Pregnancy as a Rite of Passage
By Shekinah Leigh
Have you heard of the 4th Trimester or Babymoon? In many cultures this is the time, after the birth of a baby, where a Mother is supported to rest, bond and complete her transition from Maiden to Mother with the support of her family and community. It is a time of integration when a woman, a mother, can not only heal physically but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually after being broken wide open in the raw, wild, chaotic and vulnerable journey of birth…
In many cultures around the world new mothers are relieved of all their duties in order to protect and allow the mother-baby relationship to flourish. The first 40 days after birth are seen as sacred and very private. Some new mothers go and live with their own mothers for three months, where they are fed and can rest in order to build up strength, recover their bodies and regain their life force energy. In some traditions they are not allowed to exert any effort or travel and another family member is expected to take over the daily chores. Some customs even dictate that new mums should stay in bed with their baby for 21 days or stay indoors for the first few weeks. In the ancient Indian tradition of Ayurveda the period after birth is referred to as the fourth trimester. This time is seen as crucial for the mother because a woman is ‘reborn’ after she gives birth. It’s believed every pore of her body is open, so it’s the ideal opportunity to regenerate and rejuvenate.
Not many women in our western society are given this time of having no obligations or responsibilities to the outside world, this time to integrate and recuperate after the experience of childbirth.
When we look at the entire birthing journey as a rite of passage, a hero’s journey that each woman undertakes, then we can reframe this experience from one that is undervalued and censored to one that is celebrated, not just for providing a healthy new human but also for the powerful alteration that occurs within each woman. She is not the same person who entered the Labyrinth at the beginning of her journey, she has been stripped bare, made vulnerable, faced the unknown, visited the underworld and been reborn as something new. She is a beautiful butterfly emerging from the cocoon and just like any delicate new born, she needs to be surrounded by nurturing love and support as she dries off those new wings and evaluates her new self with all of the changes that may have occurred
What is a ‘Rite of Passage’?
A ‘rite of passage’ is a ceremony, or ritual of passage that marks a significant change in a person’s life. Birth, coming of age, marriage and death there are just some of the milestones where you may be significantly impacted by change and transition within your life.
Many traditions around the world have ‘coming of age’ ceremonies fro their boys and girls when they reach puberty. It marks the transition from child to adult and imparts a new and improved status upon them within their society. It usually has 3 parts; the Preparation, the Ordeal and the Integration.
A woman on her birthing journey also faces these 3 steps of preparing, experiencing the ordeal and then integrating the transformation that has taken place. A pregnant woman prepares herself and her environment in the best way she knows how for a journey that is unknown, she then dissolves from her old self, perhaps letting go of belief systems, lifestyle choices and objects of importance, her identity shifts and changes, she finds new depths of strength, surrender and vulnerability and then slowly and surely she puts the pieces back together, sometimes entirely new pieces, sometimes some old pieces as she decides who she is now, what she looks like, what is important to her. She walks a new path, with new joys, responsibilities and ideas.
The symbology of the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly is a poignant and apt analogy of the extreme changes that can take place as a woman, especially one birthing for the first time, can experience as she moves from a Maiden into Mother. Our society may not treat this change in status with the high regard that it deserves nonetheless birth has a major impact on a woman herself as well as the significant relationships she has with family, friends and community.
What is a Hero’s Journey?
The Hero’s Journey is a popular structure devised by Joseph Campbell that denotes the common narrative of many stories and mythologies. Many ‘rites of passage’ follow the formula of the hero’s journey that is often depicted through 12 stages:
- Ordinary World
- Call To Adventure
- Refusal Of The Call
- Meeting The Mentor
- Crossing The Threshold
- Tests, Allies, Enemies
- Reward (Seizing The Sword)
- The Road Back
- Return With The Elixir
So many movies like “Lord of the Rings” and “Moana” follow this structure, not to mention fairy tales and mythologies across the globe. I myself base my Goddess Birthing Journey work on ‘Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld”, this is an ancient women’s story that follows the journey of a Goddess into the Underworld and describes these different stages of transition and transformation in a powerful narrative that resonates deep within our psyche and gives permission for each of us to take this journey in whatever way it works for us. Inanna’s story also reminds us that everyone needs to go on their own personal ‘rites of passage’ at different stages in their lives and while women may almost be forced into their transformation, sometimes new fathers and partners need to actively and consciously embark on their own Hero’s Journey so that they too can die and be reborn, surrendering some of their old ways of being so that they have room to embrace the changes that are occurring within themselves, their lives and their relationships, especially with mother and child.
So as you can see, the birthing journey is a rite of passage, whether it is conscious or unconscious it can be the catalyst for your own personal growth and evolution if you choose it to be!
Many women choose to celebrate the passing milestones with sacred ritual and ceremonies like Blessing Ways, Baby Namings, Baby Showers and Pregnancy Massages. Other women prepare friends, family and loved ones with a schedule for providing cooked meals, contributing to household chores and doing school drops offs. However something that each of us does need is a trusted companion who we can laugh, cry, share and express freely with as we pick up the pieces and continue our journey into Motherhood.
Did you honour the 4th trimester? Did you celebrate the Babymoon? Have you acknowledged your ‘rite of passage’ from Maiden to Mother? I would love to hear your stories.
Wishing you all strength and clarity no matter what part of the journey you may be on.