Still giving birth like Mary

Women in developing countries today know firsthand what it must have been like for Jesus and His mother on that long-ago night in the manger.

(RNS) — Marie’s* contractions started early in the morning. As the contractions progressed, she did her best to get comfortable and prepare for her first child. She wished her mother or a midwife were with her, but her mother had trained her how to deliver alone. So many women do that in her country already. She instructed her husband to find cloth to wrap the child in and water to clean both her and the coming child.

Marie stood, squatted, groaned and paced as the child came closer to delivery. After hours of labor, she finally felt the urge to push. As the baby started to emerge, she began to bear down, gritting her teeth as she squatted on the ground over towels intended to catch the baby.

Several minutes of hard labor later, she put her newborn, a boy, on her breast as she finished the delivery process. She cut the umbilical cord, first tying it tight with a thread and then using a sharp rock. She finally cleaned the baby and herself, and gathered up the towels and garments to be hand-washed in a stream later. She brewed some tea and swaddled her newborn child. They lay together on mats on the dirt floor.

Together, Marie and her husband marveled at the gift she so laboriously brought into the world.

This illustration is a typical birth in Haiti. Hot. Painful. Sweaty. Lonely. Not all the details are the same, but this description of childbirth may be very much like Mary’s experience.

Can you believe that the King of All Glory submitted Himself to enter the world in such gritty circumstances? Jesus could have ridden down in a chariot of fire, His full majesty exposed to the world. Instead, he made his debut as a helpless infant born to a first-time mother in a barn in the Middle East.

Most women in the United States have a hard time even imagining what a grueling ordeal Mary might have experienced that first Christmas night. But women like Marie in Haiti and other developing countries might find it a bit easier to identify with Mary and her solitary struggle to deliver the Savior.

This type of birth is a part of life for women and children in Haiti and and other developing nations. Medical complications can make dire circumstances even more dangerous. Hemorrhage, infection, water-borne diseases, HIV/AIDS, tetanus, poor education and lack of access to medical care endanger the lives of Haitian women giving birth. The infant mortality rate in Haiti is nine times higher than in the United States. Other countries in the developing world have similarly high maternal and infant mortality rates.

Those of us working in these nations can’t stand that. Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy, but the Lord gives us abundant life (John 10:10). I work with a faith-based nonprofit called LiveBeyond that has a maternal health program, started in 2012 by Dr. David Vanderpool. For the women of Thomazeau, Haiti, this program provides nutritional support, maternal education, regular checkups and postpartum visits. In the first year, the program reduced deaths during the last weeks of pregnancy, childbirth and immediately afterward by 66 percent for women and infants. And we are expanding the program. 

Other organizations are doing similar work throughout Haiti, including the Maternal and Child Survival Program in northern Haiti and Partners in Health in Mirebalais.  Nonprofits in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America are all doing their part, as well. We are all devoted to saving the lives of women and children through education and medical care.

This Christmas season, you can also take part, by giving to LiveBeyond or other organizations with maternal health programs, in honor of the birth of Jesus.

(*Marie is not a particular person, but used to represent a composite description of a common childbirth experience in Haiti.)

(Devin Vanderpool is director of communications for LiveBeyond, a nonprofit humanitarian organization founded by David and Laurie Vanderpool in 2005 and dedicated to providing clean water, medical care, adequate nutrition and the love of Jesus to the poorest of the poor. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)