What can we learn from the most famous birth of all?
I grew up in a Catholic household (which has had both its negative and positive influences!) and whilst Christmas was about the magic of Santa, the giving and receiving of presents, it was also about the birth of Jesus. You can see where this is heading now!
I remember vividly the sounds within the church on Christmas Eve, the hymns being sung so beautifully, the hushed voices, the children’s impatient, excited tones. The reverend congregation entering into meditative prayer and rejoicing with one another. It was magical in itself. We would gather around the nativity scene and say a pray over the baby Jesus and then excitedly rush home and wait for Santa to arrive!
What I didn’t give consideration to as a child was the ACTUAL birth of Jesus. It has dawned on me now, how much we can learn from THE most famous birth in history. And so, I want to share this with you.
Upright and Active
Mary traveled on a donkey. Well, actually she didn’t. There is no mention in the Bible of Mary arriving in Bethlehem on a donkey, it is likely that she walked with Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem! The journey would have taken between 36-70 hours on foot! Now, I’m not suggesting that you walk that far of course but there is nothing like a nice long walk encourage that labour to begin. Walking makes use of gravity and the pressure of the baby’s head encourages the cervix to open.
Oxytocin & the Outdoors
Higher levels of oxytocin are statistically correlated with outdoor walking and oxytocin is the hormones we need in labour to get our bodies surging but perhaps 70 hours is pushing it a bit! I am sure that Mary would have benefited from walking, perhaps hand in hand and closely connected to her birth companion Joseph for at least part of the long arduous journey.
Giving birth in unexpected surroundings
Some of the gospels infer that when Mary got to Bethlehem she was already in early labour and her and Joseph planned to stay in an Inn (or a guest room) but were told that there wasn’t any room for them. I imagine that this would have been stressful for Mary but she would have put her trust in her Birth Companion to find her a suitable place to give birth or trusted that her body is equipped to birth in any environment. Because Mary was essentially free-birthing the environment would also have been free of the threat of unnecessary intervention allowing the process of birth to unfold as it should.
The place that Mary ended up giving Birth is often referred to as a stable but it is unlikely that it was. I know! That totally blows apart the Nativity story as we know it! I remember thinking that Mary & Joseph must have been alone in the dark. I felt that they must have been ostracised but actually according to some Theologians, it is more likely that Mary & Joseph were welcomed into a relative’s home and used the shared space between the family and the animals to give birth! So, its likely that Mary would have had some female (and animal!) support. Maybe it was someone she knew or perhaps a wise woman from Bethlehem who had seen and supported many births. It is still likely that the environment would have been dimly lit and both the support and the lighting would have helped Mary to relax and allow her body to do the job it needed to do.
I seriously doubt whether Mary gave birth in a stable or in a relative’s living space that there would have been anything that resembled a bed. That means she would have been more likely to get into whatever position felt most instinctive to her to birth her baby. Squatting? Upright and leaning against a wall or against Joseph? On all 4’s? All are great positions for encouraging baby to move down and making it easier for Mary too.
No pushing prompts or time pressures
If Mary was supported by another woman in the community we can hope that she would have received loving encouragement and support as she breathed her baby out without the stress of having to push on cue or working against her body. There wouldn’t have been any pressure to ‘progress’ at a certain rate either so no time constraints.
I came across this MOST amazing *photograph of the reconstruction of the moment Mary gave birth to Jesus and I find it just breath-taking. The rawness, the power, the stance, the support…Mary (although not talked about that much in the Bible, considering she is the Mother of God) is truly a force.
*Photo credit to Natalie Lennard – Miss Aniela
Whether Jesus was indeed born in a stable or in living quarters, it is very likely that there were some animals there. The standards of cleanliness would not have been what they are now (to our own detriment perhaps) and it could be that birthing in this environment would have been good for Jesus’s long-term health and well being!
Skin to Skin
Although we learn from the gospels that Mary placed Jesus in a manger, I would imagine that she would also have spent a lot of time having Skin to Skin with her newborn baby. This would have been great for bonding mother & son, regulating Jesus’s temperature and breathing and initiating breastfeeding too.
It is reported that Jesus was born around 2021 years ago and although there isn’t any real account of the labour or birth itself, I feel as women we are all intrinsically connected to Mary, in labour and in motherhood.
I know that this Christmas instead of just focusing on the birth of Jesus (and Santa of course!) I will be talking to my daughter about the ACTUAL birth and what Mary potentially experienced.
I’m looking forward to hearing whether we have any TCBS Christmas Babies! So please get in touch and let us know!