The stable in Lusangazi, 15 miles from Mzuzu

Born in a Stable

Born in a stable

(mainly from June 21,2009)

The Christmas nativity story is well known to Christians all over the world. The Census, the 90 mile trek to Bethlehem, the donkey, no room in the inn and the manger, the farm animals, the angels, the star, and the wise men’s presents are re-lived in the warmth of the festive season over and over again.
This song by Pierce Pettis puts the miracle in place for me, it’s one of my favourite Christmas songs and an ode to Mary, the mother of Jesus who was a real woman, who had a real child birth.

MIRIAM
by Pierce Pettis

No banners were unfurled
When God stepped into the world
Held in the arms of a little girl
Named Miriam

Who would ever believe
Your fiance, your family
The teenage pregnancy
Of Miriam

But laws of nature were suspended
Death sentences rescinded
Throughout all the world
And all because of a little girl named Miriam

Medieval paintings glaring down
Stony figures judge and frown
Wearing a halo like a crown
Could that be Miriam

Gentile temples stained glass swirls
Cherubim with golden curls
How unlike your Hebrew world
Miriam

I don’t know if you ascended
I don’t care what’s been amended
There was one sure miracle
The faith of a little girl named Miriam

Oh you are blessed indeed
Blessed is the fruit of your tree
Yeshua kings of kings
And son of Miriam

No banners were unfurled
When God stepped into the world
Held in the arms of a little girl
Named Miriam
Named Miriam
Was it a real stable, was it a cave, was it part of the inn, was it the room over the animals, was there water, a midwife and lights are all realistic questions, , for me.
Mary (Miriam in Hebrew), a teenage girl, had her baby, in less than perfect conditions in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, a frightening fact in the Ireland of today.
No hygiene, heart monitors, HSE, consultants, or ultrasound: how could it be done?
If Jesus was born in Malawi last Year, Mary would have a 1 in 8 chance of dying in the stable during or after the birth. Jesus would fare a little better having a 90% chance of surviving the birth, but a bigger risk of not reaching 5. For all our sakes, as Christians, it’s a good job that they chose Palestine.
So why am I talking about Christmas on the longest day of the year with the sun cracking the stones outside: because I’m thinking of the six or seven thousand women who die, needlessly, in Malawi each year in, or as a result of childbirth.
Malawi has a population of, maybe 14 million people, with maybe three quarters of a million births annually, has seven child friendly hospitals offering rudimentary services, spends about 4 euro per capita on health and where trained midwives are few.
We work with the rural, remote poor where the statistics are worse.
The tragedy of a mother dying anywhere is horrific, but in Malawi where women do practically ALL the work it is a calamity. On the other side about seventy or maybe a hundred thousand babies die neonatally, annually (registration of births is extremely haphazard in areas where babies are not born in hospital), and that’s a very considerable number.
A World Health Organisation comment:
Malawi’s maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world.
– Women there have a one in eight risk of dying in childbirth or as a result of pregnancy complications – that’s 961 times greater than women in Ireland- – No other death rate in Malawi is so unequal.
From what I know, birthing in Malawi is often assisted by what are called Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA’s), women who have got some little training and who have acquired some skills. I make a very crude comparison to my youth on a farm where if a cow had complications with calving, there was a man who had the skill to deliver the calf safely.
Now horror of horrors, the Malawi Government, in it’s wisdom, have terminated this little help and banned the TBA’s, without any type of replacement. Can’t imagine it was a woman living 50 miles from a hospital, with no transport except maybe a bad bicycle or a wheelbarrow, thought this one up. Probably a man, who won’t experience childbirth or doesn’t care, or some female airhead from an air conditioned office in New York, London, or even Dublin. Some cultural, ritual practices in Malawi are barbaric, But working with communities and education on reproductive health, in the villages, really works, but this ban is just a recipe for more suffering and death.
My first thought would be to train the TBA’s while you try and improve the hospital situation, a practice in many developing countries, but maybe the donors wouldn’t like it, or pay for it.
Christmas in Malawi is hard. No turkey, pudding, tree, santa claus, lights, snow, or even reindeer.
Most remote families live in the crib, a young mother with a new baby knows exactly how Mary felt.
Maybe you can look at the crib differently this year. And make Him the reason for the season.

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