Tokophobia is the fear of childbirth. It’s the fear of the pain of childbirth — the fear of injury during childbirth, both for baby and for mom. And it’s a fairly common fear we hear about in the inbox. The prospect of parenthood can be alluring. But the pain and the dangers of childbirth are realities to be considered. Here specifically is the question I’m talking about.
“Dear Pastor John, my girlfriend and I have recently started having conversations about our future. She’s a God-fearing servant whom I can see myself marrying. I also believe she would be a great mother. However, she told me that while she wants to be a mother, she is very fearful of pregnancy and childbirth and said she may only want to adopt. I’m fearful that I would harbor some level of bitterness in my heart toward her if we chose to not have biological children. Should this be a marriage deal-breaker for us?”
I think there are three things that I’d like to say in this kind of situation. One is a word of empathy and understanding about the fear of childbirth. Even though I’m not a woman, I’ve got a wife and I’ve got a Bible. Second is a word about what God has done to address this fear in his word. Third, what the implications are for your particular relationship with your girlfriend.
First, Scripture and history and all of our experience, I think, are sufficient to give a woman pause about bearing children. Historically, childbirth has been dangerous. Thousands — dare we say hundreds of thousands — of women have died in childbirth or have been so injured by the way babies were born that the rest of their life was made difficult.
“While childbearing is still hard, nevertheless, you will come through it in Christ.”
Biblically, this pain in childbirth is explicitly rooted in God’s response to the disobedience of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:16: “To the woman [God] said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be toward your husband [or contrary to your husband, depending on the translation], but he shall rule over you.’”
Now, those are pretty bleak words for a woman. Good grief, it’s going to be painful and dangerous to bear children, and you and your husband are going to be in perpetual conflict. In other words, the fall of men and women into sin brought pain and risks into the act of childbirth and brought pain and relational misery into the marriage relationship itself. That’s what sin did. That’s what the fall did: selfish desires flowing from the woman and selfish domination flowing from the man.
It is understandable that a woman would look with some circumspect seriousness and hesitation about whether to marry at all and whether to risk the pain of childbirth in marriage. I get it. At least from my little bit of experience, it makes sense to me.
Christ’s Great Reversal
In the face of all this bad news that comes with the sinfulness of our human heart, God has broken into history in Jesus Christ, and he is turning things around. Indeed, he was turning them around already, before Jesus came, but not decisively like he did when Christ came, and the Holy Spirit was poured out, and people were grafted into Christ. He’s turning them around by overcoming the course of sin in various ways and in stages.
Now, Ephesians 5:25 describes the dramatic reversal of the way husbands treat wives in Christ. They no longer treat them with the arrogant, selfish domination described in Genesis 3:16, but now with humble, gracious leadership described by the analogy of how Christ leads and cares for and provides for and protects the church.
I think it is a huge mistake, by the way, to say the husband’s headship or leadership are obliterated in Christ. In fact, they are redeemed and transformed, which is quite evident as you read Ephesians 5:25–33.
Saved Through Childbearing
With regard to the curse on childbearing, let me give you my understanding of a very perplexing verse, 1 Timothy 2:15. It says, “Yet she [women] will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:15).
“The pain of childbearing will not be an obstacle to your full and complete enjoyment of salvation in Christ.”
Here’s what I think that means. By the way, I did a whole article with all the details at Desiring God called “How Are Women Saved Through Childbearing?” Here’s my paraphrase of that verse:
Even though a woman may need to pass through the painful remnants of the curse that came on childbearing in Genesis 3, nevertheless, she should not see this pain as God’s curse in Christ, but rather press on by faith, with love and holiness and self-control, and thus experience God’s complete salvation.
In other words, 1 Timothy 2:15 is intended to address a woman’s fear that legitimately arises from the curse of Genesis 3:16. The encouragement is this: while childbearing is still hard, nevertheless, you will come through it in Christ. The deepest dangers of the curse have been removed. The pain of childbearing will not be an obstacle to your full and complete enjoyment of salvation in Christ.
I think the words of Jesus in John 16:21 point in the same direction. He says, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come.” In other words, it’s going to hurt. “But when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” In other words, the pain of childbirth is not an end in itself. By God’s grace in Christ, it leads to great joy, just like the resurrection brings joy after the sufferings of Jesus.
This leads, finally, to the question of your relationship. God’s transformation of arrogant, selfish male domination in marriage into humble, gracious leadership in marriage is closely tied to God’s transformation of childbirth as a curse into childbirth as a painful path to extraordinary joy.
“She needs to know you will not ignore her fears, and you need to know she will gladly trust God with your leadership.”
I think the question every man has to ask at the front-end of marriage — indeed, the question every woman has to ask — is whether, by faith in God’s wisdom and grace and power, you are willing to enter into a relationship where there will be gracious, humble involvement of the wife in plotting out the paths of this life, together with faithful, confident, Godward submission of the wife to the husband’s leadership.
That is the needed combination. Are you both willing to step into that? Both husband and wife have to look at the dynamics square in the face and decide whether they believe this is God’s revealed, wise, loving pattern for marriage, and therefore, whether he will provide every need that you have to live joyfully in it.
In this case, the one we’re talking about right here is for you. As the man, do you discern in this woman such a deep trust in God, and such a discerning confidence in your leadership, that should you want biological children, as God leads you, she would be willing to trust God for that? She needs to know you will not ignore her fears, and you need to know she will gladly trust God with your leadership.