At three days postpartum, my mom and my doula, Summer, came over to do a sealing ceremony for me based on what I’d learned during my Sacred Pregnancy and Sacred Postpartum certification trainings. A sealing ceremony is based on the idea of “closing” the birth process. Pregnancy and birth are all about opening. We open up our bodies, minds, spirits, and hearts for our new babies. After birth, the body remains “open” and the idea with sealing the birth experience is to psychologically and physically “close” the body and help the mother integrate her birth experience into the wholeness of who she is. It is part of her “return” to the non-pregnant state and it is transition commonly overlooked by modern culture and sometimes by women themselves. We chose three days postpartum because that is a classic day for the “baby blues” to hit and it seemed like an important day to acknowledge, but it can be done at any point, preferably within the first 40 days. We started with the ceremonial bath. I had a very powerful experience with pre-birth ceremonial bath I did and this postpartum bath experience was very profound as well. My doula ran the bath and added milk and honey and I set up a small altar by the tub. I chose items for the altar that I felt had a connection to the birth altar I set up before birth, but that were now connected to postpartum and mothering another baby. So, I used things that were mother-baby centered primarily, but of course also included the birth goddess sculpture that I held all through my labor as well. Continuity.
Summer brought me a small glass of strawberry wine and then Mark came in with some rose petals and scattered them in and then left me to rest in my bath. I started my Sacred Pregnancy playlist and the first song to play was the Standing at the Edge song that I’d hummed during labor. Continuity.
It took me a little while to settle into it, but then I did. I reviewed his birth in my mind and sipped my wine. After I finished the wine, I used the glass to pour water over each part of my body as I spoke a blessing of gratitude for each part and what it did for us. I cried a little bit over some parts. I spoke aloud some words of closure about my births and my childbearing years. I felt grateful. I also felt a sense of being restored to wholeness, complete unto myself. As I finally stood to leave the tub…the Standing at the Edge song began to play again.
I’ve written before that I use jewelry to tell my story or to communicate or share something. I wore one of our baby spiral pendants through most of my pregnancy because it helped me feel connected to the baby. I wore it all through labor and birth too. The baby spiral pendant was one of the things I put on the little altar by the tub as a point of continuity between his birth and now. When I got out of the bath, I was going to put the spiral back on, but suddenly it didn’t feel like the one I wanted to wear anymore. I went to my room and there it was–my nursing mama goddess pendant. Putting down the baby spiral and putting on the nursing mama felt like a powerful symbolic indicator of my transition between states.
I put on the same purple tank top I’d worn in my pregnancy pictures and nursed Tanner. I had a sarong nearby for the “tuck in” part of the ceremony and I put it over my shoulder and asked my mom to take a picture. After we took the pictures, I realized the sarong was also the same one I wore in my pregnancy pictures. Continuity, again!
With Mark then holding the baby, Summer and my mom “tucked” me in using heated up flax seed pillows and some large scarves/sarongs. This tucking in symbolically pulls your body back together after the birth (sometimes called “closing the bones”) and also re-warms the body, which according to Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic understanding, is left in a “cold” state following the birth. I felt a little strange and “shroud-ish” while being tucked up and then especially when they put my mother blessing sheet on top of me and left the room.
As I laid there though, I reflected that the shroud feeling was not so creepy after all. In fact, it was pretty symbolic itself—the ending of something and the emergence of something, someone, new. I felt a sense of wholeness and integration and coming back into myself. I had a sensation of unity and, yes, of my body coming back together into one piece.
When I felt done, I called them to come back in and Summer put a “belly firming paste” of turmeric, ginger, and coconut oil that I’d made in my class on my belly and then she and my mom wrapped me up in the belly bind I’d bought for this purpose. I don’t have time to write a lot about bellybinding right now, but you can read more about it here. It is anatomically functional, not just symbolic or pretty. When I first learned about it, I was sold on the concept, distinctly remember how weak and hunched over I felt after previous births.
I am again reminded of a quote from Sheila Kitzinger that I use when talking about postpartum: “In any society, the way a woman gives birth and the kind of care given to her and the baby points as sharply as an arrowhead to the key values of the culture.” Another quote I use is an Asian proverb paraphrased in the book Fathers at Birth: “The way a woman cares for herself postpartum determines how long she will live.” Every mother deserves excellent care postpartum, however, the “arrowhead” of American postpartum care does not show us a culture that values mothers, babies, or life transitions. I am fortunate to have had the kind of excellent care that every woman deserves and that few women receive. Part of this was because I actively and consciously worked towards building the kind of care I wanted following birth, but part of it is because I am lucky enough to belong to a “tribe” that does value pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and mothering.