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  • The Story of Miriam's Birth
  • Jill Hammer (bio)

Her master was a potter. She had been digging in a hill of clay near the Nile to bring him two fresh buckets. She made them heavy, even though she was very pregnant and the afternoon sun was hot. She was close to her time; she could not afford to be beaten. In the evening, she knew her husband Amram would rub her back and shoulders and belly. It was their first child, and he was very tender. Rumor had it that Pharaoh had in mind to do away with Israelite babies, but that day had not yet come. Yocheved mounded the last of the heavy clay inside the buckets, making them even, and hoisted the yoke to her shoulders.

She only made it a few steps before a pain in her belly forced her to bend double. The yoke slid off her shoulders and the buckets spilled out their grayish contents. In the slave village, Yocheved was a midwife. When she saw the red wetness on her skirt and legs, she knew exactly how far along she was. The knowledge did not calm her. She was far from the slaves' village and there was no shelter nearby, not even an orchard so that she could lie under a tree. Yocheved staggered to her feet and shaded her eyes, looking for a dry place to lie down, although she knew she would not find one.

Finally, in desperation, she looked back at the clay hill where she had been digging. She thought of making herself a kind of burrow there. She began to stumble back along the shore, but fell toward the hill's scalloped side. Her left shoulder thudded into the clay. Yocheved tried to extricate herself, but her shoulder sunk deeper. In a sudden fury she wrenched it free.

As the clay in which her shoulder was imbedded came loose, a whole chunk of hillside came loose as well. Now there was a wide crevice [End Page 12] in the clay, a little larger than Yocheved herself. It was a kind of shelter. She might be safely hidden there, if a taskmaster came along and wanted to know what made her think birth-giving was an excuse to stop work. Yocheved squeezed into the crevice and crouched there.

She immediately felt warmer, although she had no blanket with her. She succeeded in taking a number of long, deep breaths. But soon the pain increased. Yocheved began to feel hot, feverish, and itchy. She wanted to get out of the crevice, but found it too difficult to move. The clay seemed to be holding her, as if she were in a womb, as if she were the one being born.

In Yocheved's family it was common to have birth-visions. Her mother Otah had had them. When Yocheved was born, Otah had seen a gate with three strong stone pillars. No one knew what it meant, but Yocheved suddenly understood how Otah could have described the gate so vividly. Yocheved was awake, but she was dreaming, and her dream filled her whole mind.

She had the strong image of an old woman lying buried under a stone in a dry, hot landscape. Around the coffin of the buried woman there was fresh water, but the stone was holding it underneath the earth. "I am the stone," Yocheved whispered aloud. Then she shouted it. "I am the stone!" In her mind, she tried to roll the stone off the well, but she could not budge it. She crouched, grunting, and bore down. The child was a girl, she was convinced of it now, but the child was also an old woman. She did not understand. She only pushed. She had to let the spring seep to the surface.

The fever grew worse. Yocheved had no water with her. She conceived the terrible fear that her child was on fire, that when the baby came out of the womb she would be white as ash, half-burned from the heat. Terrible things had sometimes happened to the babies of Israelite women Yocheved had attended. "Let her not be as one dead...


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pp. 12-14
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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