth so that family prerogatives aren't surrendered to approaches that may be inconsistent with God's Word.
The Bible uses the word travail to describe the process of a child leaving the womb. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines this word as follows:
travail, v.i. [L. trans, over, beyond, and mael, work; Eng. moil.]
1. To labor with pain; to toil.
2. To suffer the pangs of childbirth; to be in labor. (Gen. 35.)
travail, n. Labor with pain; severe toil.
1. Labor in childbirth; as a severe travail; an easy travail.
In Genesis 3:16a, God promises Eve that He will "greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children." This is a direct response to Eve's disobedience. The Bible consistently associates pain with childbearing. In fact, the pain itself is due to Eve's rebellion against God. It should be noted that the Scripture does not contain any directive for women to avoid this pain through the use of anesthetics.2 These facts, while not decisive in themselves, do steer us to inquire further. First Timothy 2:14-15 reads:
And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
One of the three most plausible interpretations of Paul's meaning is that these verses promise that a woman will make it through childbirth if she remains in faith, charity, holiness, and sobriety. By implication, if she embraces the calling God has given her as a woman, wife, and mother, she will obtain favor from the Lord. Under this interpretation, we note that Paul gave no indication that she should seek to avoid this reality of travailing, nor sedate herself during the experience. While an argument from silence has limited validity, and the interpretation is not conclusively settled, the issue surely warrants thoughtful exploration given its importance.
Eve, by her own admission (Gen. 3:13b), was deceived, specifically about the question of authority, God's authority, and invoked human wisdom in her bid to settle the question. This question of authority is a continuing factor in women's lives, and we've seen the ugly results when the state expects parents to bend to its alleged authority over education. In a like manner, women continue to bend to medical authorities relating to pregnancy and birth because the alternatives (like homeschooling to statist education) are routinely ridiculed. Faulty appeal to authority is a logical fallacy, and perhaps it's not going too far beyond the evidence to suggest that in our day women have continued to be deceived about their prerogatives concerning parenting from the very beginning of that process, including childbirth and the travail associated with it.
No Pain, No Gain?
One young mother3 described it this way, "I think the pain is meant to remind a woman of what happens when she lives life on her own terms, and that should make her even more determined to raise that baby she has just delivered to live life on God's terms." Thus, rather than being "bad" pain, this is useful pain. Pain that will help her "count the cost" of the endeavor before her to raise her child "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." While this is anecdotal evidence, not an explicit appeal to Scripture, it is representative of a different way of thinking about childbirth that bears further scrutiny.
Another reference to childbirth is made by Jesus in John 16:20-21:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. [Emphasis mine.]
Jesus, by way of analogy, is telling His disciples that their sorrow at His death will be turned to joy in His resurrection. How does He convey this? He does so by using the analogy of a woman in childbirth. This flies in the face of modern obstetrical practice that encourages pain medication to lessen the experience. Certainly we cannot imagine that Jesus was recommending that His disciples drug themselves to avoid the terrible sorrow His death would usher in for them. No, He was advocating that they parallel the normal experience of labor and resulting birth, in order to fully experience and appreciate the process by which salvation was to be ushered in for them.
Time for a More Biblical Paradigm?
It appears that many women continue to be deceived by humanistic medical criteria in the very midst of fulfilling their respective callings to be mothers. Many mothers-to-be today buy into modern medicine's disdain for God's natural, physiological processes, and in essence agree that God's design is inherently defective. Systematic deceptions under color of medical authority include its glowing characterization of the travesty of abortion. So many women are grossly deceived when it comes to believing the lie that abortion is safe, easy, and will allow them to get on with the rest of their lives without any negative consequences. The medical profession has made a practice of telling women what they wish to hear.4
Assuming that most practitioners in the field of obstetrics don't harbor bad intentions toward women,5 it remains that if their basis for pharmacological and surgical intervention is based upon humanistic principles (i.e., all pain is bad and should be reduced or avoided at all costs), women may well be deprived of the promise of their anguish being turned to joy. While it is true that the use of medications and interventions can remove a woman's memory of birth6 or possibly reduce her pain, our Lord's comments in John 16:21 suggest that the child's arrival in the world is itself the medicine that erases the memory of the prior anguish.
While there are many voices advocating for less medical intervention and calling for natural childbirth, most are expressing their concerns on the basis of human rights abuses against women and the joy of an unmedicated birth. While there is some merit to these perspectives, they make their case on secular rather than Biblical grounds. Future installments will examine the "accepted" practices of natural childbirth with the purpose of attempting to develop the contours of a systematic theology as it applies to childbearing while allowing for a variety of individual applications.7
The so-called "experts" in the field of obstetrical practice desire that families do minimal thinking on their own and submit to the superior wisdom of modern medical science. However, as the homeschooling movement has thoroughly demonstrated, matters that are properly in the jurisdiction of families and responsibly carried out by the family bring tremendous personal and culture-changing effects.
Rushdoony points out that childbirth occurs within an ongoing context when he notes,
It is obvious, of course, that procreation ... birth, is a function of the family, and, in a healthy, biblically oriented and governed family system, this function is preceded by an important fact that conditions birth. The parents marry because there is a bond of faith and love between them, a resolution to maintain for life a covenant under God. As a result, heredity of faith and a unity in terms of it are established as a prior condition of birth, so that a child born into such a family has an inheritance which cannot be duplicated. The Biblical family cannot be rivaled by man's science or imagination as the institution for procreation and rearing of children.8
1. Rushdoony was among those who demonstrated that homeschooling was far from a new practice and that through most of the history of the U.S. republic and during the colonial period, parents teaching their children was commonplace and the literacy rate in America was much higher than today.
2. It should also be noted that Proverbs 31:6-7 advises the use of an anesthetic for those in pain and dying. However, this passage is in no way connected to the process of giving birth.
3. Thanks to Mrs. Mike (Nicki) O'Donovan for our conversations together on this topic.
4. For personal testimonies as to the long-term effects of abortion on women, see the DVD, "Life after Abortion."
5. This is not to say that there are not legitimate circumstances where medical interventions are lifesavers for mothers and their babies.
6. See Jo Loomis's article in this same issue of Faith for All of Life.
7. R. J. Rushdoony in his twelve Medical Reports (published in The Roots of Reconstruction) is a useful starting point for further examination of modern medicine by those committed to the authority of Scripture.
8. R. J. Rushdoony, Law & Liberty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books), 100.