Note: Initially I wanted to publish this post prior to me going into labor, however, while editing it I started having the contractions that ended bringing my daughter Ayah, earth side, exactly on her due date. Today, I’m publishing this post in its original version, because even after experiencing labor, I still hold to my opinions about this topic.
To some this subject might be a taboo, and some might even say I should not write about this before experiencing childbirth myself. However, I find myself, as my due date is nearing, thinking about this a lot, and attempting this blog post, perhaps as an affirmation, or a summary to all I have been telling myself since the early stages of pregnancy.
Childbirth has always been portrayed as the most painful event in a woman’s life. It has been linked to suffering, thus, leading many women to choose to avoid this kind of pain, opting for a cesarean, or at least approaching childbirth knowing they will be using some sort of pain medications. And as I do not oppose using pain medications, nor am I against C-sections, because I believe every woman is responsible for her body and is entitled to her own choices, I do however believe in the power of education of women. I believe the current fear around childbirth is caused by years of lack of knowledge. I strongly believe it is time for women to take matters back into their own hands and reclaim their confidence in the body they were given.
The roots of labor pain in religion
If we examine different religions we will definitely find references that talk about how painful and hard labor is. However, today, the religion that is most dominant in the world is Christianity, and in Christianity, a common belief is that a woman’s pain and suffering during childbirth has been multiplied because the original sin of Eve. So it is quite safe to link the common popular belief about birth back to that.
But, what does the Holy Quran say about childbirth?
“His mother bears him with pain, and brings him forth with pain. “
We see that Allah swt uses the same word to describe pregnancy and childbirth: “kurh” which is translated to “in pain”. The Quran is very clear about the process of childbearing being painful, however, is there an evidence to the process containing a form of “suffering”?
If we read the verses describing Hazrat Maryam mother of Jesus going to labor, we will find something astonishing:
“And the pains of childbirth drove her unto the trunk of a palm-tree. She said, ‘O! would that I had died before this and had become a thing quite forgotten!’
Then he called her from beneath her, saying, “Grieve not. Thy Lord has placed a rivulet below thee;
“And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree; it will cause fresh ripe dates to fall upon thee.
“So eat and drink, and cool thy eye. And if thou seest any man, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to the Gracious God; I will therefore not speak this day to any human being.’”
[The Holy Quran 19:24-27]
We find Hazrat Maryam reaching the painful stages of labor and uttering desperately that she wishes she had died before witnessing this kind of pain. On the other hand, Allah is comforting her by means of water stream to wash in and dates to eat. He is telling her to cool her eyes. The original Arabic word “قري عينا” could be translated also to “delight your eyes”. This term was used by the Holy Prophet saw to describe his utmost joy that is obtained through prayer:
“وجعلت قرة عيني في الصلاة”
“My comfort has been provided in prayer”
As I reflect on those verses, it is clear to me that Allah does not want women to “suffer” in childbirth. When Hazrat Maryam reached the stage of “suffering” Allah comforted her and cooled her eyes.
This is even clearer once we become educated about the process of labor and birth:
Labor is made out of contractions that last between 60 and 90 seconds, (the peak of them being around 30 seconds for each contraction) and a break of 1-4 minutes with no pain. (in active labor, depending how far along the mother is)
In a natural, medication-free birth, the brain releases endorphins to cause pain relief. These endorphins are natural pain killers that could be as strong as their chemical substitutes such as morphine. Those endorphins increase towards birth, and increase during contractions (if the mother is relaxed and not stressed) and increase even more after the baby is born, and for a period of two weeks they continue to flow in the mother’s system.
(Read more about endorphins: https://www.health-foundations.com/blog/2013/10/18/endorphins-in-childbirth-bodys-natural-painkillers)
Labor is controlled by a set of hormones that the brain releases, all of them are very much dependent on the state of the mother (if she is stressed/anxious/sad the release of these hormones is not done properly. Yet, if she is relaxed/calm/happy they are released properly and labor progresses naturally).
If we look back at the verses above, we find Allah swt calling Hazrat Maryam not to grieve. Behind this calling a grand wisdom because it is through relaxing, labor continues to take place naturally and it is through relaxing that the body releases the natural pain killers it needs to make labor much more endurable for the mother.
So is there a difference between pain and suffering in childbirth?
I believe that there is. And I am positive that when we educate ourselves more about this natural process, we will come to understand the wisdom behind the system of Allah.
I appreciate and love this system, and I want to work with it – not against it, and I hope many other future moms will do the same. I do however understand that for some, those medical intervention are crucial so that suffering does not become part of their labor experience. There are definitely cases that women cannot progress in their labor without the use of drugs – and it is then that those interventions are extremely important and lifesaving.
Requesting your prayers!