The following is the fictional account of a birth in Biblical times. Let me know if you can figure out whose birth this is...
Abira was my mother’s age. In the dim candlelight, I knelt at her quivering and moist thigh. She let out a guttural moan as I felt her taut stomach grow firm and peaked under my sweaty palm. I was captivated as she worked to bring her third child into the world. The soft folds of her vulva swelled and parted – like a sun-warmed, ripened date splitting wetly and sweetly.
“Oh, it’s coming”, she groaned, as the tendons in her neck strained with the force of her womb. She had been working at her birthing time for only a few hours.
“Pakai, the cloth”, murmured grandmother Shiprah.
I glanced to my left to see an old towel piled on top of a low table in Abira’s modest one-room home. Merriam, Abira’s young daughter, quickly passed it to me before retreating to her corner once again.
I gathered it in one hand and passed it under Abira’s bulging bottom to grandmother, whose weathered and wrinkly hands sat poised, perfectly still, to greet this new life. I had been grandmother's attendant for many seasons now, and it seemed God's people, my people, were becoming increasingly fruitful.
“Abira!” a bellowing voice came from outside. It was Abira’s husband, home too early from working the fields. Grandmother stole a quick glance to the door and nodded at me once. The birthing time of a woman was nothing for a man to see, especially an anxious one. And, especially in these times, he had to keep quiet. We didn’t want news of her birthing time to spread too quickly.
I gathered up the hem of my robe from under me, pushed up from the ground and ran outside, closing the door behind me.
The glaring light of the setting sun assaulted my eyes. I squinted toward the shadowy figure of Abira's husband, silhouetted against the late-day sun, “Sir, please quiet down. Your wife is in the final throws and this is not the time for you to be with her." I lowered my voice to a whisper, "Soon you will have a child.”
“Another child, a blessing” He said distractedly, shifting his weight.
“Yes. But the best for you to do is stay quietly at the door until we call for you. Then you can come to her side. We can’t let anyone know about your child’s birth until…”
He nodded, understanding. He stared anxiously at the door as I backed toward it, intent on returning to grandmother’s side.
Back in Abira’s birthing room, grandmother knelt as a woman in prayer at the open space between Abira’s thighs. They shook uncontrollably and Abira looked toward the ceiling while muttering under her breath. I hastened to Abira’s side. Her arms pressed up firmly from the small perch of the birthing stool, which she was using to keep herself off of the ground.
Her knees sank stiffly into a firm squat and, between ankle bones, a small, wet, dark head rested in grandmother’s ancient hands.
I looked to the young girl huddled in the corner; Merriam would not be able to help. Until now the youngest child of Abira, this was the first birth she had ever seen.
I stepped behind Abira, urging her by softly brushing her hair back from her forehead, to lay her head back against my stomach. Sweat coursed down her strong back as she surrendered against my body. She sighed back, and only then did I hear what words uttered from her quick breaths.
“Glorious Yahweh, sweet promise; Help me be worthy. Help me now, Elohim. Sustain your people and multiply our numbers.”
As another birthing pain pulled her forward into a curve, I steadied her shoulders. Her face pulled into a grimace of concentration. A small gasping shriek pulled her up straight as her child’s shoulders slipped, one at a time, from her body.
A gloriously sweet and slippery body followed immediately and grandmother looked up into Abira’s moist face. Abira opened her eyes as a smile bowed across her dark tawny features. Reaching down, she gathered the quiet babe into her arms. Immediately, she pulled at the neck of her tunic to free her breast, offering it to the newborn.
“What is it?” asked a timid voice from the corner.
“Merriam, come meet your new brother,” whispered Abira.
As grandmother Shiprah used a flat piece of bark from their wood pile to scrape the birthing fluids to into a neat pile, I began changing the straw in their bed-mat, covering it with clean and soft cotton sheets.
Grandmother saw the afterbirth bulging at Abira’s opening and urged her to stand and then squat down to release it. The after birth slid free of her body and grandmother caught it in a large wooden bowl, which now also held the birthing clothes, sopped with birth fluid, the piece of bark, and some swept up sand from the floor.
Sifting through grandmother's satchel, I brought out a few instruments and herbs. I threw a handful of turmeric, ginger, fennel, and clove into the pot of hot water setting on the fire pit.
I gave grandmother a small piece of twine, which she tied tightly around the cord before cutting it with a small sharp blade, which I also handed to her. I then dipped a cup of tea from the fire and handed it to Abira.
Grandmother and I washed Abira with the remaining hot water from the pot, wrapped soft strips of cloth between her legs and over her hips, helped her into a fresh tunic, and moved her to the clean, fresh bed.
After both baby and Abira were comfortable, we left Merriam with orders to make a thick lamb and root vegetable stew to help Abira regain her strength. On the way out of their home, grandmother whispered to the father that they had a son. He glanced toward the street before entering his home, throwing the latch after he crossed the threshold.
This was the birth of a Hebrew son, we would not be announcing it with joy to friends as we once would have. This was a secret birth, one that the Egyptian Pharaoh would, prayerfully, never hear of.
- Nicole D July 1, 2008