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Ilithyia - the Goddess of Childbirth

Updated: Jan 18

Things That Never Were

Ilithyia is known as the goddess of childbirth and labor pain. Long ago, many believed Ilithyia was present at every birth and she would determine the length and difficulty of each delivery. Her name means "she who comes to aid" or "relieve" from the Greek word elêluthyia. If Ilithyia looked favorably on the woman, she would have an easy birth. If not, the woman would be cursed with pain and suffering. Ilithyia would decide the outcome of the birth, the worst scenario being the death of either the mother or the child, or both.

In Greek mythology, jealous Hera sent Ilithyia to Alkmene when she was in labor with Heracles. Hera wanted Ilithyia to kill both Alkmene and the child. Alkamene’s handmaiden saw the goddess near the door of the bed-chamber and yelled out “A son is born.” This surprised Ilithyia and caused her to release the grip on Alkamene womb and Hercules was born. Ilithyia was so angry at the handmaid that she turned her into a polecat.

Since childbirth was an unpredictable and dangerous endeavor in ancient times, women must have found comfort in being able to call on an all-powerful goddess for protection. However, I find it rather disturbing that if things did not go well, the woman would be blamed for displeasing the gods. What a twisted concept. True, the Greek Gods were not the most empathic bunch, but still, I wonder how many women bought into the concept and blamed themselves for the loss of an infant or complications during labor. Thankfully, Ilithyia’s power has diminished over time and childbirth is looked upon through a more empathic lens.

Image by Alex Garrido from Pixabay

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