I grew up in the Methodist Church, precursor of the United Methodist Church, in the south. Christmas was always full of church activities and our Sunday School teachers were always teaching us about the Christmas stories in the books of Luke and Matthew.
One Sunday, my teacher decided to go past the visit of the Magi and into what was the most horrible thing I had ever heard in my young life...The Slaughter of the Innocents in Matthew 2:13-23.
The story goes that the Magi went to King Herod to ask if he knew the location of the "new king" for whom they were searching, guided by a star. Herod was unable to give them any information, but he was instantly on alert for a challenge to his position. He sent the Magi on their way with a request that they return to him and let him know where to find this child so that he could "worship him, also." The Magi were on to him and didn't return to Herod.
Since he didn't have the exact location, Matthew goes on to write, Herod sent out an order to slay all the new born males in the kingdom. This most poignant passage still causes tears:
"A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."
From that point on, Christmas was never quite the same for me. I question, now, the wisdom of an adult telling that particular story to eight and nine-year old children. The joy and the excitement, music, smells and anticipation was always tinged with sadness. I think it was an omen for me, that, like Rachel, I would, one day, weep for my children and find no comfort.
Because I was only an hour away from home when I was pregnant with my daughter, my parents asked and were allowed to bring me home on Christmas day. A couple of loyal friends also came over, and, at the end of the day, I was taken back to the maternity prison. I would be there another four months before I came home again.
It was on that Christmas visit home, that I learned of all the nasty things, the lies, my boyfriend, the father of my oldest child, and his friends were saying about me. While it hurt, I decided I needed to ignore it and put it behind me. What I didn't count on was the vicious nature of this kind of character assassination. I started getting calls from young men that I barely knew, asking for dates....most of them turned into wrestling matches and the others, when I said "NO," were just short dates where I was taken home and never called again. One of these wrestling matches, I lost. My son was conceived in pain and violence.
Oh, I wanted him, too, but I was still a minor and my parents and the system were still in charge. I was coerced into surrendering him as I was coerced into surrendering my daughter.
My Sunday School lesson came home to me, that first Christmas without either of my babies. I could feel the pain and horror of those mothers and wept with them. I secretly called myself "Rachel." For those of us from the EMS/BSE, we not only lost our children, we lost our innocence, our autonomy, our self-esteem....ourselves...in massive numbers. We were deprived of our children, abandoned by the fathers of these children (for the most part) and abandoned by our families until we could return home, scrubbed free of our shame by virtue of the punishment of losing our children. For some of us, the shame would stay with us, internalized, for years. I know I even blamed myself for being raped, even though I fought, and fought hard (which only earned me some scratches and bruises).
There is no historical proof that the Slaughter of the Innocents really happened. While there is a record of this Herod's reign, there is no record of any kind of an edict of genocide or its execution. I would be willing to see it as a metaphor, but, real or not, I can still hear those mothers wailing in the most severe pain. I can still remember my pain and, though I have found healing through support and activism, there will always be a bit of sadness for me at Christmas when I remember Rachel weeping for her children.
The good news is that I am, now, blessed with a husband and children who love and respect me, good family and friends and the ability to love and comfort the confused girl I was. Most of all, I have reached a wonderful time in my life when I am able to overlook, forgive and go on with things that need to be done. I make jokes about being toothless, body parts sagging, the agony of arthritis and all that, but it has become, truly, the best part of my life.
You can feel badly for the ornament that fell and shattered on the floor, but you can also be cheered by the gleam of those that remain on the tree.