Mary’s Tale: A Birth Story (Part 3)

Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 2 here.I couldn’t stop crying, but now my tears were ones of relief and a sense of heady elation. My body shook all over with exhaustion and adrenaline. As I clumsily held the slippery baby that Tabitha had lifted swiftly onto my bare chest, I was terrified that I would drop him.

My mother was still supporting me though, both in body and spirit, and I felt her tears on the side of my face as she leaned down to embrace me and my baby.

My baby.

Oh, how he wailed! His tiny, red face was scrunched up in a scream as he gulped in his first breaths of air.

I ran my fingers through his wispy wet hair, wiping a smear of blood off his forehead with my thumb. “Hello, my son.” I gulped softly, willing myself to stop crying. “Welcome to the world.”

My breath caught as he turned his head upward towards the sound of my voice, and a laugh bubbled out of my lips. “Did you see that?” I exclaimed, shifting my body so I could turn to see my mother.

She smiled down at me, smoothing my damp, frizzy hair out of my face. “I did. He knows your voice.” She kissed me on the temple.

I shifted him in my still-quivering arms and he broke out crying again. “Shhh shhhh shhh…little one!” I soothed, moving him into a cradle position. I then burst out laughing again. “He sounds like a baby goat!”

As if on cue, a nanny goat bleated in response and everyone in the room laughed.

Suddenly I groaned as another pang pulsed through my body. “Ooooohhhhh….I thought it was over!”

“It will be soon, Mary,” Tabitha said. “You still have to deliver the afterbirth.” She rose from her squatted position in front of my legs and crouched by my side, gently turning the baby’s head toward my breast. “He may latch. See if he will nurse—it will help to bring on the afterbirth.”

I was still shaking badly, but my mother helped to support the baby’s head and position his mouth close to my breast. Then she gently tickled the side of his mouth with her finger and to my amazement, he turned toward her touch, opened wide, and latched onto my nipple.

“How did you—” I exclaimed, my gaze swiveling from the baby, to my mother, and then back again.

“Just a little trick I learned when you were a baby,” she smiled and shifted her body out from behind me. “And you sounded like a baby goat when you were born too.” She said with a twinkle in her eye as she placed a firm cushion behind my back so I could recline slightly.

The pangs continued to come every few minutes and while they were very uncomfortable, they were not nearly as painful as they had been. Plus, I was distracted from the pain in the best way possible.

As my baby boy continued to suckle, I felt the urge to push again and easily delivered the afterbirth, sighing with relief at how light and free I felt when it was all over.

“Everything looks perfect, Mary,” Tabitha said, laying a fresh towel under my hips. Then she reached for the baby, who was now asleep, his head pillowed on my breast. “May I? I’ll cut the cord and swaddle him up for you.”

She expertly lifted the baby, cradling his head and bottom with her large, strong hands.

My mother brought a warm basin of water over and she and Ruth washed me with gentle hands. Chana and Eliana carried the bloody cloths to a large pot of hot water to start soaking the stains out.

My mother helped me dress in a soft wool robe, and placed another clean towel under my hips. Then she told Ruth, “All right, you can let him in now.”

I looked up as Joseph rushed through the front door, quickly crossing the room and kneeling down beside me.

“You’re all right? You’re safe?” He said, anxiety creasing his face.
“Yes, I’m fine.” I smiled and then I caught my breath as he cupped my face and kissed me full on the lips.

Heat flooded my face as he pulled away, his thumb tracing my check to my chin. My blush deepened as I glanced around the room and saw my mother, Ruth, and Tabitha exchanging glances and knowing smiles. But I couldn’t stop smiling either.

“Would you like to meet your son?” Tabitha asked, the now swaddled babe tucked in the crook of her arm.

I watched as an extraordinary look of wonder, awe, and a tiny bit of fear dawned on Joseph’s face as he looked at the baby. And something else too. He looked down at me, an unasked question in his eye.

Am I his…? Is he mine?
I gave him a watery smile and nodded. He is. You were chosen too, remember?

Then, with all the awkwardness that marks a first-time-father, Joseph took the baby into his arms, gazing down at his sleeping face.

“He has hair!” He exclaimed, tenderly stoking the baby’s head. The babe’s hair, now dry, sprung straight up in the air when it was released from Joseph’s fingers.

I nodded, unable to speak, my heart overflowing as I gazed at my husband and son.

“What is…” My mother cleared her throat softly. “What is his name?”

My gaze shifted rapidly between my mother and Joseph, and all the pain and confusion and awkwardness of our estrangement over the last long months filled the space between us.

She should already know his name, I thought, grief biting into my soul. She should know, but she doesn’t.

Joseph smiled kindly though. “His name is Jesus.”
“Jesus.” She repeated, smiling in return.  A good, strong name.”

“Mama, how did you know…I mean, how did you find…” I blurted out but my voice trailed off in confusion.

She and Joseph exchanged glances and there was a long pause.

Finally, Joseph said, “I found her, Mary. It took me a while because I didn’t know where your parents were staying but…” he shrugged. “It all worked out.” He looked at my mother and then raised his eyebrows slightly as if asking her a question.

The long awkward pause reigned again.

Then my mother broke the silence, her voice quivering with emotion. “Yes, it did. I’m so glad I was here, Mary.”

“I am too,” I replied, but her response left me wanting. There was so much that I wished her to say, to confess, to apologize for, but even as I waited, she said nothing more.

“Let me check your bleeding, Mary,” Tabitha said, filling the uncomfortable silence. She knelt down beside me, lifted the robe from my knees, and then frowned slightly, her lips pursed. “You’re bleeding a bit more than I’d like to see at this point. I need to massage your belly to try and get the womb to clamp down. Here, lay back a bit.”

I cried out as her firm hands went to work. The pain and pressure were almost as bad as one of my worst contractions. Tears spilled out of my clenched eyelids. My entrance into motherhood was filled with so much pain—when would it end?

I then felt warm hands grasp my clenched fists and loosen my fingers until my mother and Joseph were holding my hands tightly. I was so tired. I just wanted to rest.

“All done, for now, Mary,” the midwife said. “Though I need to do it again in about 15 minutes.” I groaned. “Try to rest now, dear.

I was so exhausted that I actually fell asleep, though I was rudely awakened to another “massage” from Tabitha.

“I’m sorry, I really am,” she murmured as I moaned loudly through her ministrations. “Almost done…there. Yes, I think one more time will be good. Your bleeding is lightening up now.”

Finally, after one more round of painful womb-kneading from Tabitha, I was able to rest. I felt a heavy blanket being laid on my aching body right before I fell into a deep sleep.

Suddenly, I was jolted awake by a knock at the door. My eyes flew open and I caught a glimpse Joseph’s shocked face—it was well after midnight. Who on earth would be knocking at this hour of the night?

Ruth and her daughters were missing; I supposed they had gone to bed. Tabitha and my mother were also dozing by the fire.

The knock came again, this time a bit louder.

Joseph and I exchanged shrugs and he moved to open the door.

“Wait!” I said in a panicked whisper. “Where’s the baby?!”

“Oh!” Joseph smiled slightly, pointing. “I just laid him right there. I didn’t want to drop him if I fell asleep.”

My eyes and mouth popped open as I propped myself up on my elbows to better see what I hoped I was not seeing. “You put him in the manger?!”

Even as I watched, a goat stole a strand of hay out from underneath my baby’s head.

Joseph looked stricken, holding his hands out in front of him in supplication. “I’m sorry…? He’s happy, really! See? He’s asleep! Not a peep. Everyone was exhausted, especially you! I wanted you to get some rest.”

“Joseph!

He shrugged helplessly, a guilty grimace on his face and then turned to open the door.

I pushed myself up as much as my aching body would allow, craning my neck to see who was at the door. It must be some sort of emergency…

Then Joseph opened the door wider and three men entered the room. The brisk breeze that accompanied them stirred my mother and Tabitha from their sleep.

“Joseph?” My mother murmured. “Is everything all right?”

“Uhhhmm…” My husband began, glancing hastily from the men to my mother and back to the men.

The men were not looking at him though. They were looking at my baby who (oh heavens!) was lying in that horrible manger! They gripped each other by the shoulders, pressed their hands to the sides of their heads, and then began laughing and speaking so loudly that I thought they would wake the whole house.

“Mama, please!” I said quickly. “Can you bring me the baby?”

My mother snatched up my swaddled child (after glaring at Joseph and swiftly scolding him for not waking her to hold her grandchild) and laid him in my arms.

Then she turned and faced the obviously disturbed strangers who continued to laugh and wipe their eyes, saying things like, “It’s all true!” “Thank God!” “A manger!” “Glory be!”

“Joseph!” She said sharply, her arms crossed tightly across her chest. “Who are these men? What is going on here?”

“Ma’am, ma’am, we’re sorry!” One of the men answered, stepping forward and grasping her hand in both of his. He pumped her hand up and down a few times, a wide grin plastered on his face. “But it’s a miracle!”

“What is?!” She demanded, pulling her hand out of his grasp. He was grimy and smelled like outdoors and livestock.

“Joseph?” I whispered, and he was by my side in an instant. “What—?”
“Just listen,” he said, his eyes shining.

And then the men, shepherds by their introduction, told us what had happened to them that night.

“We were in the field, watchin’ over our flocks—” A man with a large bushy beard began.

“Birthin’ season you know,” Another shepherd with a wide blue shawl interrupted. “And apparently not just for the sheep!” He winked at me good-naturedly, making me blush.

“—and suddenly….well, it’s hard to describe!” Bushy Beard continued.

A skinny young lad, with barely a hint of a mustache, spoke up. “It was a light—blinded us, see! And we just sat there, blinkin’, our hearts racin’. And then we heard this voice!”

“Jeb here about wet his robes!” Blue Shawl grinning and elbowed the skinny lad in the ribs.

“And you were cryin’ out for God Almighty to preserve your sorry hide!” Jeb shot back.

“A voice? Who was speaking?” Joseph urged, his hand tight on my own. “What did they say?”

The men paused for a moment, exchanging glances. Then Bushy Beard spoke, his voice suddenly reverent.

“It was…like a man, but not. He was holy-like, shining like the sun. And he said…” Here he glanced at his fellow shepherds and all their faces took on a visage of sacred remembrance. “…he said ‘Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people’”

My heart began beating faster.

“And then he said, ‘Today, in the City of David (that’s Bethlehem, see) there has been born for you a Savior, who is…who is…’”

“The Messiah, the Lord,” Jeb spoke up, his voice quivering and cracking slightly.

Sudden tears filled my eyes as a sense of wonder and awe and “can-this-be-true?” swept over me. I glanced at Joseph and then at my mother and they looked as stunned as I felt.

“It was…a…an angel?” My mother whispered. She then looked down at me on my makeshift bed, her eyes moving from my gaze to the baby in my arms, and then back to my eyes again. Tears spilled onto her cheeks and I saw a profound sense of grief in her eyes. And I remembered all our arguments, all the long months she had shunned me, not believed me when I told her that an angel had spoken to me about the very babe that lay in my arms. She sank beside me and wrapped her arms around my head. “I’m sorry,” she murmured into my ear as her tears wet my shoulder. “I’m sorry! Forgive me, daughter. Please forgive me.”

“Not just one!” Bushy Beard exclaimed. “After that one spoke, the whole sky lit up—”
“—there must’ve been a million of ‘em!” Blue Shawl interrupted.
“And they sang this song! Here, Jeb—sing it!” Bushy Beard slapped the young man on the back and he staggered slightly, looking sheepish.

But he sang, even as his ears turned red. “Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him
!”

“And then,” Bushy Beard shrugged. “They all left.”

Joseph and I exchanged glances, our eyes wide. We both looked down at the baby at the same time.

Then Joseph spoke slowly as if trying to piece together a missing part of this incredible story. “But how did you find us?”

“Oh!” Blue Shawl said loudly, slapping himself on the forehead. “We forgot the most important part! The shiny-man, the first one, he gave us a sign.”

“Yeah,” Jeb said, bouncing slightly on his toes. “He said we would find a swaddled baby lying in a manger.”

“So, uhh…” Bushy Beard said, looking slightly abashed. “We’ve been knockin’ on doors for the last hour, lookin’ for a swaddled babe in uh…a manger.”

“A manger.” I said, my eyebrows shooting to my hairline. A smile grew wide on my face. “A manger!” I repeated, looking at Joseph and shaking my head slightly. I burst out laughing, causing Jesus to give a little grunt in my arms before he settled back to sleep.

My husband grinned back at me and planted a loud kiss on my forehead.

“Can we…” Bushy Beard cleared his throat. “Can we see him? The babe?” I glanced up and had never seen such a look of long-expected hope on anyone’s face as I saw in his.

“Yes.”

“Allow me, my dear,” My mother said, wiping her eyes delicately with the tips of her fingers. She carefully lifted the baby into her arms. Before she walked over to the eager shepherds she bowed her head over his tiny form and kissed him. Her shoulders shook slightly but when she raised her head, I saw that she had a new light in her eyes.

The men crowded around my mother, exchanging grins as they looked intently into my son’s tiny, sleeping face.

“Ma’am,” Blue Shawl said quietly. “It’s a lot to ask but, could I….could I hold him?”
Before I could answer, Jeb interrupted. “Only if you wash your hands!”

Then he glanced at my surprised face. “Well, that’s what my mother always says,” he shrugged.

The whole room rumbled with laughter as Tabitha produced water and a towel for the earth-encrusted shepherds.

The light-hearted smiles of a few moments ago faded as I watched them hold the baby tenderly in their arms, the way they had held so many newborn lambs, I supposed.

“Hello, little Messiah,” Jeb said, stroking the downy sprouts of black hair.
“Glory be. Glory be,” Blue Shawl murmured gruffly, blinking his eyes rapidly.
“…peace to all men,” Bushy Beard said, grinning widely. “Even us—the nobodies workin’ nights in the fields! Oh, look! He’s wakin’ up!”

Jesus let out his baby-goat cry and he was quickly placed back in my arms.

“He’s hungry, Mary,” Tabitha said matter-of-factly.

“Well, we’ll leave you to feed him then,” Bushy Beard said. The men hurried toward the door, but then Blue Shawl turned back.

“Can you believe it?” He laughed, opening the door wide. “A manger! Glory be!”

I could hear their laugher echo in the night air as they closed the door after them.

Jesus latched easily and fell noisily to eating. I nudged open his little fist that rested on the top of my breast and slid my thumb into his chubby hand. His fingers gripped tightly to mine and his eyes closed in contentment.

Joseph came to sit beside me. He tucked his arm around me and I rested my head back on his shoulder.

I felt so many, many things in this moment but I couldn’t put a finger on any of my emotions. I wanted to cry and laugh and sing and shout “This is crazy!” and fall down in worship—and sleep!— all at the same time.

But now, in the moment, I knew I needed simply to feed my baby and rest. So I stored up all the miraculous moments that had brought my son into the world—like a treasure in my heart—to ponder another day.

So ends this tale. But really, it is just the beginning. If you’d like to read the original text this fictional retelling was based on, see Luke 2.

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