Be near me Lord Jesus
I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray
This last week was a bit of a long baby waiting game, as I went into pre/early labor on Sunday the 11th and finally had our little Christmas babe on Sunday, December 18th (birth story and proper announcement to follow).
As I waited for baby, learning that this type of pre-labor business was perfectly normal for successive and especially mature maternal age bodies in my family and elsewhere, I had several opportunities to reflect anew on the Christmas story.
One experience stood out. My midwife told me that she had never seen active labor kick in while the children were around. So I followed her recommendation that someone take the kids once mild contractions started in earnest (again!) last Tuesday night.
As I waited for their ride, my children freshly bathed and in their jammies, I read a simplified version of the Christmas story to them. Not only did the above verse of song bring me to tears (Gideon responding by saying, "please wait so I can wipe your tears," jumping up to grab toilet paper and making me close my eyes so he could wipe them), vulnerable as I was and needing the Lord's closeness, but the story reached me in ways I hadn't considered in a while.
First of all, this was a story of a courageous young woman. Birth finds women at their most vulnerable, and labor requires the companionship of those whom you can trust to be your advocate emotionally, mentally, and physically. You pass through a phase where you are completely reliant on others for all of your needs - even to think for you and to know and anticipate your needs as they perceive them.
Historically, birth has been the province of women, including in ancient Israel, dating back to Genesis. Midwives were present at most births, as were mothers and others who had experienced the miracle of birth themselves. Mary, young though she must have been, underwent the journey to Bethlehem with Joseph knowing she would give birth in an unfamiliar place (evidenced by her bringing swaddling clothes), likely with an unfamiliar midwife and without the aid of her mother or other women she knew and could trust at her most vulnerable time.
As I read the cartoonized version of Luke 2 + Matthew 1-2, I wondered why Mary made this choice. She could presumably have stayed in Nazareth and awaited Joseph's return from fulfilling his tax duty. Was it that Joseph alone of her Nazarene kin knew of the divine nature of Mary's conception? Was Mary shunned by her mother and other women of the village for what must have appeared a very unholy pregnancy?
Mary had chosen to be away from family at another vulnerable time - during the early, usually morning-sick days of her pregnancy before Joseph's angelic visitation and realization of Mary's true condition. Mary had learned from the angel Gabriel about her cousin Elizabeth's miraculous pregnancy and chose to take her secret there. Mary's choice to leave home was rewarded with further miraculous events, a quickening in Elizabeth's womb, prophecy spoken by both women, and the resultant comfort of being with someone who is in on your heavenly secret.
Perhaps based on this experience of going it alone with miraculous results before, Mary chose to labor in an unfamiliar place and (presumably) with an unfamiliar midwife, but with the person she found most trustworthy at her most vulnerable time - her "espoused" though unconsummated husband.
Reliant on the mercies of strangers and a man who presumably had never witnessed childbirth before, Mary underwent the ordeal of labor for the first time. As with most first labors, it was likely long and difficult. Who knows how the smell of animals and the need for cleanliness impacted her. Surely she was not spared the human experience because of her immortal child. Both she and he had to pass through all that mortality offers - to descend below them all - to bring about the miracle of Christ's life into the world.
Not only was Mary courageous, she was wise. I was again impressed as I later pondered the Christmas story from scriptures that, though young, she had the foresight and discretion to consider all of the miraculous circumstances heralding the birth and not to proclaim them, though this was likely tempting to write home about and overcome the hometown taint of an illegitimate pregnancy, but to ponder them in her heart. She needed no validation but that of the divine and her constant Joseph.
As our baby waited for the perfect time to come and I had more time to ponder the first nativity, other things stood out to me. Chief was that the two Biblical accounts of the birth are distinctly different. The information in Matthew and that of Luke are mutually exclusive. One focuses on Joseph's perspective, the other, Mary. One features wise men and power machinations, the other the humblest shepherds, mangers, and a visit to the temple. One focuses on the prophecies of and revelation to women (and a bit of Zacharias before his martyrdom and Simeon in the temple), the other the prophecies and revelations of men, chiefly Joseph, but also to the wise men. We fit these two very different and contradictory stories together in our creches as if seamlessly part of one whole, but they were quite different. The implications for other conflicting historical accounts (the first vision of the Latter-day prophet Joseph Smith) were many.
I'm grateful - so grateful - baby is here now, and that a new phase of life has begun. But I'm also grateful for the chance this last week's worth of waiting has given me to ponder anew the Christmas story, sharing as I did the distinguishing characteristic of one of its main characters.
What are your new or newly re-discovered reflections on the Christmas story this year? Would love to hear!
|Greeting baby Ingrid Elisabeth for the first time.|
|As far as I'm concerned, she's perfect!|
|Aunt Tammy was a champ to take on childcare during labor and before - her care I'm sure helped me relax enough to go into hard labor!|
|First night in the trug - she slept nine hours!|
|Daddy again braved the birth pool with me, and I was so very grateful.|
|Last bump pics.|
* The children's reactions to the new baby have been priceless:
Gideon: [Aunt Tammy] "Want to go meet your new baby sister?" [Gideon] "No, I'm busy." [Tammy] "What are you busy with?" "Sleeping, dreaming, and playing."
- [Daddy] "What will you say to baby Ingy?" [Gideon] "I will say thank you for coming out of mommy's tummy!" (he did!)
- "Will baby Ingy be happy to see us?" "I want to see her for four minutes and then we will go to a shop and play toys. Does that sound like a good plan?"
- [After meeting her] "She's a little bit scary but she's happy to see us!"
Esther: [held her for five seconds, then eager to put her back in her bed so she could sleep, putting blankets on her (burp cloths)], called her "baby Ingy" and said "Sleep baby!"
* when I asked Gideon not to annoy Esther, he asked instead if he could annoy me.
* Gideon: "My conversation is driving me crazy. [Cousins] Logan and Truman are like, 'what are you doing' and I was like 'you are driving me crazy!'" [Where he got the teen 90's speak, I don't know!]
|My last nesting project - Sharpied the piping blue on this prison-reupholstered chair (I had them use the fabric from the piano bench instead, and it was just too busy). Seven hours later...|
|Arranging and re-arranging the pieces of the nativity - best Christmas decoration we own!|
|Found an indoor baby gym!|