“And she gave birth to a son.” That’s all we hear about the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. But what would it have been like for a young woman, probably a teenager, to give birth for the first time, far from home, with no medical help, in a stable or cave? Would Joseph have been able to assist, or would he have gone to find a local woman in Bethlehem who knew something about childbirth?
There is a story that tells us. It’s in the Protoevangelium or First Gospel of James, an apocryphal text which is not in the Bible. When Mary went into labour just outside Bethlehem, according to this story, Joseph went off to find a midwife. But when she arrived, the baby was already born.
For this Christmas edition of Things Unseen, Rae Duke talks to two modern-day midwives, Ruth and Suyai, to hear their thoughts on what it might have been like for a young woman like Mary to give birth without pain relief, monitors, birthing pools or at least an antiseptic environment. Stand by for some hair-raising stories!
Catholic writer Tina Beattie adds her own insights, including how the First Gospel of James has influenced the faith of some Christians to this day.