Last year during our advent season we were waiting for our neighbor to have a baby. That meant 2 nights of Penny and me hardly sleeping, waiting for Edwin to call out for us to come up so we could see the birth. It also meant popping in on Mati every so often in her lean-to/birthing room to see how things were progressing during the day. So for a few days we were a little consumed with Baby Watch 2015!
This coincided with my reading the Christmas story to the kids, watching movies about it, and studying it for myself. I couldn’t help but compare Mati to Mary. Since having babies, I’ve often read the Christmas story and imagined someone like myself giving birth in a stable. (That is sort of tough to imagine, however, seeing as I don’t think Joseph was equipped to give Mary an epidural!) Having a baby shed new light on the Christmas story for me, and made me appreciate what Mary went through on whole new level. Last year, I got yet another new perspective! I think Mary was probably a lot more like Mati than she was like me. Watching Mati during her last days of pregnancy and her days of labor, and the days immediately following, it was easy to imagine a trek to Bethlehem and birth in a stable. She was so tough. And what she went through was so hard. But that’s what everyone goes through here! I kept thinking how if Edwin told Mati during the days leading up to her delivery that they had to go pay taxes in Lae, that she absolutely would have hopped in the back of a truck to head down there, or even just walked! I’m sure if a donkey had been available she would have ridden that. She was walking all over the place and gardening right up until her delivery. I went to Disney World at 35 weeks when I was pregnant with Sylvie, and plenty of people thought I was crazy! So thinking of a trek to Bethlehem when a baby is imminent is so foreign to my American way of thinking! But things are different here. And I imagine they were in Mary’s day too. I doubt she had anyone telling her to stay at home for the last 2 months before the baby was due. There certainly wouldn’t have been a hospital in Nazareth OR in Bethlehem, so location didn’t matter nearly as much! (Funnily enough, people thought I should stay home, but even if I had had a baby at Disney World, I’m sure I would have been close to a hospital!!) Ladies here pop out babies wherever they are! If you are going to have your baby outside on the ground (wherever you happen to be) you can be a little more mobile, and more willing to travel at full term! When I first saw Mati in her birthing teepee (my term, not theirs!) I couldn’t help but think of the stable and how much nicer Mary’s accommodations might have been on that night. Then on the second night of labor (when I really thought the baby was coming), when it was pouring down rain, and water was coming in even after they had covered the teepee with a tarp, my heart was breaking thinking about her! I said to Joseph “I’m sure if someone offered Mati a stable she would be happy to have her baby there—at least she would be dry!” I mean, seriously, imagine thinking a stable is a much better option! But it would have been!!! So, my sweet man, got up immediately and went up there in the rain and offered for Mati to have the baby under our house. But I guess I was wrong, because she refused.
After laboring for two days in the lean-to, she got concerned and walked herself a couple of miles to the clinic. Then right after she had the baby at the clinic, Mati and Edwin walked back home in the dark that night. Seeing her walk back from the clinic right after giving birth and just how tough she was, I got a glimpse of what I think Mary was like. She was tough. Like all the ladies here who have babies, I imagine Mary was cut from that kind of cloth. She would had to have been! No one here gets to choose to be a wimp about childbirth. No one gets to be coddled and have an epidural and watch Project Runway in the hospital bed, and have pain meds brought to them around the clock and food provided for 2 months! They have to be tough—and they are! And I’m sure Mary too had to be tough—and was. I wonder, now, if Joseph was in the stable, or if he stepped outside and let her do her thing. I used to imagine him standing by her head holding her hand and cutting the cord, but now I wonder if he, like Edwin, just stayed outside and Mary birthed Jesus all alone. I wonder what she cut the cord with and what she tied the cord off with. Here, its a razor blade and pieces of cloth or plastic bag.
I wonder if a room had been available in an inn that night, if Mary would have gone outside to birth the baby anyway. The ladies here don’t give birth in their homes—they go outside. Even if its pitch black and pouring down rain! Ive been appalled before at the idea that no room was found for a super pregnant lady coming into town on a donkey, but maybe a stable was actually just perfect, because she wouldn’t have birthed the baby inside even if she had been given a room.
And thinking about putting a baby in a manger used to seem so crazy, but not anymore. I’m sure if there had been a manger nearby Mati would have put her baby in it. She wrapped him up and put him in a bilum (string bag) and placed him on the ground in their hut. When he was less than a day old, and laying on the ground in this manner, a chicken pecked at his nose and left a scratch! It got me wondering if Jesus got any chicken scratches while in the manger!
At the end of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” the little girl talks about how Mary will always look like Imogene Herdman to her. I think Mary will always look a little like Mati to me after a Christmas of reflecting on what that night would have really looked like for Mary and Joseph and little baby Jesus.