Several months ago I gave birth to my second child. This Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Christ, I find myself contemplating not just the Nativity, but the morning after.
Mary, through her willingness, blood, and exertion brought Salvation into the world.
Some traditions hold that Mary felt no pain in her labor, because she and her baby and this moment were too holy for pain. But if the scriptures and a history of devoted saints tell us the truth, holiness and pain are likely companions. I attend women in labor professionally, and will be the last to abuse the word “pain” in relation to childbirth. But by far most labors are physically intense and exhausting, and every labor I have witnessed has involved a depthless yielding on the part of the woman. I imagine Mary, mother of Jesus, herself to be a type of the Savior of the world — her labor a foreshadowing of his, her blood and pain a preface to his prayer in Gethsemane.
In those moments of radical willingness during labor, I have also seen women access the unimaginable. Birth is inherently a miracle time. But a woman in labor is often touched by power beyond her own — transcendent. A few times, I have witnessed a laboring woman’s face and body emit light. If Mary experienced the intensity and exertion of labor, I imagine her also enwrapped in sustaining light and power.
In Mary’s story, additional miracles abounded. Circling angels lit the air with song, a new star filled the sky with unusual brightness, and worshipping shepherds brought tales of heavenly messengers. Months before, Mary and Joseph received angelic visitors of their own, and Mary was “overshadowed by the power of the Highest.” Surely these were days of immense wonder for her, even as they perhaps intermingled with moments of pain, dislocation, fear, and physical hardship.
The morning after the Nativity, and the morning after that, I wonder if Mary — her nipples cracked and sore from nursing, her afterpains still visiting, her blood still coursing, her baby crying for food and needing to be cleaned and changed — if she lay there and asked, “What happened to the angels?”
Later, in the haze of postpartum pain and sleeplessness, after such an abundant immersion in divine love and power, was there a moment when Mary asked, as her son later would, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
This thought prompts me to use the Christmas season to bring support, nourishment and companionship to the postpartum women in my life.
The week after my baby was born, I read stories in the news about political campaigns, police violence, and impoverished refugees and wanted to cry out to the world, “Don’t you all know that a baby was born?” The miracle had been cosmic, but somehow was contained only in me. Did Mary hear the street vendors calling out their wares, and the donkeys braying for their food, and want to call to them, “Don’t you know?”
Transcendent moments of communion, miraculous times of change, and empowering challenges dot our lives without rhythm. Jesus’ birth was the first of so many miracles Mary witnessed in her life with him. But most of her time, I imagine, was occupied by earthly, human, unmagical living. Those in-between times can leave us forgetful and wondering if God has ceased to be a God of miracles. Or they can be times of straining, of yearning for a fresh witness. If we are wise they are also times in which we can live in patient remembrance, and give thanks for miracles past.
The world still awaits the next visitation of the Savior, and while it does the street vendors call out and the animals bray. Today is yet another morning after the miracle. While I hope for a new day of miracles, I give thanks for my Savior who brought salvation to the world. And I give thanks for Mary, who brought Him.