How did Mary and Joseph know that baby Jesus was 7lb 6oz?
They had a weigh in a manger.
Boom-tish (and thanks to the NHS Epsom and St Helier twitter feed for that cracker standard joke)
I saw a link yesterday to THIS Article by homebirth advocate Milli Hill which claims that Mary was probably better off giving birth in a stable 2000 years ago than she would be in a modern obstetric unit.
I was er, a little surprised, and assumed it was a joke.
It wasn't a joke.
I could now do a big ol' post about the likely levels of maternal and infant mortality 2000 years ago, the high risk of obstetric fistula that would have been faced by a very young woman giving birth for the first time etc. etc. But Hill seems to have skimmed over that part, after all the most important thing when talking about birth is to say nothing that is in any way worrying to the poor little ladies. lest we cause The Fear. (It's perfectly ok to make hospitals sound utterly terrifying though BTW). So lets not worry about little things like death and permanent injury. Here are my other seven reasons why giving birth in a stable would have been sh*t.
Hill contends that hygiene is one reason why giving birth in a stable is better than being in a hospital (honestly, I'm not making this up). Because er, kids who have pets may be healthier and kids born vaginally at home might have different microbiomes (friendly gut bacteria) to those born in hospital. I've blogged about microbiomes before, it's a very interesting field but poor Mary is closer to securing a room at the Bethlehem Hilton Spa hotel than we are to understanding enough about the microbiome to base important decisions on it. Besides, even if there were proven microbial benefits to a vaginal home birth in a 21st century semi-detached, I'm not really sure how that equates to it being a good idea for a vulnerable newborn to enter the world surrounded by dung?
There were no midwives in the school nativity play. Hill therefore assumes that Mary was attended by a skilled and caring local woman plus her team of Doulas. All of whom would remain awake, sober and competent for however long it took for the wee son of God to make his entrance (thus avoiding the horror of, gasp, a shift change). Maybe, I hope so for Mary's sake as the other explanation is that there were no skilled attendants, just livestock and Joseph. So basically poor Mary had to accept that the first time her intended future life partner would get a look at her virgin lady-bits, they would be pushing out the head of another man's child.
We know that Jesus was laid in a manger in swaddling clothes, thus contravening any number of modern health and safety recommendations. But at least he got somewhere to sleep. Hill sees the lack of a bed for Mary as a good thing, encouraging (well basically forcing) her to keep moving in labour. Ok, movement in labour helps a lot of women but what about afterwards? After a straight forward hospital birth many women are now home within hours but Mary was in that cow shed for days. Labour is tiring, so it breastfeeding a newborn. Surely the poor woman deserved more than a hay bale smelling of goats? On which subject...
4-Clearing up the mess
Birth is a messy process, there will be blood and most likely poo and vomit too. At least in a hospital birthing room the bodily products are likely to only be from the mother, or a member of the same species at any rate. They also tend to get cleared away pretty sharpish by the staff. There are no staff in the stable. I can't imagine that the nausea many women experience in labour would be eased by watching a goat chow down on your freshly produced afterbirth.
Postnatal ward visiting hours can be very problematic, especially if partners are kicked out but the stable sounds like a total free for all! First there was the huge gang of blokes in dresses, singing and blaring trumpets right over where poor Mary was trying to get some kip on the aforementioned goat stinky hay bale. Then some random local agricultural workers arrived for a good stare. Oh but at least they brought a lamb, because obviously if you are in a cattle shed the thing you most need is more bloody livestock. Finally, just when things seemed to be calming down a bit, three dodgy looking old men turned up, and banged on about how very wise they are before giving the baby some funeral incense. Hardly a relaxing environment to bond with one's new born deity. When I had my babies my family brought me Brie sandwiches and tons of fudge. Those are wise gifts, Myrrh? Not so much.
6- No Modern Medicine
For Hill this is another good thing about the stable, there is no modern medicine, no machines, no pain relief, and nothing to speed up a long labour. All of which works wonderfully for a lot of women who choose that route but Mary had no choice. Some mothers want pain relief, some feel more relaxed knowing medical backup is close at hand and some decide they want it all over and done with as quickly as possible. There is nothing wrong with any of that.
*****Yes, this post is intended to be a bit tongue in cheek, but to be serious for a moment Hill's article annoyed me. I support home birth. I absolutely support the move away from the doctor knows best, lie on your back and do as you're told, childbirth of the past. But that doesn't make it OK to spread fear about hospital birth unless you have rock solid evidence and Hill doesn't. There are many problems with hospital birth, but to suggest that you would be better off 2000 years ago in a shed full of livestock than in a modern western hospital is plain inaccurate and and does a huge disservice to the many women who want or need to give birth in a hospital. Their fears are every bit as real and their choices every bit as valid as those for whom home birth is the best option. To propagate excessive fear of hospital birth does absolutely nothing to further the goal of genuine informed choice for everyone. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there is no one right way to give birth.
7- The Smell
Sure hospitals can have a certain whiff about them that isn't all that nice, but personally, I'd prefer that to the stable which most likely reeks of Bull Sh*t.