St. Luke provides some interesting clues that highlight Mary's role in her cousin's pregnancy.
During childbirth women are often assisted by a “doula,” a childbirth coach. The doula is different than a midwife, and remains primarily beside the mother, offering support and knowledge. While the term was developed in the 1960s, family members and friends have acted as doulas throughout all of human history and in every culture around the world.
When thinking about doulas, Mary of Nazareth might come to mind. Why? When Our Lady heard from Gabriel about her cousin’s unusual pregnancy, she “arose and went with haste” to meet her (cf. Luke 1:39). After an extraordinary greeting, St. Luke records that “Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home” (Luke 1:56).
A few verses prior to that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary, “And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren” (Luke 1:36).
Putting those two verses in context, Mary stayed with Elizabeth during her final three months of pregnancy. St. Luke does not record the exact duties Mary was engaged in, but it’s very likely that Mary helped her elder cousin with many household tasks, in addition to offering emotional and spiritual support.
It’s unclear if Mary stayed during childbirth, but even if she didn’t (which would seem odd — why would she stay there for three months and leave right as Elizabeth needed her the most?), Mary could rightly be called one of Elizabeth’s doulas.
Even more fascinating is the etymology of the word doula. It comes from the Greek word doulē, meaning a female servant. In the Gospel of Luke, Mary proclaims to the angel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the doulē of the Lord.”
So for any doulas out there looking for a patron saint, you can’t have anyone better than the Virgin Mary.
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