We’re quite a fertile bunch here at MM, I think, and with our own impending birth in my family, I too have uteruses on the brain (but definitely not, what with all the aches, pains, nausea, fatigue, any uterus envy). Two completely separate bits of reading I was doing during the same time period jolted me with a new idea:

We are all familiar with God’s parting words to Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the garden. God says to Eve, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.” (Genesis 3: 16) Could it be, I wondered, rather than merely being a curse, that this pain in childbirth was a direct and literal consequence of the physical changes resulting from the Fall?

To explain what I mean, follow along as we make a foray into embryology and neuroanatomy.

Any observer quickly realizes human childbirth is especially dangerous and painful. Many people watch dogs and cats give birth, and those who have lived on a farm have seen sheep, horses, and cows. Female mammals do sometimes die while giving birth, and it is always quite exhausting for them, but it seems pretty clear to me that animals’ experiences in childbirth are much easier and smooth than it is for human females, especially before the advent of modern medicine. For women, childbirth is uniquely painful and dangerous; they truly pass through the valley of the shadow of death every time they give birth.

The reason for this is entirely due to the fact that the baby’s head is simply too large to comfortably fit through the birth canal. Our head/body ratio is larger than any other species. Womens’ hips are specially shaped and hinged to permit the head to pass through (to their endless complaint–the Lord could have added, “You’ll have sorrow in childbirth, and you’re going to HATE how your hips look!”), but an engineer would look at this birthing system and say that it is simply not engineered within safe tolerances. It’s as if someone took the dial for “head size” and turned it all the way past ten, to eleven.

And it doesn’t stop there. An infant’s head continues to grow at a remarkable rate after birth. On the inside, remarkable things are happening to the structure of the brain well past birth, some as late as adolescence. If the brain is a computer, as some believe, then at least half of the chips are still being printed and wired together for years after the stork has dropped the new computer off at your house.

Most of what that extra brain space is going towards is in the frontal cortex, where neuroanatomists believe resides our higher-level brain functions. This is where we plan our actions, decide what is right and what is wrong, and where we perform our high-level reasoning.

So let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. Placed in there is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which Satan tells Adam and Eve will open their eyes, help them become “as the Gods,” and knowing good and evil.

I don’t pretend to know what physical changes happened to the world or to Adam and Eve’s bodies when they partook of the fruit. But from a scientific standpoint, I think it’s fair to say that women’s difficulty in childbirth is entirely due to our species’ comparatively massive brainpower. If our ability to tell good from evil, and to have knowledge “as the Gods” requires larger brains, then God’s saying that Eve’s good-and-evil-knowing offspring would greatly multiply her sorrow in childbirth was not really a punishment, but an observation about the price these bigger brains would exact on birthing mothers.