Message from the Midwives

Today, I was reading the Old Testament lesson from the lectionary, a familiar tale to many of baby Moses, hidden in his basket among the bullrushes. It seemed appropriate for a day with two baptisms, one sweet baby boy and another sweet baby girl sitting in their sweet white christening day outfits in the front rows with their families. I had already practiced the reading last night so I didn’t trip over my words. But, as the words formed this morning, I had a small epiphany…a small point of light…about the midwives in this very familiar Judeo-Christian story.

Midwives are some of my favorite people, I have to say. The midwives I know in my own life tend to be both gentle and sassy. They have knowledge they have acquired that augments wisdom emanating from their depth of experience. Midwifery has been an occupation of women before women were socially allowed to have occupations; the midwife goes where many men fear to tread. For any of us who have given birth with the support of a midwife, we will attest to their association with the divine. It was my midwife that stood ground with the medical staff for me when I was meditating my way through a longer-than-anticipated transition in my labor. It was my midwife that spoke to me about the meaning of the music that I chose to play during childbirth, and how it reminded her of the birth of her own daughter. It was my midwife that faded into the distance when my own child was placed into my arms so that the wisdom of my own mothering could breathe its life, even in the midst of my exhaustion. I know from my personal experiences with midwives just how much trust, honor, and power is present in that exchange.

Today, as I read this story, I heard the midwives telling the tale. They seemed to whisper through the story, and their steadfast faith and gentle resistance to oppression and injustice are rightly credited as the way in which an oppressed people thrived in their history. The midwives had a message, I think, and so I went home today and listened to their words again as I read in the quiet moments of the afternoon. This is the poem that formed in response. I hope it conveys this message from the midwives, a small point of light in the midst of a familiar tale for all who wish to read.

Reference: Exodus 1:8 – 2:10

Message from the Midwives

I have heard about that basket in the bullrushes
ever since I was a child,
ever since I was old enough to realize
babies couldn’t swim once they left the womb.
And I was really glad, even then, that Moses’ Mom
had a basket and a good idea.

But today, my message came from the midwife.
She spoke to me of wisdom,
of following a heart’s calling instead of a ruler’s decree.
She knew how to twist a tale
just as well as how to deliver a baby;
she used both of those talents to save the sons’ of mothers,
and to honor her God.

She told me about strength,
not the kind that comes from making laws that oppress,
or the kind that comes just because you’re feared.
She told me about strength,
the kind that comes from wisdom within,
the still small voice that resists with subtlety
and sets her people free.

Time passes, and the story floats away in its papyrus basket.
The midwives’ tale is silent and still
standing like bullrushes
surrounding the child,
nurturing mystery,
birthing serendipity and discovery.
Honoring wisdom across generations,
even now, as their story crosses my lips.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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