I was just one week short of the due date for my second child when I woke up on a lovely morning in spring and felt a few mild cramps. I might not have taken much notice, but then I realized that, though faint, they were regular. Maybe I was in labor. I woke up my husband, called our friend who had offered to stay with our daughter, and took a shower. We were off to the hospital at 7:00 am.
Still, the cramps were not much, but they were still very regular. I checked myself in and walked up to the maternity area of the hospital. I was starting to think that I might not be in labor at all and would be sent home.
At the hour of the morning, they were just beginning shift change. I was waltzed into a room, hooked me up to a machine and monitor. And, then my husband and I were alone.
After a little while, a nurse came back to check on the readings from the machine and to announce that, yes, I was in labor. Then, off she went. Soon, after that, a resident came in to take note of the fact that my water had not broken, despite the fact that I was somehow somewhere around eight centimeters dilated (for those who haven’t gone through this, that’s a lot, and very near the place where women give birth; usually there’s a great deal of pain, over a long period of time, to reach this point).
And, before I knew it, the room was filled with all sorts of people—those whose shifts were ending, along with everyone who was just beginning his/her shift. My water was broken by the doctor and then hard labor kicked in fast. I managed to remind the doctor that I wanted an epidural. She told me that it was too late. I managed to inform her, again, that I intended on having an epidural and that we had, in fact, talked about it during my last office visit. She emphatically declared that it was too late. I declared that I wasn’t happy. And, then even more emphatically, she almost yelled at me, “You don’t understand! This baby is going to be born in a matter of minutes!”
And, I responded, “But that’s not my birth plan!”
Women of a certain age will know exactly what I’m talking about. Those of us who are a part of the What to Expect When You’re Expecting generation know that we modern moms go into the labor and delivery room with “a plan,” a “birth plan.” We are well-informed and we are ready to give birth, with a clear plan of action.
Except that for many mothers, birth has its own way. Birth isn’t all that interested in following the well-laid out plan of action. Birth often doesn’t follow the script.
I believe that this is how we should encounter the Christmas Story. Instead of domesticating it, and making it so neat and predictable, we ought to spend a few moments mediating on how completely wild it is—that God chose to be among us, and to come to us in the smallness and vulnerability of a child.
God’s plan for birthing new life in the midst of the people is a lot like the actual experience of giving birth for many women—difficult, painful, sometimes a little terrifying, unexpected, and completely amazing. It is not like the carefully scripted pageant scene that we act out in our church sanctuaries every December.
In this season, we would do well not to just stand back and experience the same old tale once again, but instead to allow ourselves to be invited in and to explore what these lessons are and how they enliven our faith. God’s continuing birth plan for the people is anything but mild or tame, or predictable.
What to expect when you are an expectant people? Something amazing and unexpected. It’s just waiting to be noticed—and experienced.