I could no longer deny what was happening. When I had dismounted the donkey in favor of walking, despite Joseph’s protests, I thought perhaps the back pain was from the long, bumpy journey. When the contractions began, they were light, and I thought it was only the walking. But this one forced me to stop, my entire body clenching around my womb, as if to embrace the child within.
As the pain receded, I became aware of Joseph’s solicitous concern. “Can you go on? We are almost there.”
“How much longer?” I asked.
“Maybe a quarter hour. The shepherds back there said it’s just over the next hill.”
“Yes. I’ll make it,” I declared. “We’ll find a bed, and a midwife, and our son will not have to be born on the side of the road.”
The minutes stretched into nearly an hour, however, as I had to stop for several more contractions. Joseph had helped me back onto the donkey so we could walk faster, but he still stopped to steady me during the worst of them.
Finally we entered Bethlehem. The streets were packed with people, vendors, residents doing business, travelers like us. Joseph asked directions to the inn as I fought against the worst pain yet. Thankfully, it was not far. I stayed on the donkey as Joseph went in to secure a room for us.
By this time, I was engrossed in a private world of pain, but it seemed to be taking a very long time. Finally Joseph returned, followed by the innkeeper and a woman I took to be his wife. The woman came over to me directly and asked, “How is it? Will it be soon, do you think?” I was unable to answer, as a fresh wave of pain and pressure washed over me. But she nodded over her shoulder, saying, “She can’t go any farther. We will have to put her in the stable.”
The stable? With the animals? Joseph and I didn’t have much, but before leaving Nazareth we had carefully packed money that we had hoped would purchase a small, private room, at least for the birth, if not for our whole stay.
As the pain lessened, I became aware of the woman’s gentle, soothing stream of chatter as she led me into a surprisingly large cave partitioned into stalls. “I would give you my own bed, my dear, but it has already been rented out as well.” This she said, casting a dark look over her shoulder at her husband. “But we still have room in here. It’s not as comfortable as the house, but it will perhaps be a bit more private. The stable boy has put down some fresh straw, so it’s as clean as we can make it.”
She escorted me into a stall with high walls not far from the entrance. The straw was indeed fresh and clean, and Joseph threw his cloak over it for me to lay upon. As the pains began again, I was glad for the chance to at least rest my weary legs. They were coming faster now, with not much time between to catch my breath.
The innkeeper’s wife shouted orders to someone outside the door. The dear woman stayed by my side the whole time, encouraging and comforting me through the worst of the pain. It seemed like a long time, but I don’t think it was actually very long before she told me that the child was almost here. One more contraction that felt like it must either free the child or tear me in two, sudden relief, and she was holding up my son. He gave a gasp, pulled in his first breath, and let it out in a small, piteous wail. She laid him then on my breast saying, “You have a fine, healthy son.” She provided towels to clean and dry him and soft cloths to wrap him. I held the small bundle to my chest, finally holding the tiny boy that I had been promised. That day now seemed a very long time ago.
“He is your first born. Will he be named after his father then? A little Joseph?” she asked as she bustled about, removing the soiled straw and replacing it with fresh.
“No,” I replied. “Joseph and I have agreed that his name will be Jesus. His…his father’s family asked us to give him that name.”
“A fine name for a son of David,” she said, kneeling next to me and gently brushing her hand over his head. “Yahweh saves.”
“Yes,” I agreed, hugging the little boy tighter to me. “He does.”