Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Adinah's eyes flew open. What had awakened her? In the flickering dimness of a lone lamp, she listened for the cry of a child. She twisted her lips into a crooked smile. Sleep had never been the same since she became a mother. Hearing nothing but a shifting animal below, she sat up to look around. Her five children slept around her, curled up with siblings. Nathaniel, her youngest, sucked his thumb. Adinah smiled at them and was about to lie back down when a sound caught her ears. It was a low moan, a groan of pain.
“Mary,” Adinah breathed instinctively. She slipped out from beneath her shared blanket and tiptoed across the room, stepping over cousins and aunts. The house was packed full. Bethlehem was a small village of shepherds. Though they enjoyed the claim of King David's hometown, every house was simple and common—and lately, overflowing with extended family. So many had returned here to be counted for a census. Adinah felt the familiar burst of frustration. As if Rome needed more tribute!
Ah well, there had been good sides to the ridiculous census. Adinah had met more relatives than she knew she had! She smiled wryly as she approached the shadowy corner where Mary had set her mat.
As Adinah approached, Mary sat up.
“Did I wake you?” Mary asked, sounding guilty.
Adinah crouched. “Don't worry about that, my dear. Have the pains begun?”
“I-I think so,” Mary whispered. “At least, they are different than the usual aches.”
Adinah nodded. “Let's get you something to eat. Sometimes that eases things.” Adinah helped Mary rise to her feet. The young woman arranged her long tunic over her round belly and rubbed her lower back with a deep sigh.
“I do feel better standing up,” she said, and Adinah caught the glint of a smile in the gentle lamplight.
The two women found cups of water and some left-over bread from supper. Adinah set out some spiced olive oil and they took turns dipping their bread. Mary gave a gentle laugh. “I feel like we are children, sneaking a midnight snack!”
Adinah chuckled as well, but then watched as Mary stiffened slightly, her hand coming to rub her belly.
“Relax your body through the pain,” Adinah soothed. She reached out and felt the height of Mary's belly. It was as taut as a drum. She nodded knowingly. Labor was beginning. As the pain left a few seconds later, Mary took a deep, cleansing breath.
Adinah pushed the bread closer. “Eat up, you're going to need it.”
This was Mary's firstborn, and Adinah knew it would be hours, perhaps days, before her child made an appearance. Adinah didn't wake the others yet, but she encouraged Mary to lie back down and rest. Adinah moved her mat near the young woman, and the two of them caught snatches of sleep throughout the night.
As the sun rose, Adinah heard shifting above. The men were waking. The men were sleeping in a tent on the roof, leaving the mezzanine for the many women and children. Adinah sat up, checked on Mary, and then went to wake her eldest daughter, Bini, asking the thirteen-year-old to get the children washed and dressed for the day. “Pack a lunch for them as well,” Adinah said. “They will be spending the day elsewhere.”
“Why?” Bini yawned, rubbing her eye with the heel of her palm.
“It is your cousin Mary's time,” Adinah said.
Bini's eyes widened, and she hastened to obey.
Adinah heard the men walking