To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows and thy conceptions. In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee? Gen 3:16
Some biological observations spring to mind. Firstly, no other moderately intelligent mammal, has such a short (28 days) cycle for fertility, correct me if I’m wrong but I’m sure the elephant only comes into season once every 4 years (lucky elephant). Is this our multiplication of conceptions? Who knows? Secondly, childbirth can be considerably more traumatic and painful for women than for any other animal, or are we just more rubbish about pain? Is this the sorrow of childbirth? I’m not convinced, surely the real sorrow is entailed in helplessly watching our children when they themselves are suffering or are making bad choices.
I know someone who won’t buy large sized eggs because of the pain the hen must have gone through to lay them. However, I can’t say I’ve seen a hen strain to lay an egg so bad that they looked like they needed gas and air.
There are perhaps 3 types of pain we can feel: pain caused by hurt to the body (a hammer dropped on the toe, for example), the pain caused by our suffering due to our own misdeeds (an injury or illness caused by our poor lifestyles) and the pain caused in us through the fallen state of the world (a childhood victim of abuse, for example, or more controversially perhaps, as a sufferer of an inherited disease or mental illness or mode of living).
One of my favourite bloggers, Taylor Marshall, has published a comprehensive list of master theologians and doctors of the Church who categorically state that Our Lady did not feel pain during the birth of Our Lord. This may or may not be the case, I’m just wary about linking the pain of childbirth to Original Sin or sinfulness in general. I’d say there was plenty of pain we can feel that has nothing to do with our own sinfulness. We are also left with the unanswered, linked, but somewhat distasteful conundrum of whether Our Lady menstruated, if menstruation is a result of Original Sin.
There is, for me, a far more important meditation that can be drawn from this. The fact that the body of Our Lady was for God and God alone. She was perfect for God’s purpose and therefore quite naturally hidden from us. Every artistic representation of Our Lady, every icon, every devotional picture is different, she is hidden from us in direct contrast to her Son. Perhaps we are just not meant to speculate about her body, despite our curiosity.
There is a big contrast here to the controversy that raged during the papacy of Alexander VI; the controversy as to whether Our Lady swooned at the foot of the cross, or whether she stood firm. The pope had to intervene to stop the burgeoning feast of Our Lady’s Swoon and categorically state that Our Lady stood at the foot of the cross; a decision reached through ancient tradition and deep meditation. ( A decision that led to a great number of staggeringly beautiful musical Stabat Maters .)
What Our Lady did, is important. She consented to the will of God. She stored things in her immaculate heart, and she could draw on the supernatural strength needed to stand at the foot of the cross. This is why she is the source of our hope and our mother. This has far more significance than whether she felt pain during childbirth.