Curse to Co-creation: Religious Models of Labour Pain

Marianne Delaporte

Abstract


Until the nineteenth century when labour pain became a technical problem to be solved, such pain was given religious meaning. Christian understandings of labour pain have long been based in interpretations of key Biblical texts, beginning with Genesis 3:16 and continuing with New Testament texts, which are understood to be commentary to this primary text. This article examines the four major spiritual models of labour pain that stem from these interpretations— curse of Eve, salvific, growth and perfectionist—and charts their rise and fall. The models are not distinct but intertwine and affect each other over time. The curse model—labour pain as punishment for Eve’s disobedience—was not used on its own but was most often paired with the salvation model or growth model so that the punishment of Eve was healing or generative. Salvation and growth intertwine as well in some understandings, as a woman’s spiritual and emotional growth lead to her active role in salvation history. The perfectionist model turns the curse model on its head, as it strives for a prelapsarian state in which women will not suffer the curse of Eve. Perfectionism in this sense is a belief that one can return, in this world, to a perfect union with God, a form of divinization. In conclusion, the four models are seen to have adapted to the secular transformation of pregnancy and labour, offering a potential model comingling pain and pleasure, spirit and body.

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