CANNES, France - Madonna says criticism of her adoption of a Malawian boy hurt so much, she compared it to giving birth.

"It was painful, and it was a big struggle, and I didn't understand it," the 49-year-old singer told reporters at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday, where her documentary, "I Am Because We Are," which shows poverty, AIDS and other diseases devastating Malawi's children, was being shown.

"But in the end, I rationalized that when a woman has a child and goes through natural childbirth, she suffers an enormous amount," she said. "So I sort of went through my own kind of birthing pains with dealing with the press on my front doorstep accusing me of kidnapping or whatever you want to call it."

Madonna and her husband, Guy Ritchie, have been raising David Banda, now 2, since 2006.

Critics have said she used her celebrity status to circumvent Malawian adoption laws - allegations she denies."I Am Because We Are" was directed by Nathan Rissman, a first-time filmmaker who has worked for Madonna as a gardener and a caregiver for her children. *