“I can feel that,” I told my obstetrician as he pricked the left side of my abdomen on December 11, 1992. I was on an operating table in an outdated birthing clinic in Bandung, Indonesia, prepped for a C-section. As with my first pregnancy, I had pre-eclampsia but this baby was also breech. The epidural, which had been a great success during my first C-section, wasn’t working so well this time. Finally, the doctor gave me a local anesthetic and began the procedure.
“What was that?” I gasped in my grogginess some time later. “Your anesthetic is wearing off. Breathe with me,” calmly stated my teammate, a nurse. Quickly, I was put under general anesthesia and woke to greet my new son, John-Mark.
Then a year later, I was pregnant again but at twelve weeks, and on my 31st birthday, I miscarried. During the night, I wept as I said goodbye to my third child. I didn’t know it then, but I would never conceive again.
According to the World Health Organization, about 830 women die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth each day. “The majority of maternal deaths are due to hemorrhage, infection, unsafe abortion, and eclampsia (very high blood pressure leading to seizures), or from health complications worsened in pregnancy.“
Childbirth is usually a joyous occasion but it can also be one that pierces a heart. It has and continues to be very dangerous. Mary’s was no exception.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.Luke 2:1, 4–7
Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, a journey of about 80-90 miles. And while she was probably very pregnant, she most likely walked for three to four days since there is no mention of a donkey in the narrative. My seminary professor believes they settled in with relatives in a house already overflowing with other guests also in town for the census. So, Mary and Joseph were relegated to the ground level where the animals were kept. She gave birth then, in an animal shelter—the stable, if you will. No sterile birthing room. No Lamaze class. No anesthesia. No nurse. At risk! Pierced!
Mary was in pain. And she knew that her birthing situation was less than ideal. And that many women died giving birth. The scripture doesn’t tell us about Mary’s feelings and thoughts during her labor and childbirth, but I believe Mary did the only thing she could. She believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her Luke 1:45. God had said she would have a child, and so she pushed through the piercing pain of labor. Joy was intermingled with pain. Tears with laughter. And the Son of God was brought in to the world.
For Mary, the pain of childbirth led to the joy of welcoming a son. But for some women, the pain ends in more pain, in empty arms, in dashed hopes. And some women understand the fear of giving birth under less than ideal circumstances. Still others never have the chance to give birth at all. For all of us, Mary’s example reminds us what God’s Word says:
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him.Deuteronomy 7:9
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.Psalm 62:8
How did your childbirth experience give both joy and pain?
What promises of God can you trust today?
Faithful, covenant keeping God, show your steadfast love to women everywhere whose childbirth experiences have not ended in joy. Today we remember your promises and we believe that you love us and will be our refuge.
Next in series: Childbirth
For an edited version of this, please purchase Favored Blessed Pierced: A Fresh Look at Mary of Nazareth, available on Amazon.