Sacred birth-A rites of passage.

I am a mother of two, and I practice as an independent midwife. I have also been initiated into a medicine path, and so over the years have absorbed some of the indigenous teachings and understandings. The understanding that underlies all the teachings is that everything is connected… all things are related. Consequently, I am drawn to observing and studying the ways of nature, the natural rhythms, the moon cycles, the seasons and how all these things impact us.

I am interested in how these teachings or this perspective might bring meaning, connection and peace to our lives at a time when we are being constantly pulled away from our centre and our natural rhythms by the external stimuli, and pace of life that the technological world has created.

I am going to discuss pregnancy and birth from the perspective of rites of passage.  As an independent midwife, I have the privilege of working in that sacred space between the worlds, holding the space for new spirits to come into being and connect with their mothers on the earthly plane. I am able to hold this journey for the women I work with within the framework of a rite of passage, which sometimes helps to give understanding, meaning and context to their experiences. 

A rite of passage is a ritual event that enables a person to progress from one state to another. It teaches the initiate what she needs to know of her new role, and during the process the initiate is transformed into the new person.
My own experience of  a rites of passage have been very profound. The experience of being witnessed and celebrated by a community gave me a sense of honouring and belonging that I had never truly experienced in this life before, and yet my body felt able to receive it, as if it was a birth-rite. My actions mattered and impacted the community and I experienced that directly.

Rites of passage enable a culture to continue, and serves as a mechanism to reinforce and carry forth the values of the culture.

There are some rites of passage in our society. There is confirmation and bar mitzvah, and then on reaching the age of 18 you can officially drink in alcohol, vote and drive a car!! However, I would argue that it is the lack of rites of passage for both men and women that contribute to the psychological, spiritual and sociological concerns about the well being of our modern day society. That is a discussion that deserves an article in itself!

For the sake of this article, I am considering rites of passage for women, which include menarche, coming of age, birth and menopause. I will consider in more detail pregnancy as a rites of passage.

Pregnancy, particularly the first pregnancy, is a time of enormous physiological, mental and emotional change. It is a time when the woman is gestating herself and the baby. When her self- awareness can become heightened, as well as the feelings of love and fear. The first few months are often hidden, kept quiet as the woman comes to terms with the journey she is on, the leaving behind of her old self and the walking towards a new self. Interestingly this is often a time of physical sickness, which is sometimes the expression of a woman’s ambivalence or resistance to her pregnancy or process, to what she will have to let go of, a lifestyle, identity, dreams and plans etcetera. However, this is such a valuable process, and my experience is that if a woman is well supported, and she feels that her experience is received, and heard without judgement she is more likely to be able to move towards the necessary process of surrender that mothering calls for. It is interesting that this stage often changes around 12 weeks at the time the baby’s movements are first felt, and this is often women feel able to share their news with friends and family.

In some traditions this is the time that a ceremony of welcome is performed. The intention of the ceremony is to welcome and call in the spirit of the baby; to introduce this spirit to the earthly family and friends and to reassure the baby’s spirit family that this precious being will be well taken care of. This ceremony is usually accompanied by lots of children, songs and cake !!

The next six months is a gradual preparation for the ceremony of birth on many levels. Physically preparing the mind and body as well as gathering the practical things together. As the months go on the relationship between the mother and unborn child starts to develop and an intimacy grows. This can be facilitated and supported by the midwife, through journeying, story telling, drawing, meditation, visualisation and many other tools. It is a good time to connect in with the ancestors, and family stories, both helpful and un-helpful. The family mythology around birth can have an enormous impact on the woman’s perception of her body’s capacity to give birth easily or not, the location that feels natural to her, and thoughts about complications. Stories and memories she has grown up with often contribute to forming beliefs about herself, and childbirth, and it is only by exploring these that the woman can see for herself their relevance. These stories and beliefs might be known but are sometimes unknown and can be accessed by working with fears or other emotions that come up towards the impending birth. It is a good opportunity to do a lot of healing and clearing of old patterns and beliefs.
The last few weeks are usually dominated by planning the final details for the birth-who will be there, practicalities, ambience just as one would do for any major event or ceremony.

The birth of the baby is the moment of mystery, and the process will change the woman forever. This warrior journey has the potential of revealing so much to her of herself. Showing her power, her real beliefs, her stamina, her faith, her trust, her capacity to surrender. The midwife holds the space supports her in her deep journey, and bears witness to this mysterious time. She welcomes the woman into her new role as mother, celebrating her and reflecting all that she has witnessed.

As I sit here, and wait for the words to share about that moment a baby comes into the world I realise I am suspended in time for a moment. I feel the wonder, and the space that is not of this world, it is a moment between the worlds. A moment to watch and feel and welcome the coming in of a being, a time of heightened senses, a time of awe and deep gratitude for this extraordinary life. A profound and sacred time.

Reflection, and integration. In many rites of passage there is a moment of coming back into the community as a ‘new ‘person, different from the ‘you’ that you were before. Most mothers find themselves going over and over moments in the birth, sharing their story with their friends and this is a natural way to integrate and come to terms with a life -changing event. The midwife has a big role in this process having being present and born witness to the birth and the women’s and partner’s process. She can reflect back what she has seen and witnessed. It is time where she can really honour the woman for her power, strength, clarity or whatever she observed in the woman. This means that the woman does not have to be left with feelings of success or failure depending upon her expectations of the birth. Ideally, whatever the outcome of the birth, the midwife can support the woman in seeing where her strengths were. The experience becomes more full of meaning and not just about the ending.  

Now the new life begins, mother, child and family.  I would argue that holding this journey in a sacred way, gives each part of the process a context and meaning. Remembering that everything is connected, we understand that there are no accidents, and the details of the whole experience become rich with meaning and relevance. How beautiful it would be to hold other journeys and moments in our life, with the same attention, care and connection to the spirit world.

Fiona Shaw