Christmas Night - The Part Left Out
I reflect back on May 27, 1974 when my first little baby was born in the hospital up on the hill in our town. I got the standard treatment: At the beginning of a mother's hospitalization for the birth of a child she was put into a labor room. In my hospital that room was about 10'X10'. It had a bed, a rolling table with a pitcher and a glass for water, a little one or two drawer metal chest and one chair ...and that was about it. Mothers would spend from a few hours to 2-3 days in this little room. Dad could stay with Mom in this room, but when the birth was near, Mom was taken to the delivery room where Dad was not allowed to go. It was a very sterile environment and about the same size as the labor room. There were several nurses in the room and the doctor, all gowned, gloved, and masked and it seemed awfully crowded to me. There was sense of this being just routine for this hospital staff and the "business" was to get the baby safely out and keep the mother safe and stable. When the birth happened, the baby was placed over in a bassinet where a soft blanket lay and in which the baby was quickly wrapped. One of the nurses brought it over and showed it's face to you and then whisked the baby away. You were taken to a recovery room - which was a ward with curtains separating the beds. If you were lucky and the baby seemed fine, you got to see and finally hold your baby a few minutes in the recovery room. In a little while your husband, who had run down to the nursery where he had been shown his new little bundle through the nursery windows, was directed back to the recovery ward to see you. (In 1979 when my third baby was born in that same hospital, I didn't get to see her for at least 6 hours because her temp had not stabilized, I was told. She'd had a pretty traumatic birth because her cord was wrapped around her neck) Anyway, in a routine situation, after mom actually got to hold the baby for a few minutes in the recovery room, the baby was whisked away to the nursery again and, if all was well, you'd get to see it again whenever the next scheduled "mommy visit" was after you were out of recovery and into a regular room. It could be several more hours. That's when Dad would gown and mask and finally get to hold his little bundle of joy for the first time.
My first baby was born at the time in US history when fathers had begun to ask to be in the delivery room with their wife or, rather, the wives began to ask the husbands to share the delivery experience with them. We requested that Daddy be included for the birth of our firstborn too, but it didn't happen. Our doctor was even in favor of it and went to the hospital administrator for us and asked for permission. He was told absolutely NOT! Wasn't that crazy?! A couple years later when I returned to that same hospital to deliver our son, we took Lamas Birth classes and Daddies were encouraged to attend the mother in the delivery room!
Of course, now a mother can have a family reunion in the delivery room or a family and friends party in the delivery room, with cameras flashing and movies being taken. Wow! That would have been way too much for me. I just really only cared about John being with me at delivery and it being as quiet and calm as possible.
Anyway, procedures in the birthing process seem to be an ever changing thing. In the olden days, like when my brother was born, lots of babies were born at home. Often it was a kind, elderly woman, who had birthed several babies of her own and had helped many young mothers birth their babies, that tended to the mother during labor and delivery and the newborn afterward. I imagine these elder women were very comforting and encouraging and did much to keep the laboring mother as comfortable as possible. I can see back rubs freely given, a cooling cloth sponging the sweating face, a sip of clear cool water offered, soup to strengthen the mother for the long arduous process. It wasn't business as usual, but each birth a special miracle and blessing. Men were asked to wait outside for modesty reasons and so they would not be underfoot - in the way, in other words. But - "stay handy" they were usually told.
We don't have the details on Jesus' birth in the Bible. Most bible scholars I've been reading concur that there were no "inns", as we think of today. No places like hotels and motels for travelers to stay. Instead, people were returning to their ancestral homes or camping out on the hillsides in response to the Pharaoh's demand that all Jews should return to their ancestral city and be registered. He wanted a full count of these Jewish people he was ruling over! According to the scholars I've been reading, often the bottom floor of the house, which was more like a cellar, housed the domestic animals the family depended on for milk, eggs, butter, warm wool for clothing, animals for transportation and burden bearing and a source of heat to warm the family rooms above in the cold of winter months. Feed troughs were provided for these animals, of course. The family and guest rooms were on the upper floors. A family might have one or more rooms to offer the distant relative arriving at their door, depending on their economic level. So, there were probably other families who found no room in the family home for them and also ended up in the cellar or camped out on the hillside out back of the family home. Probably Mary and Joseph's trip took them a little longer because she was well into her pregnancy. I'm sure they had to stop and rest more frequently than families who were not in their situation, so they might have been some of the latest arrivals. They may have felt blessed that the "stable" was still available and that it was offered to them.
As women, deep within our beings we have compassion on another woman when she if suffering, enduring a difficult situation, being humiliated or laughed at; we empathize with her and want to help her if we can. So I can't help but believe that some elderly woman noticed Mary's condition and came to check on her as soon as she and Joseph were settled into the cellar. I certainly believe there was a kindly woman or two near Mary, encouraging and tending her as she delivered little baby Jesus.
But I also feel quite sure Joseph stayed close, fetching this and that and being sure the animals didn't press in too close. I'm sure he felt tremendous concern for her as she labored to bring the baby forth and that he was amazed at Mary's strength and endurance. He probably had been directed to clean out one of the feed troughs and put clean hay in it so the baby would have a soft, clean place to be laid later on. I think he was definitely at her side, probably cradling her in his arms, immediately after the birth. After making sure all was well and knowing Mary needed to rest, the elder woman slipped away quietly and left only Mary and Joseph with the new little baby boy. I believe Joseph was totally charmed as he watched little Jesus snuggle down and nurse at his mother's breast. "Oh, glorious night," he must have thought........"I still can't believe God has placed His son in my care and protection like this!" But, in his heart,he knew it was true and he was committed to take care of this precious son of God and Mary, the true love of his life, for always.