Saturday, June 23, 2007

Midwife for Christ’s birth

Christmas is a special time from a midwife’s viewpoint, celebrating birth at its purest and best. We sing ‘Born in the night, Mary’s child’, and I identified with that – was out through the night for a baby this past week. We sing “Enough for Him, whom cherubim worship night and day. A breast full of milk, and a manger full of hay.” I like that! The needs of the newborn are pretty simple – a breast full of milk, and warmth and love. But there’s nothing simple about any of that! It’s a blessing, and one of life’s great but ordinary miracles.

I’m looking at Luke’s Gospel. If he was a physician, two thousand years ago, he probably understood some of the same truths that I understand. Midwives then probably understood much more than I do about the amazing and profound natural processes of birth and nurture of the young.

Jesus’ birth is described in the context of a family. His mother, father, aunt, uncle and cousin are named and events of their lives recorded. It’s in the context of local political realities: everyone had to submit to Caesar Augustus’ census. It took place in real time, in a real place, and with real people. The shepherds in the fields and the wise elders in the temple, and probably many more ordinary people from that place and time witnessed the ordinary sequence of events that accompanied the birth of that extraordinary child, Jesus.

I sometimes ponder the details that are not recorded by Luke or the other Gospel writers. A little group of women in Bethlehem, who were probably also of the house and lineage of King David, and who were used to the work of childbirth, would have come to the stable prepared in their minds for the difficulties as well as the joys of childbirth. As they remembered the arrival of their children and grandchildren, and the ones that had not survived the transition of water and blood to the outer world, did they sense something special in this woman?

The midwife, the woman who was called to be with Mary through her time as she brought forth her child, what did she see? A young woman whose body and spirit was strong and who embraced the work as she surrendered her own will to divine purpose, even as she had replied to the angel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaiden (doula) of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” As each powerful uterine contraction took hold, and her belly hardened, she who had “found favour with God” yielded and accepted, and felt the power of the Almighty working in her body.

I think if I were that midwife, preparing my own mind for the work of bringing forth, I would have guarded myself from thinking about the unwelcome possibilities. I don’t know what that midwife would have faced in the event of obstruction, severe pain, and loss. I live in a world that knows little of such matters.

I know that our bodies have been created wonderfully and beautifully. I know that the child within works with the mother, and together they achieve the profound mystery of birth. This is the ordinary situation in birth. I know that my emotions will follow a similar course to the mother’s, as my intuitive senses tune themselves to the senses of the labouring woman. I will shut out all that would distract me, and will stay close to the woman. I will feel, with her, the need to be quiet and the need to be ready. I know that there will be times when fear can rise up. Yet I know that that very experience of fear can prepare both child and mother, so that they are alert and ready to do all that they will be called upon to do.

If I were that midwife, listening to the deep birthing sounds as the climax approached, I would be joyfully praising God in my heart for the good progress. My heart would be swollen with thankfulness, as her belly is swollen with child. The energy of the mother, the movements of the child, and the synchronised urges that result in beautiful coordinated motion are telling me that all is well. My sounds are simple and deep words of trust and encouragement.

I am that midwife. As the baby’s head begins to open the outer curtain of the secret place I guide the mother to bring her child across that strong barrier. She finds a body posture that is best for her in that moment, and accesses a new inner power that she has not previously known. Strongly, with an exultant cry, she brings forth her child.

The child in my hands is glistening with the birthing fluids. I watch as his little arms move away from his chest, drawing air into his lungs and he utters his first sounds. His body tone is strong, and his colour is right. The mother reaches out and eagerly takes him to her breast, and I place a warm wrap over both of them. In the soft light she looks at him and speaks words that are deeper than memory can hold. His little eyes are wide open, his pupils dilated. Together they begin to discover the wonders of a mother’s milk, with warmth and energy flowing both ways.

I am that midwife, and I am oblivious to all, except the miracle that is unfolding in my presence. I hold the quietness of the space around the mother. It does not matter that it’s a stable. The sounds of life from the child blend with the sounds of the other occupants of that simple dwelling place.

I am that midwife as the mother brings out the afterbirth. The work is done, and she rests back, contented.

In the quietness and ordinariness of that night, is it any wonder that heaven’s hosts sang out: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”?

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