Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas makes me think of Midwifes

I love this painting, its by Giotto called Nativity. It was painted a realllllllly long time ago (maybe around 1310). There are many paintings like this one. Not like it in the sense that they look like this, but that it contains many similar themes, people, animals and things like that. During this era of Italian art you can usually always find Joseph sulking down in the right or left hand corner, and in many pieces Mary is laying down next to the baby. And my favorite part that is usually always included is a MIDWIFE! In many paintings you can actually see several midwives. In this painting the midwife is on the left side, in pink laying Christ in the manger. She is not part of the Holy Family, you can tell this because she does not have the gold halo around her head.

We have record of midwives a few times in the bible. In the days of Moses it was the midwives who were saving the Isrealite babies when the Pharaoh ordered them dead . So we know midwives were delivering babies as long as mothers have been pushing them out really. We also know from many historical stories that a mother was always surrounded by other women in birth. She was nurtured, mothered, coddled, pampered, encouraged, loved, kept warm, understood and fed by other women. Her mother, her sisters, her neighbors, her midwifes were there to take care of any need she might have during and after birth.

What I love about these old pieces of art is that back in 1310 everyone knew that a midwife or several were caring for Mary. If you do a net search for Nativity art, Renaissance era, you will find painting after painting in which Mary is surrounded by women, the midwives, or women holding Mary's hand, laying a blanket in the manger, holding a bowl or things like that. Mary is usually always either nursing her newborn, or laying down next to him.

In contrast what is weird to me are the newer pictures you see of the Creche, there are no midwifes, not to mention no women at all. Mary and Joseph are usually standing, or he is standing and she is kneeling, and they are surrounded by men. I mean I know that the shepherds arrived at some point, but there were probably still some women bustling about caring for the recovering mother. Why don't our nativity sets come with the midwife? Why is a new mother who just pushed a baby out standing up? In the new pictures and ceramic replicas of the Nativity, Mary and Joseph don't look like new parents, she doesn't look like a teen mom experiencing motherhood for the first time, learning to nurse for the first time. I don't know about all the other first time mom's out there, but my first baby knocked me back a few steps. I had no idea what to expect. I was cared for by three midwives, two girlfriends and one husband who even took the birth preparation classes. And still I was in shock, nursing was a huge learning curve, my body didn't feel like standing that's for sure.

My general thoughts about this are as follows; people in our culture don't see birth, natural birth, babies enter the world, or mothers with newborns the day the baby came out of her. Until they have babies themselves. Those dudes who are designing those Nativity sets have not been to very many births let alone a home birth, midwife birth, out of medical setting birth. How can we imagine what birth was like for Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus if we have no idea what birth is like, what midwives do in a birth, how they nurture the laboring mother and the postpartum mother. Also another thought I always have about the current day creche is why that baby is always alone. I mean I know the "and she laid him in a manger" part of the story, but in all the Renaissance era pictures that mother is laying next to her baby, nursing him, keeping him warm. I love looking at the old Italian pictures of the Holy Family after birth. It usually always looks like a family after welcoming a new baby into their home. And I love the presence of women caring for them, her midwifes and doulas... as I will call them, those servant women mothering the mother.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had the same thought - where is the midwife? - when I glanced over at our creche on the sideboard as we started Christmas dinner. Except for perhaps a few ewes, Mary was the only female figure in the scene. Thanks for your note on reality.

- SL