On one chilly day in autumn, the town of Bethlehem in Judea was busy with activity. The Emperor Augustus had sent out an order for all the citizens of the Empire to register themselves for the census. Disobeying the Emperor was grounds for severe punishment, and so there were long lines of people in the streets of every town. Bethlehem was no exception. The line before the registration booth stretched past two inns and the tavern. A woman wearing a green dress had been waiting there since midmorning. She stamped her feet to keep them warm, and kept her hands deep in her sleeves. Just as the last man in front of her stepped up to register, a commotion before one of the inns caught her attention. The inkeeper was crossly pushing a man and his wife out the door. The woman in the green dress noticed that his wife was very pregnant, and she did not look well. "I'm very sorry, but we have no space for you," the innkeeper was saying. "Our rooms are full. You'll have to check down the street at the Flying Hare." The man turned to go, defeat and weariness showing plainly on his face. But his wife would have none of it. Her pale cheeks blazed with fury. "We have been to three inns in this town, and four in the last," she growled, her ebony hair slipping loose from its modest habit. "It has been more than a day since we have eaten. Our donkey is lame and -- well, look at me! I'm liable to burst in two any moment! Have you no kindness? Have you no mercy?" "None for those who cannot pay," he replied icily, sneering at her ragged clothing. "Take your problems to the magistrate, if you can get an appointment." The innkeeper glared at the man. "And keep control of your wife, carpenter," he hissed, slamming the door behind him. The man put his arm around his raging wife and gently led her down the street. "May your beds have lice and your ale go sour, you... you pompous piece of donkey dung!" she swore, swinging her fist threateningly even as her husband strove to calm her. The woman in the green dress hid a smile behind her hand. She was still watching the unfortunate couple make their way down the street with their donkey when the census-taker called her forth. "Name," he asked in a monotone. "Brigid," she replied. "Daughter of Sean, innkeeper." He wrote this down on his scroll. "Fine, then... next?" But she put up a hand to stay the next person. "Does not the Emperor wish to know each person's position?" she asked. He paused, eyeing her distastefully. Her red curls were immodestly uncovered; she was alone, with no male escort, and her face bore a confidence that he clearly thought women should not possess. "And what occupation would a woman like you have?" he asked. "The oldest one," she said. "I'm a midwife."
Brigid was unsurprised to find the ragged couple when she returned home to her father's inn, the Flying Hare. She was, however, surprised to see her father shaking his head when they asked for shelter. "With so many returning to their home villages for the census, we have no room," said Sean, speaking over the din of the other patrons. "All spaces are taken. I'm afraid I can offer you little more than a bit of supper -- and we have precious little of that." The ebon-haired woman tried to glare at the innkeeper, but it was clear that she was too tired to put up much more of a fight. "That's more than we were offered in town at the Stuck Pig," she sighed. "My daughter will give you some stew," said Sean, showing the weary couple to an empty bench by the wall. "Perhaps the inn at Decapolis will have space for you." Brigid followed her father into the kitchen. "Father, Decapolis is over a day's travel," she protested. "I saw their donkey -- it wouldn't make it halfway there in the state it's in, and neither would they." The look Sean gave her was regretful, but firm. "If I could expand our rooms to hold even one more, a scor, I would. But we're double-full as it is, and there isn't one speck left to offer." Brigid knew her father was not an unkind man. He, too, had once been a visitor from another land, and he had sympathy for those away from their homes. "At least let me give them a place in the stable, out of the wind," she pleaded. He sighed. "Yes, yes -- but this is the last we're taking tonight, daughter. Now bring the poor couple some stew before they starve."
It was just after dark when Brigid awoke to the sound of cries from the stable. The cries were unmistakably those of a woman laboring with child. Quickly she put on her dress and took up some rags and her herbal tinctures, and hurried outside. The woman's husband was desperately pleading with his wife to be quiet as Brigid entered the stable. The woman was leaning against a post, breathing quickly and cradling her swollen belly in her hands. When she heard Brigid, she looked up with fear in her eyes. "I am dying," she said, and gritted her teeth with the next rush of her belly. "You are not," declared Brigid. "You are doing precisely what you need to be doing." She looked sternly into the woman's scared eyes. "Anyone who can stand up to old Abraham the inkeeper like you did can certainly deliver a baby." Then she turned to the woman's husband, who was staring at her, twice as scared as his wife. "And you -- you can lie down and get some sleep. We can handle it from here." The cows, chewing contentedly, looked on with interest as Brigid walked with the woman, holding her hand, petting her sweaty hair, massaging her back, encouraging her when she faltered and praising her when she prevailed. Brigid gave her a few drops of herb tincture under her tongue when her energy began to flag, and that helped revive her enough to manage to keep going. For many, many hours, the two women walked and breathed together. The woman's rushes became longer and more difficult. At one point she rolled her head to look at Brigid, weeping with exhaustion. "I can't do it anymore," she sobbed. "Yes, you can," said Brigid. And she began to sing to the woman. She sang her stories of strong women from her homeland, far across the land and water, of beautiful babes in the arms of their mothers. She sang of hope and love and courage. She carried the woman and her labor on the blanket of her song. Her healing power flowed through her voice and into the woman, and the woman's own power merged with that of Brigid, and they glowed with the power of women. Brigid's singing was so beautiful and so strange that the woman's husband awoke and began to listen. The people in the inn, dressing themselves for the day, came outside at the unearthly sound. Even the shepherds, watching their flock in the dim light of very early morning, heard it and were entranced. They came toward the stable, listening in wonder. Finally the woman's noises began to change. They came from deep in her throat, low down in her gut. Brigid helped her to squat down in the straw. Slowly, surely, the woman pushed her baby out of her belly and into the waiting hands of Brigid, who kept singing to the infant boy as he came into the world. The shepherds and innfolk, standing in the door of the stable, watched in awe as the sun crested the horizon and shone its first rays of light onto the newborn babe. He seemed to glow with the same magical light. His mother looked down upon him, suddenly calm and complete in herself. She smiled the smile of all new mothers, since the beginning of time.
Later it was told by those who had been there that an angel had visited Mary of Nazareth's birth, that she had sung so sweetly that Mary's babe must be blessed above all others. Indeed, he must be the son of God. And Brigid knew that the stories were true; that the baby Jesus was indeed the child of God... and of the Goddess, as are all children born.
Note: I am a doula, a professional labor assistant. It is partly from my work with birthing women that my inspiration for this story comes. The other part of my inspiration is from the goddess Brigid. All my work is dedicated to Her. Blessed be.
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