Midwives: The Unsung Heroes of Christmas
As I listened to the first Christmas nativity story this year with my toddler, I began thinking about Mary, how she was pregnant and gave birth to her baby in a barn surrounded by farm animals. The Christmas story and songs talk about how the extremely pregnant Mary rode on a donkey along a dirt track, how she had nowhere to go when she was in labour but a barn, how Jesus was a peaceful sleeping newborn, how hoards of strangers came to visit the very first night after Mary gave birth (travellers from foreign lands and stinky shepherds). It talks about peace and joy and a ‘silent night’.
Yet I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth Mary felt during all this, and how she managed to stay so peaceful, content and happy through it all. There’s no doubt the honourable and religious Joseph, her fiance (who she had never slept with), did not deliver that baby. I am sure the ‘peace of God’ was with Mary, but I also can’t help but think Mary would have had at least one midwife with her - perhaps the local innkeeper’s wife, or an older seasoned mother from Bethlehem. There had to be a local woman who came to help out - to tell her when to push, to suggest different positions, to catch the baby and cut the umbilical cord, to clean up the rags.
The word ‘midwife’ actually means ‘with woman’. Whoever that woman was, she was Mary’s midwife.
Modern research has shown that the relationship a woman has with her midwife (and her care providers) is the biggest factor affecting the woman’s perception of her birthing/labour experience. That relationship is what can bring a woman peace during and after giving birth, or leave her confused, upset, disappointed and distressed.
We can all relate to this. What was your labour/birthing experience like? How were you treated by the midwives/doctors? How did they affect your experience?
The midwives who supported me during my pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum period, made such a huge difference for me and my husband.
This is why I can imagine Mary showing up in Bethlehem, Joseph frantic and worried, and the innkeeper not sure what to do. I imagine the innkeeper’s wife taking control of the situation, helping Mary off the donkey, organising local women or children to gather her rags and blankets and water, and helping Mary get comfortable. I imagine Mary was calm and trusting God to take care of her, but also frightened about being in a different town, far away from her mother and family, not being able to get a room, and of course, about giving birth. I imagine Joseph waiting outside (whatever was the Jewish custom), while the woman with Mary supported and comforted her. I imagine the midwife wrapping the baby Jesus and passing him to Mary, showing her how to help Jesus get a good latch, and then cleaning up while Mary spent those precious first few moments with her new baby. Perhaps a midwife, the ultimate servant (at heart) who never gained recognition for her part in the story, was blessed by being the first person to ever touch the Son of God.
When the shepherds and the wise men arrive, they see a peaceful baby and a content new mother and father. Perhaps the Christmas stories talk about these strange visitors, the donkey who carried Mary, and the star in the sky. But I now like to think about that special, unnamed and forgotten midwife. Those of us lucky enough to have a wonderful midwife alongside us know that such a woman will always be special and dear in our hearts, even if no one else ever knows her name or gives her a second thought. Even if we don’t get the chance at the time to really thank her.
So Merry Christmas to all the midwives out there. You are unsung heroes, and we mamas love you to bits. I hope this Christmas, and every year after, you see yourselves in the first Christmas story. I hope you know that as long as women have babies, you will be needed. Thank you for all you do.