Me and Joe, the day he was born.

I had a chuckle yesterday when Carol Howard tweeted:  

Proof that Christianity’s a patriarchal religion: Mary kneels in nativity scenes. Any mom can tell you there’s no kneeling after childbirth.

It seems like a small thing but the truth is that it’s become a bigger and more important thing to me these past few years to recognise the miracle of the Incarnation precisely because of it’s very humanness

The divinity of God is well on display at Christmas in most creche scenes: the tiny oracle of God, raising a finger from the manger as if to pronounce great wisdom. We sing songs of babies who don’t cry and silent nights. We properly arrange our faces into what we think looks like holy serenity. It can all feel holy and clinical, a “properly” antiseptic view of birth, as though to embrace the truth of birth, the truth of being born, were too secular for Emmanuel.

Giving birth was the messiest and most raw experience of my life. 

There is blood and bone, pain and ecstasy, there is struggle and then there is an ordinary miracle. I was fortunate to give birth to both of my children without drugs or interventions, wanting every sensation, every moment of this experience to be ours. With the birth of Joseph in particular (who was born in our building’s parkade while we were trying to get to the hospital), it was scary at times. 

After all, we were alone – no midwife, no doctor, not even in our own home with a clean floor. And there were all of these strangers around – helpful, concerned strangers but strangers nonetheless. 

And yet my body had taken over and all we could do, all I could do, was surrender to that moment fully.  Every muscle in my body was focused, my entire world had narrowed to this very moment.  And then there he was, nearly 9 pounds of shrieking humanity, welcomed by my uncontrollable laughter and his father’s tears.

There wasn’t anything very dignified about giving birth. 

And yet it was the most holy moment of our lives, the moment when I felt the line between the sacred and the secular of my life shatter once and for all.

And afterward, there is the cleaning and the beginning to rearrange everything from the shards of your heart to your nether-regions. There is a hungry baby, blinking eyes at the light of life and a mama longing to nurse, open mouths and wonder at what you have just done, arms that suddenly don’t feel quite attached to our body unless there is that little person in them. 

There is always someone who says with true marvel, “They are such a little person.” Yes, yes, they are. Here is a person, fresh, smelling like the breath of God.

So I think of Mary, not kneeling chastely beside a clean manger, just moments after birth, but sore and exhilarated, weary and holding a sleepy newborn to her aching breasts, treasuring every moment in her heart, tucking every sight and smell and smack of his lips into her own marrow.  I will think of her, no doubt, when I bear down again this spring to bring forth another true little person earthside. 

My entire concept of God shifted in that moment, leaving my brain and my life to catch up with what my soul knew now. So many questions were answered by the simple fact of becoming a mother. I could never see God as anything other than through the prism of his father-mother heart now. No theologian or experience can take away from what I know in my heart of hearts now, what many mothers the world over know in their heart of hearts about birth and raising babies and real transformation.

I remember hearing once that Jesus came, not only to reconcile humanity to himself, but to show us what it means to be truly human

And it’s the very truth of his personhood, his humanity that makes the divine Incarnation, the very truth that God, very God, put on flesh and blood and moved into our neighbourhood that overwhelms me at Advent.

The Cradle
For us who have only known approximate fathers

and mothers manque, this child is a surprise:
a sudden coming true of all we hoped
might happen. Hoarded hopes fed by prophecies,
old sermons and song fragments, now cry
coo and gurgle in the cradle, a babbling
proto-language which as soon as it gets
a tongue (and we, of course, grow open ears)

will say the big nouns: joy, glory, peace;

and live the best verbs: love, forgive, save.
Along with the swaddling clothes the words are washed

of every soiling sentiment, scrubbed clean of

all failed promises, then hung in the world’s
backyard dazzling white, billowing gospel.

Eugene H. Peterson

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  • So true. What a great post.

  • Carla

    So true about the Nativity scene! I also agree that once you become a Mother and have born the blood, sweat and tears of childbirth, the miracle of Jesus and the heart of Mary are forever changed in your mind.

    Thanks for a great reminder!

  • KathleenBasi

    Sarah, this is such a beautiful, poignant reflection. Thank you for sharing it. And that picture. A little slice of Heaven itself.

    • That picture just makes my heart happy. I can hardly believe he’s so big now!

  • Mary1912

    Reminds me of Bono’s quote ..”The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in shit and straw…a child… I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry … Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came streaming down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this.”

    • Oh, my gracious – I love that quote! That is some seriously gorgeous prose there.

      • Mary1912

        oh yes. That’s Bono for you…it oozes out of his pores.

  • Kristin T. (@kt_writes)

    Your writing is so lovely. I particularly love the image of your newborn screaming as you laughed and your husband cried. That’s a perfect way to picture Mary, Joseph and Jesus, I think.

    Being pregnant, giving birth and being a mom has definitely changed the way I think about Jesus’ birth–especially because my first baby was born in January, so I was hugely pregnant during Advent. Thank you for sharing your story and reminding me of my own.

    • This is my first Christmas pregnant. Well, I was pregnant over Christmas with the last two but just barely and didn’t even know it yet! So it’s a bit more meaningful this time around for that very reason you mentioned. And thanks!

  • Stephanie

    I, too, gave birth to both of our girls without drugs – and the process was exhausting, terrifying, wonderful, joyful, painful…and, yes, HOLY.

  • Thanks for your insightful and very practical post, Sarah. I agree completely, “Jesus came, not only to reconcile humanity to himself, but to show us what it means to be truly human. ” We ignore his humanity at our loss.

    A second wonder of Christmas is that the Father was so willing to use people in bringing His plan to bear. Not just people then, He does so still.

    Merry Christmas!

    • It’s so rare someone calls me “Practical” that it just made my day. 😉 Thanks, Ray! And you’re right about the second wonder – I smell your next blog post?

  • Canita

    The holiness of birth, the spirituality of it is almost impossible to put into words, but you certainly did. Thank you so much for this blog! I’ve read and reread it a half dozen times and loved every bit. Getting your daily blogs in my inbox is one of the highlights of my day!

  • I know I’m a bit behind on this one but Yes! My birth experiences were life changing too. You view Mary so differently and Jesus’s mode of entry into the world when you’ve experienced it. I don’t remember being born so I will rely on giving birth. 🙂