Some say the woman is Mary, some say she is Israel, some say she is the Church, and some say she is all of the above.
The mystery piles deeper as the woman wails aloud with the pains of labor, since Genesis 3:16 associates labor pains with original sin.
Yet Scripture does not reserve the language of crying aloud in labor pains to women in the condition of sin.
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
St. Paul even applies this language to himself.
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again
until Christ be formed in you...
And so also does God:
I have long time holden my peace;
I have been still, and refrained myself:
now will I cry like a travailing woman
The ultimate cause of this pain and travail is the separation of mankind from God. Sometimes pain is simply a reality of the human condition and original sin; sometimes it is the deeply painful recognition of our sin against God; sometimes it is the intensely pain of seeing how far others have strayed from the God of mercy and truth.
We cannot escape this pain, nor should we even try, for the embrace of this pain is necessary to bring an end to our separation from God.
Indeed, the greatest of all labor pains were the pains suffered by Christ in his passion and death: pains that culminated in the birth of Christ’s faithful people, the Church.
Today’s culture is allergic to pain. We try to avoid pain at all costs and when we cannot avoid it, we anesthetize ourselves with drugs, alcohol, hedonism, escapism, or even suicide.
To be sure, it is a perversity to seek pain for its own sake, but the Christian does not seek pain for pain's sake nor for perverse pleasure. The Christian seeks the good, even where pain is unavoidable - and there are things far worse than pain.
Where Christ has gone, so we must follow. We must not be afraid of pain or travail, but must to do what is necessary for our good, the good of others, and the glory of God – to bring healing, truth and love.