Thursday, December 17, 2015
She felt the wave of pain spread up over her abdomen, increasing in intensity. She tried to breathe the way her mother has shown her, deep slow breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. She had to stop walking for a moment, leaning on Joseph’s arm as the wave peaked and passed. He looked at her with concern. She was needing to pause more frequently for the last couple of miles. She knew what he was worried about: this was slowing them down, and they needed to reach Bethlehem before dark.
She rubbed at the small of her back, took a deep, determined breath, and began walking again. Earlier one of the others travelling with them had offered her a ride on their donkey, but the jolting was too uncomfortable, it made her back ache worse .
She could feel the pressure of the baby pushing down into her pelvis. She was tired and sore – her back was sore, her belly was sore, even her thighs were sore. There had been several times this day where she wasn’t sure if she could do this after all.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” she whispered, to remind herself. That day seemed so long ago now, yet she was sure of the vision she’d seen. She’d clung to the memory through the mocking and shunning of the other women and girls once the news of her condition spread through Nazareth. She continued to cling to the vision and the promise now, when it was just so hard.
As she walked, she hardly noticed any more the road and the fields they were passing. She held onto Joseph, trusting him to guide her. Walk, pause, breathe through the contraction, start walking again. If only she could rest. She was barely aware as Joseph knocked on the door of his cousin’s house, the brief conversation, then the turning away to walk once more through the streets. She only vaguely noticed Joseph say something about another relative the could try, a more distant cousin who might still have some room.
As yet another contraction swept over her, she wondered briefly if this day would ever end.
The contractions were consuming all her concentration. She heard voices as if from a great distance. Gentle hands guided her onto a small straw pallet. A woman’s voice, “It’s okay, Mary, I’m a midwife. It won’t be long now.”
A midwife. Mary felt a great tension she didn’t realise she’d had lift suddenly from her shoulders. Tears welled up from nowhere, spilling down her cheeks. The midwives in Nazareth had been among the women who shunned her. She'd only had her cousin Elizabeth, then in the last few months her mother, to tell her about what to expect. But the rumours and whispers had not reached Bethlehem, and Joseph was with her, and now here was an experienced midwife, with gentle hands and a reassuring voice.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” she confessed to the midwife.
“You’re doing great,” the woman replied, “the baby will be here soon.”
Another wave of contraction spread over her. Before it fully passed another started. Mary felt her muscles tighten involuntarily, again and again. “Just keep breathing,” the gentle voice reassured her.
“Good girl, the head’s out now. Just one more push with your next contraction.”
Then it was over, and the sound of a new-born baby’s cry filled the air. “It’s a boy,” the voice said, placing the warm, wet, slippery baby up onto Mary’s belly. She reached down to hold the baby, still partially attached to her body. As she looked at him, his eyes opened, gazing into her face. “He’s so beautiful,” and all the tiredness and pain disappeared from from her mind. She barely noticed the last few contractions and the midwife busying herself with the afterbirth. Everything was about this child, this new life, and the promise and hope that he brought to her.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” she whispered to the child, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”