Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Photo from a USA hospital in the 1950s, Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. / And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:
Leviticus 12:2/6

In summary, Leviticus chapter 12 states that a woman who has given birth is unclean for a total of forty days if a boy, or eighty days if a girl. Following this period of uncleanliness she is expected to atone for her offence (the burnt offering) and for her sin. A woman brings a new life into the world, and is considered to have committed both an offence and a sin. This chapter is fuel indeed for Christian and Jewish apologists, with some of the explanations being that her sin is i) the "original sin" of Eve, ii) her focus on her own physical body, with no thought of God or spirit during the process, iii) the loss of blood being a tendency towards death rather than life, iv) the cursing of her husband during labour (!) and a few others to boot.

It's a strange and disturbing law, no matter which way we look at it, or how we attempt to explain it away, but it is of a place and time which are both very far from here and now. And it was all written down by men, let's not forget that. It may be interesting to look at men's attitudes to childbirth here, today. Sadly, we find it isn't that different.

A great number of men, possibly the majority, find the subject of childbirth uncomfortable, many feeling squeamish or even disgusted by the process. It is also not uncommon for men to consider women unattractive and undesirable after the birth, perhaps even considering their wives unclean for 40-80 days. Those numbers probably came from somewhere. There was then, and still is now a great deal of mystery for men around childbirth, and very little effort to navigate through that, and learn. We have depersonalised and medicalised the birth process, hiding it inside the sterile, white walls of the hospital, supported by schedules, masks and drugs.

As a consequence of this ignorance men are afraid of women as they transition into motherhood, their great state of power. Making women ashamed of their bodies, and even of their very role of mother is men's way of staying proud and superior, staying in control. Denigration and vilification come much easier to the ignorant than love and understanding.

Until we change our societal attitude to women, childbirth and motherhood we are stuck reenacting this ancient law. We may pride ourselves on having moved beyond naïve, punitive notions of sin, and pagan acts of sacrifice, but in truth we have not. As skilled as we moderns are in sales and marketing, we have merely rebranded it.