Diamant relays the trials of childbirth with gruesome reality and, in doing so, pushes the strength and power of women to the forefront. She describes the trials of the women in labor in the red tent, where, surrounded by their sisters and sometimes the midwife, they suffer through a drug‑free labor that might last up to four or five days. Very often women did not survive childbirth or lost two to three babies for every one that lived. Despite this risk, the women must perform the duty of bearing children—particularly to birth sons to bring pride to their husbands—so they must return to the tent time and time again. Leah is revered as first wife and mother of five sons, while Rachel must label herself a failure as a wife for being unable to birth even one healthy child. She chooses to apprentice as a midwife, learning as much as she can about childbearing as a replacement for her inability to have children. In this way, rather than simply accepting her situation, she takes control and finds a way to define herself as something other than mother.
Zilpah represents the women of the time who cared more for their sisters and their gods than for performing the roles of wife and mother. Though Zilpah plays a minor part throughout much of the novel, she fulfills a necessary voice in the chorus of female characters. She is Dinah’s spiritual guide and a source of strength to her sisters. However, after her interference in Jacob’s wedding plans and the birth of her twin sons, she is quickly pushed to side, as the relationship between Leah and Rachel takes center stage in the narrative. Diamant never fully explains why Zilpah interferes, though she does mention several times her strong dislike for men and her disinterest in sleeping with Jacob, possibly suggesting that Zilpah is a lesbian. It is even mentioned that Zilpah did not much care for her own sons once they grew beards. It could be assumed that lesbians living at the time would have lived much like Zilpah, as a man’s lesser wife who bears several children but resides mostly on the fringes of the family. Her bond with her niece and with her female goddesses is strong, and she influences the females of the family with her faith and storytelling abilities. Zilpah provides a necessary contrast to the devoted wife figures, Leah and Rachel.