Prior to the sin, Chavah conceived and gave birth immediately. She did not have to go through the physical change. After the sin, however, conception was not a given, and the extended pregnancy followed by a painful childbirth became a reality. Likewise, Adam, who, heretofore had his sustenance right before him, would now have to toil to earn a living. The Torah uses a strange word, etzev, to describe the pain associated with childbirth. The word etzev is more closely related to anxiety and depression than to pain. Horav Tuvia Lisitzin, zl, derives from here that when a person is to undergo a painful situation, often times the fear and anticipatory anxiety that precedes, and most often accompanies the pain, are often worse than the actual pain. Thus, the Torah uses the word etzev to denote the pain of childbirth. Fear is more “painful” than actual pain.
We know that Hashem punishes middah k’neged middah, measure for measure. Therefore, a clear, common relationship must exist between a sin and its punishment. How does this apply to the pain of childbirth? Rav Lisitzin explains that, by eating of the Eitz HaDaas, Tree of Knowledge, as opposed to the Eitz HaChaim, Tree of Life, of which Chavah was allowed to partake, she indicated that daas, knowledge, has greater significance than life. It is quite the opposite, with knowledge playing a secondary, subordinate role to life itself. There is nothing of greater import than life. It is G-d’s greatest gift and, without it, we are nothing. By her actions, Chavah elevated daas over chaim. Her punishment was to experience pain in bringing a child into this world. When she experiences pain, she realizes the importance of life.
Likewise, concerning Adam HaRishon, the toil and sweat associated with earning a livelihood was to engender in him a greater respect and appreciation for the significance of life.