Beginning in the earliest human civilizations, rites of passage have allowed us to ceremoniously mark significant life changes and clarify our relationships to others in society. Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep identified three sub-categories of the rite of passage; rites of separation, rites of transition or liminality, and rites of incorporation. One of the ways that having a baby can be such a powerful rite of passage is because this experience has the potential to combine all three of these meaningful phases of transformation. If you are pregnant, a new mom, or a mom of any age, you can use this blog as a guide to prepare for your rite of passage, or you can use the prompts to reflect back on your birth experience.
During late pregnancy and early labor, you may begin to leave behind aspects of your old identity that no longer serve you. You may find that you require more solitude and quiet time in order to reflect on the aspects of your life and identity that you are separating from, as you prepare for the transition ahead. The separation phase may bring up a variety of feelings for you, including fear, grief, excitement, or anticipation. As you begin early labor you may feel the need to literally separate yourself from others, and sometimes asking for privacy can be difficult. Give yourself some time to think or write about the following questions about the separation phase: What parts of my lifestyle and identity am I leaving behind as I embark on this new phase? What habits, tendencies, or past experiences am I ready to let go of as I welcome this new baby? Are there people in my life that I need to distance or separate myself from? How does the idea of separation feel to me, does it bring up any fear or anger from past experiences that I need to work through?
As you begin active labor and experience the birth of your child, you pass through the rite of transition; this is the threshold between states and identities. You will no longer be the same woman you were before, yet you have not yet fully emerged as the new woman you will become. The physical experience may include sensations of pain, power, and gratification unlike anything you have known, and the spiritual-emotional passage may bring up deep feelings of connection or isolation that you never knew you carried. You may embody a primal or animalistic part of your nature that you rarely reveal. As you welcome your new child, reflect upon your experience of the labor, and recover from the physical accomplishment of birth, you begin to discover your ‘new’ identity. To prepare for (or think back on) the transition phase, consider the following themes: What are some of my core beliefs about life, when all pretenses fall away? What do I inherently believe about my body’s strength or ability? How do I tend to cope with pain or adversity? What associations do I have with the concepts of control and surrender in my life?
During the postpartum phase and return to daily activities, you may develop new norms and routines for your day-to-day responsibilities. Ideally, you will be celebrated and praised for your strength and resilience, and you will be accorded a new status in society. Being honored by others and honoring yourself are part of the incorporation phase of your experience. However, without acknowledgement, support, or personally meaningful community, you may feel isolated, lost, or unable to take the time to integrate and re-define yourself based on what you have been through. Consider the following questions and ideas about your incorporation phase: How can I (with the help of my loved ones) create time to rest, take walks, journal, or do other relaxing activities so that I can incorporate the immense physical/emotional/spiritual experience I have gone through? How can I celebrate my birth experience in the company of other women? How can I help my body to recuperate from this experience? How am I feeling about the added responsibilities and changes of having my baby? What additional support do I need, and where can I turn to ask for it?
We hope that considering your birth as a rite of passage will help you reconnect to the diverse women and birth experiences before you, and the many mothers and babies yet to come. As you contemplate these themes in relation to your own story, practice gratitude for those who have witnessed or supported your transformation, and show yourself compassion for the parts that were difficult. At Sacramento Midwifery Services, we strive to honor your sacred experience during this rite of passage, while keeping the parameters of safety around you and your baby.