An Obstetrician's Thoughts on Christmas

I was walking home from the hospital last week, after my third C-section of the day. It was dark, the stars were out, and I picked my way over a rocky downhill road to my house while my own baby kicked inside of me. The day and the environment made me start wondering about Mary. The Bible is notoriously absent of all the details we seem to want to know. Why are some passages repeated in great detail, sometimes retold in multiple passages, and some are far too sparse (in my opinion)? Perhaps it wasn't so important to know the details of Jesus' birth. In fact, I am as an obstetrician probably more curious than most.

What I do know is that birth is a messy, noisy process. "It was not a silent night, there was blood on the ground" starts one of our favorite Christmas songs, "Labor of Love" off of Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God CD. So much more true than visions of a baby Jesus slipping quietly into a peaceful looking stable. First of all, to walk or ride a donkey long distances over bumpy roads in your third trimester is excruciating (well, I can't speak from experience about the donkey part, but it's pretty bad even in a car over rough Kenyan roads). Cramping, back aches, contractions, going to the bathroom (by the side of the road while squatting I'm sure) every several hours. Sleeping on the ground. Hip pain. Swollen ankles. Blech. Poor Mary. And as I work in a developing world situation, where many women die in childbirth and many more babies die during that same process, I wonder what she was thinking. Was she afraid? Did she have assurance that everything would go well? Did she know what to expect? Was she sure that Jesus would be ok but not so sure about her own well being?

When labor started, how long did it take? Did God give her a break? Was she one of those lucky women who have a quick and low pain labor and delivery? Was it a typical first labor with stops and starts, "false" labor, days of contractions, two hours of pushing? Was there anyone there to help her? Was it Joseph, or a midwife or other kinswoman, or was she alone? Did she know what to do and when to push? How did they cut the cord? Was Jesus BREECH?! If she had delivered in this day and age would she have ended up with a C-section? An epidural? Was there fetal distress? A cord around his neck? Meconium stained fluid? Was he on time or early, or late? Did he cry right away?

Yikes. I think of more details than most, probably. But in the end, what matters is that THAT DAY, in Bethlehem, all of God's promises began to be fulfilled. For thousands of years, God had been spinning his plan of redemption. For thousands of years, His people had been waiting for this Savior. That day, His Son came into the world, to set us free. Light into the darkness. Hopes fulfilled. Amen and amen. Merry Christmas, friends.

Labor of Love, lyrics by Andrew Peterson
It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
Every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph by her side
Calloused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
On the streets of David's town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
Every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love


Anonymous said...

Rachel, I have often wondered that, especially since becoming a mother myself. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that by "no room for them in the inn" they meant no one would let her deliver in a room. There may have been rooms, but she would have been "unclean" for 6 weeks and no one would have wanted to risk the blood thing in that crowded situation. Not to mention the noise situation, no inkeeper would have wanted to bother other patrons with a woman in labor. I hope she had an easy delivery, and with God with her I'm sure she felt safe. God bless you. ~ Hilary

susan said...

thanks for putting that part of the story in a whole new perspective! Christmas blessings to you and your family.

Kim Page said...

I have wondered much of the same, Rach. Weird. Would it have been a sin for the kid to NOT be OA? I wonder what you think about delivering your 2nd in Kenya too, and I pray for you often, trusting the same all-sufficient God to care for you perfectly (and her too). On a related note, I find myself wondering what raising a sinless toddler would be like (or school aged kid, or teen)? Hmmm... LOVE YOU, Kim

B. Zwiep said...

beautiful thoughts - thanks for sharing. I have thought about how Joseph was quite a man. I picture him helping with the birth... was that awkward for him? for her? In the moment, I doubt she cared, but I bet she/he was nervous ahead of time. They were brave people, emboldened by the Lord to do what He called them to. But still, what an introduction to marriage!!
- BrieAnna Zwiep