As a mother and a birth doula, I have come to appreciate and reflect on the birth of the Christ Child in a new and profound way. I imagine the reality of what that night might have been like for the young mother. The raw and very real human experience of giving birth makes the incarnation tangible, potent, and awe-inspiring when we see it for the real experience that it was. This is an artistic rendering of what I think that night might have been like for Mary, the mother of Jesus, according to my perspective as a birth doula.
A quiet stillness hung low as night descended and stars rose high above the drifting grey clouds. The town was not silent, but filled with travelers to Judea. From various inns, one could hear laughter, conversation, and children exited and unable to sleep from long days of travel. Many more people had arrived into Bethlehem for the census. A young man, tired from walking, dirty, hungry and thirsty, anxiously looked at each home and inn along the road. He had to find a place for his betrothed, a young woman with child. Her contractions had begun earlier in the day. She was tired and famished as well. She was cold. With every pace of the donkey upon which she sat, she cringed as a new contraction began. His name was the common name of Joseph, and hers, Mary.
Joseph hung his head low as he held his clenched fist to the door of one more inn, whispered a prayer, and knocked.
“No room here. Our inn is full. Every inn is full. You won’t find anything at this time of night.” The innkeeper saw the desperation in Joseph’s face, a waver of a tear forming in his blighted eyes. The man looked past him to the woman bent over the donkey as she breathed deeply. “You can sleep in the stable, over there at the base of the hill. Its cold, but I’ll give you a couple of blankets and some swaddling cloths,” he said with a concerned tone in his voice and furrowed brows. When Joseph had been given the items, a relieved look of hope came over his face and he nodded as he walked away and led Mary and the donkey to the stable.
The sounds and smells of cattle, sheep, and donkeys, several of whom had carried guests from the inn, filled the stable. First, Joseph set to work to prepare a place for Mary to lay down while he tethered the donkey. A servant boy from the inn brought some fresh water for the couple. Mary couldn’t lay down for long. The contractions were coming consistently, stronger and closer together. She walked around the stable, sweat dripping from her face. Joseph held her and wiped her hair away from her face. She breathed deeply as another contraction came suddenly on, this one taking her breath away. Joseph reminded her to breathe deeply.
Hour after hour, it continued like this through the night. Sometimes standing, sometimes leaning against a fence post or in the arms of her betrothed. She was exhausted.
“Thank you, Joseph,” she would say through tears, in between contractions. He didn’t know how to help. Although there were probably midwives in the town, he didn’t know where to find one at this hour. He felt helpless and fearful, not only for the birth, but also because He knew this wasn’t an ordinary birth… He would be delivering the Savior of the world. He whispered a prayer again.
Mary, leaning into Joseph’s arms with every contraction, gripped his hands. For a few moments she rested, giving her the strength she would need in the next few minutes. As wave upon wave of contractions continued, she began to push as she listened to the signs her body was giving her that it was time. She knelt down, and delivered the baby. Carefully, Joseph, lifting up the naked baby, covered in vernix, rejoiced with tears in his eyes. Mary, with tears of joy, relief and gratitude lay back and looked towards the heavens. She laid down. Joseph wiped the baby’s face with one of the cloths, scooped his finger into his mouth to clear out his airway. The baby cried just for a moment. He laid the baby on Mary’s chest. Mary looked down upon the face of her newborn Son, and wonder filled her heart, tears chased down her cheeks. He had come.
“Jesus,” she whispered as his soft skin felt the warmth of her own and the sound of her heartbeat steadied his. Immanuel, God with us.
Mary was already asleep with the Baby Jesus nestled in her arms when Joseph, who had been cleaning up and preparing a small bed of hay in a feeding trough, blew out the clay oil lamp a little while later. He lay down beside Mary and wrapping his arms around her, He stroked Jesus’ head, the soft hair, the smooth skin, as he relished every breath Jesus took, and whispered, “Welcome, my Savior, and my God.” And he fell asleep.
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
As a doula, I write my clients’ birth stories, providing them a basic structure of the details of their child’s birth and their birth experience. I can only imagine what it was like for Mary to experience the birth of her Son, the Savior of the world. And just as I write this tonight, when the world lies silent around me on the eve of my Lord’s birth, I too, treasure up all these things and ponder them in my heart. For my Redeemer has come.