We realize that not everyone will be celebrating the Christian world’s most beloved holiday of the year. Yet perhaps we might ask for your indulgence for just a moment. I invite you to consider the great birth story at the center of this tradition. Whether you believe it actually happened or not, I will point out one or two lessons learned that can be applied universally to the work of a doula.
As the story goes, an angel from heaven appears to a young women by the name of Mary. The angel tells her that she will soon become the mother of the Son of God. She is a virgin, betrothed (promised to be married) to a young man by the name of Joseph. An angel — perhaps the same one that has appeared to Mary — soon appears to Joseph. This angel instructs Joseph that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. She is pregnant and not with his son. Joseph has good cause for concern. The whole series of events seemed to have been divinely orchestrated with angelic interventions.
Though utterly unexpected, they must find some comfort in the knowledge that this is the plan as laid out by angels — a birth plan, if you will. This is point one, they have a plan. Yet, I cannot imagine Mary nor Joseph being fully prepared for how this birth is to unfold.
It is tax season among the Jews, and according to Roman custom (to whom the Jewish people are subjects), each man is require to return to the town of his ancestry to pay his taxes. Consequently, Mary and Joseph make their way to Joseph’s ancestral home — a town called Bethlehem. It is a notable journey from Nazareth, their current residence, and though there is no record of Mary actually riding any sort of animal to make the journey, one might safely assume that she may have been riding a donkey or something similar. Whether on foot or on an animal, the journey probably helps to prepare Mary to give birth, perhaps even encouraged the contractions along!
Arrangements for a place to stay are probably hasty upon their arrival. Mary is either already laboring when they arrive, or they are running late in comparison to other travelers (again, probably because it is slower going than either the first-time mother or father have anticipated). Whatever the reason, lodging accommodations are not to be found, and so they seek shelter in a barn. It is entirely unexpected and utterly humiliating on all accounts.
What starts out, supposedly so divinely-orchestrated, now culminates in what appears to have been a complete fiasco!
But then angels come again. This time they appear to shepherds in fields nearby, with an amazing message: they are to find the Son of God as a new-born infant, lying in a feeding trough, wrapped in mere rags. The shepherds find Joseph and Mary in a stable. How does anyone know they are there?
Heaven knows where this new little family is momentarily stationed, and the shepherds confirm this. This news brings a significant birth affirmation to Mary. This is the second point — the birth experience is affirmed or validated. She thinks on the shepherds’ words. Though this is nothing like she is probably expecting — far from home, caught up in the middle of tax season, not even a pillow to rest her child on. Yet, it is perfect!
Such is the role of the doula. No matter what the outcome may be, no matter what the original plan is or was, a doula’s work lies in the moment, helping the mother to understand the majesty and significance of bringing new life into the world and she, the mother, is wonderful for doing so!
And so, perhaps with this slightly distinct perspective on the wonderful birth story that is celebrated at this time of year, whether you are Christian or not, we say “Merry Christmas!” We look forward to another wonderful year working with you, our fellow doulas!