To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
Whereas the serpent was cursed by God, God does not explicitly curse the couple. We are cursed, certainly, but here God proclaims the consequences of the curse that mankind has brought upon itself. These are judgements for a crime, results of a rebellion.
The woman’s consequences involve her roles as mother and wife. She will see pain in motherhood increased, and she will see her relationship with her husband torn apart.
Specifically we do not see here that pain in childbirth is a new reality. God simply states that her pain will be increased. And when we look at the parallels between this judgement and that delivered next to man, it seems as though more than the actual childbirth is involved. God is about to tell the man that “in pain you will eat.” We all know that eating is not particularly painful. But what is meant there is that the whole process of obtaining sustenance will be a painful, at times heartbreaking, chore. In a similar way, God is telling the woman that motherhood—the whole process—will be painful. So, beyond the physical pain of birthing a baby, the whole process of raising a child will be painful. And who can’t relate to the struggle and worry and pain that go into seeing a beloved child grow up and make mistakes and find their own way in life?
Not only will her role as mother see evidence of the curse, but her marriage will too. The difficult word translated “desire” here is only used one other time in the Bible. That is in the next story where Cain is told that sin “desires” him. There he is told that he must “master” it. So this is not desire in some sexual or loving sense. The way this has worked out throughout history is that woman has sought to be her own person; to have independence from the “wholeness” of family that God designed for both man and women. But despite this desire to escape man has tended to lord over woman, and not in the way that God intended. The word here is not simply indicating leadership, but is a harsher, dictatorial understanding of master. (An interesting connection may be found later in Hosea 2:16, where God tells Israel that she will call Him husband, not master. There, “master” relates linguistically to Baal.)
God highlights the consequences of sin that hit woman at the heart of who she is. Relationship and family are equally important to both sexes, but she was created as the fulfillment of humanity’s need for relationship. Now the essence of relationship has been fundamentally broken.