“Woman-to-woman help through the rites of passage that are important in every birth has significance not only for the individuals directly involved, but for the whole community. The task in which the women are engaged is political. It forms the warp and weft of society.” –Sheila Kitzinger (Rediscovering Birth)
“I love and respect birth. The body is a temple, it creates its own rites, its own prayers…all we must do is listen. With the labor and birth of my daughter I went so deep down, so far into the underworld that I had to crawl my way out. I did this only by surrendering. I did this by trusting the goddess in my bones. She moved through me and has left her power in me.” ~Lea B., Fairfax, CA via Mama Birth)
Summary of Article: How do today’s women prepare for major life changes such as becoming a mother? Have our once meaningful rites of passage been trivialised, and if so at what cost? Kat Skarbek looks at ways to reclaim what we have lost.
Permission is given to publish this story on the web (thanks to Women’s Mysteries Teacher Circle e-journal).
Without wishing to appear overly dramatic, I think that our society may be in danger of becoming devoid of any important spiritually nourishing rites of passage. Women no longer seem to know how to celebrate important transitions. We have fallen into the horrible habit of treating life-changing events in trite and meaningless ways and as a result, we are cheating ourselves out of the powerful positive effects that these rites of passage can bring us.
For women, menstruation, puberty, marriage, pregnancy & birth, menopause, death – even divorce and separation, all need to be properly acknowledged when passing through these stages of life. Instead we either ignore them completely as in the case of puberty, first menses and divorce, which sends the message that they are both shameful and unworthy of celebration. Or we use the opportunity to get drunk, act like strippers and carry out questionable tasks which would make a sober person question why she would want to get married in the first place – as on your average hen night. At a friend’s baby shower recently I watched with sinking heart as one of the most important events in a woman’s life was celebrated with games involving stealing pegs from other women’s clothing the minute they unconsciously crossed their legs, guessing the baby’s weight and answering questions such as did she have ‘an inney or an outey’ bellybutton? How, I found myself asking, does this in any way prepare a woman to deal with the rigours of labour and birthing and the demands of the first year of motherhood? Why are we so seemingly unaware that our accepted celebrations offer absolutely nothing to women except a bunch of baby clothes? At standard baby showers there is no wisdom shared, no loving support offered and no nourishment given (unless you count cupcakes!).
How did it come to this?
What happened to our once vital and spiritually awakening rites of passage? The easy (and heavily feminist) answer is 500 years or more of patriarchy. Prior to this and from the earliest records of society, it has been apparent that there were very well observed, meaningful and symbolic rituals to mark just about any occasion. Rituals existed for everything from simple agricultural celebrations of the changing seasons and giving thanks for food and supplies, to complex marriage and birthing rituals that eased newlyweds into their new roles and prepared the way for women to birth with dignity and power. Women in particular carried enormous wisdom about the cyclical nature of life and shared nourishing rites of passage, which enabled them to marry in confidence and with awareness, birth without fear and to die with dignity and grace. Once patriarchy became established it began the systematic erasure (or appropriation) of many of these important rites and in particular it diminished the roles and experiences of women so that they went from being important and respected members of their communities, with power over land, name and children to women whose only role was to birth heirs and to be subservient to their men. Even in today’s changing society the roles of ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ are still considered less important than the roles of ‘career woman’ and ‘breadwinner’. We have higher rates of divorce, higher rates of birth intervention and subsequent post-natal depression and more difficult menopauses now than women experienced 50 years ago. I believe that this is directly linked to the fact that we are now expected to just ‘get on with it’ and disappear into these changes without the proper observances being made. I’m not suggesting that women to disappear into mud huts every time they bleed or to give birth in fields as we did in the tribal days, but I do think that we need to pay more attention to our needs at these powerful times of change. Menstruation is not a curse, it’s a promise of our life-giving ability to come. Menopause is not a loss of youth and sex appeal, it’s a vital gateway to the enormous power of our wisdom years. And pregnancy, birth and marriage are life-changing experiences that need to be embraced and celebrated with something more nourishing than ‘Mr December’ and his overstuffed banana hammock.
A graceful acceptance of our changing roles and an awareness of the power that these changes bring, gives us huge personal freedom. Freedom from the current obsession with youth and aging, freedom to explore our new shapes, our new lives and the possibilities they hold. Isn’t that worth exploring?
Reclaiming simple rites of passage
So how can today’s modern goddesses, and in particular mammas-to-be, prepare themselves for life’s many transitions? A good starting point is to create your own rite of passage for whatever transition you may be going through. Pregnant women could change their planned baby shower to a Mother Shower (also known as a Blessingway). Mother Showers celebrate and nurture the mother rather than focusing exclusively on the child and are a growing trend amongst women. They offer pregnant women a chance to honour their pregnancy journey, to enjoy symbolic rituals of preparation for the labour and birthing ahead and indulge in an afternoon of loving, nourishing attention from their closest friends and family. And yes, there are still cupcakes! During one of these afternoons a pregnant woman can expect to be waited on hand and foot – often quite literally. Celebrations often include some kind of pampering for the mamma-to-be such as a foot and hand massage with beautiful, pregnancy-safe essential oils. She might choose to have her belly, hands or feet hennaed as a recognition of her changing status. She might enjoy creating a beautiful ‘labour necklace’ created out of beads gifted by each woman present and blessed with all of their best wishes for a wonderful birth. These necklaces can be used as a powerful focusing tool during the darkest hours of her labour and can become a beautiful heirloom that gets passed on from mother to daughter, or even from woman to woman within her community, with each subsequent pregnancy adding more beads to the necklace.
What you can do
There are a number of meaningful activities that you could include in your celebration. You could even combine elements of a traditional baby shower with elements from a mother shower by adding in any of the following:
- A Fear Releasing Ceremony. Writing down your fears on a piece of paper and ritually burning them can help you rid your unconscious mind of any impediments to an easy and positive birth.
- Belly Casting. Creating and painting a belly cast (a 3D plaster cast of the beautiful pregnant belly) can be a wonderful meditative tool to connect you more consciously with your body and your baby.
- Guided Meditation or Visualisations. If there is a group of you, each woman can place a loving hand on the mamma-to-be, while another guides her into a place of deep relaxation where she can communicate with her unborn child or any guides or angels she feels drawn to, in order to receive information or just reassurance.
- Plant a Tree. Buy a beautiful fruit tree to plant in honour of your newborn. You can tie birth blessings and wishes to its branches until after the baby is born.
- Give gifts to nurture the mind, body or soul of the mamma-to-be. Most women won’t get the opportunity to enjoy a spot of luxury once the baby is born, so instead of yet more baby clothes why not spoil the mamma with something indulgent such as a pregnancy massage, a hair appointment, a manicure or pedicure or simply some beautiful skin cream to minimise stretchmarks? You can even buy her a gift for after the birth such as a post- natal spa voucher, to give her some ‘me’ time to look forward to when she needs it most.
- Share Birthing Stories (no horror stories please!). Poetry, singing or chanting can also be a very uplifting way of connecting with your wise inner goddess.
- Create a Phone-Tree. When labour is established, each woman is called and lights a candle for the birthing mamma to re-create the loving circle of support present on the day and send her thoughts of courage and strength.
- Provide Nourishing Food and Drink. Each woman present can contribute a meal to be frozen for after the birth.
- Pledge an Act of Support for after the Birth. Each woman offers one tangible act of support for after the birth when the mother and child are getting to know one another. It can be something simple like providing a home cooked meal, offering to take care of an older child for an afternoon so that the mamma can get some rest, taking the dog for a walk or taking the newborn off her hands so the she can have a recuperative bath.
- The Baby Moon (or a month of ‘lying in’ with the newborn) is still observed in many cultures and offers a chance for the infant and mother to really bond and get to know one another without the usual worries about cooking, cleaning and taking care of other children. I think it would be very beneficial to women to reclaim this particular tradition.
Finding our way back home.
On the day that a baby is born, so too is a mother. Without properly acknowledging our changing lives in these beautiful and memorable ways, we go into motherhood unprepared for the challenges it may bring. No amount of reading can bring you the kind of self-knowledge needed to be a good mother. No amount of beautiful nursery furniture can enable you to trust in your mothering instincts when you are frightened of making a mistake with your precious little bundle. These things all take time. Reclaiming our rites of passage, no matter in how small a way, can help restore to women something vital for their spiritual and emotional wellbeing. And if you are worried that it might be boring or heavy, you needn’t. Celebrations are just that, a joyous coming together of loved ones to honour something wonderful. Keep that in mind and enjoy the many wonderful ways of celebrating this amazing and challenging time in a woman’s life. Choose the things that work for you, that you will enjoy and that will really give you the space to recognise the momentous changes that are happening and offer you some genuine support and acknowledgement of this special time.
More information about alternative pregnancy celebrations can be found in books such as Mother Rising by Yana Cortlund, Barb Lucke and Donna Miller Watelet (OK) and Blessingways, A Guide to Mother-Centred Baby Showers by Shari Maser (OK).
If published on the web please include the following contact details: Website: www.thedivinefeminine.com.au Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 0439 636 958
About Kat Skarbek…
Kat Skarbek is a writer, presenter of the Shamballa Spirit Show on 3MDR 97.1FM and the Head Honcho of The Divine Feminine (www.thedivinefeminine.com.au) which specialises in creating unique and spiritually nourishing transitional celebrations and events for women. These include alternative Hen Nights and Mother Showers for pregnant women. She is a proud survivor of the first two years of motherhood and a visit from the PND Fairy.
Phone: 0439 636 958
Previous posts about rites of passage and women’s mysteries:
Rites of Passage Resources for Daughters & Sons
Birth as a Rite of Passage & ‘Digging Deeper’
Blessingways and the role of ritual
Blessingways / Women’s Programs
Red Tent Resources