I was scrolling through Facebook this morning and came across a video of the acapella group Pentatonix singing the Christmas song “Mary did you know”. As a parent, it made me think about what it would have been like to parent the son of God. As a doula, it made me wonder what her labor and birth was like.
The Bible tells us very little about Jesus’ birth and almost nothing of Mary’s labor and birthing experience. In Luke Chapter 2, we are told that Mary went with her fiancé Joseph back to their “hometown” for the census to be done and that they had to journey from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem for this count. It’s about 90 miles from town to town.
It may not seem very far today—it’s about the distance of a round trip from Omaha to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Many of you Husker Football fans gladly make that journey every home game!
But we must remember that Mary and Joseph didn’t have Mustangs with horsepower to get them from place to place—they had donkey power. The trip took them somewhere around four to seven days. We don’t know how long they were in Bethlehem before Jesus was born, but I tend to imagine that it wasn’t very long.
After the music video was over, my brain went straight to the visual of the Christmas story that is showed in children books: Mary sitting on the back of a donkey with Joseph walking beside her. Better yet, perhaps she did walk those 90 miles. It would certainly offer a possible explanation of why she ended up giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem—walking can often help ramp up labor, after all.
Maybe Mary was ahead of her time, but as a doula it’s fun to imagine her contractions beginning during the last 15 miles or so. The more walking they did the more powerful the contractions would have become, and by the time they reached Bethlehem she could have been in active labor. She probably was breathing deeply or even moaning through her waves of pressure.
I can imagine her leaning on her donkey just as many mothers today will lean on furniture (or whatever is within reach). I can visualize Joseph holding her in his arms, not knowing what to do or what to expect, but knowing he so deeply wants her to be okay. I imagine a very nervous and scared Joseph desperately wanting to find his beloved help as he was turned away at each door he went to, until he finally found the inn keeper.
At this point, Mary would have simply needed a place she could feel safe and secure; a place she could rest. I picture Joseph in a panic searching quickly for women to help his fiancé and to help him know what to do for her. He could have found a midwife or two and maybe even some women to care for Mary and hold space for them both (you know, like a birth doula).
The women he found could have loved on this mother and father, kept Mary as comfortable as possible and watched in pure holy awesomeness as this child was born. They probably would have had no idea that the baby whose birth they bore witness to would grow up to be the Savior of the world—the Messiah they had heard about their whole lives.
They could have witnessed Mary feel the urge to push, grunt and bear down as she followed her body’s cues that were given to her and to all women by her God. The women and Joseph could have watched in awe as this little head, that would someday have a crown of thorns around it, emerge from his mother’s body. They could have watched his body, which would be later pierced on a cross, be born and placed on Mary’s chest where the newborn King would feel warmth and love. Hours later, they would wrap him in cloth and lay him in a manger while Mary rested from such a big and historical day.
I am honored to have witnessed so many families welcome their newborns, but whoa—can you imagine being in that inn when Jesus took his first breath and lived his first moments as the God Man (well, at that point God Baby)? What a sight it would have been to witness this virgin mother give birth to this little child she was told she would give birth to. The child who made her cousin Elizabeth’s baby leap for joy while still inside her womb. Now that would have been one special birthday party to attend!