Women remember the birth of their child for life.Whether we choose to acknowledge it as such, birth IS a rite of passage. You stand at the precipice of enourmous transformation as you prepare for birth and your journey as mother. Rites of passage, or initiations are social and cultural events that mark the transition from one phase of an individual’s life to the next. There are three phases common to all rites of passage – separation, transition and incorporation. These phases were identified by a Dutch anthropologist, Arnold van Gennep in 1961 when he coined the term, rite of passage. Pregnancy is a liminal phase (a stage of ‘becoming’) where the woman is preparing to be initiated through the process of childbirth to the phase of motherhood, or the role of mother. Pregnancy is the separation phase in the motherhood rite. Then birth is the intermediate transition phase. In Western society, there are few formal rites of passage, however, becoming a mother is a distinct one. Sadly, this epic passage is rarely treated with the reverence and honour it deserves. The monumental identity change that happens with motherhood and birth is swept under the rug and downplayed at every opportunity by our modern society. In western culture birth has mostly become ritualised as an event that shifts the focus from the mother, solely to the baby. In a highly technological and medicalised environment that requires monitoring and management. The predominant underlying messages that women receive within this cultural paradigm and ritual is that — birth is dangerous; and your body (a woman’s body) cannot be trusted. Most women in Australia birth in a hospital setting. Throughout pregnancy, women are being consciously and subconsciously groomed and initiated towards the values of the dominant paradigm. This is can be happening within many different relationships that the woman has – with her care providers (especially if an obstetric model of care is chosen), partners, mothers, friends, relatives, others – anyone the woman may speak with about birth, or any messaging that she receives from society at large that reinforces birth as a medical event that requires management, and that women’s bodies require assistance from an expert to birth. The vast majority of experts generally see and treat women’s bodies as unpredictable and broken. As a vessel or machine to be managed and tabulated. The predominant cultural paradigm of the West, values — + the patriarchy and the authority of the expert (doctors and staff in hospitals), + women’s passivity and women being good girls, + women’s bodies being viewed as mechanistic (rather than humanistically); and + the health of the baby is paramount. Have you ever heard the statement: “a healthy baby is all that matters”, or, this one’s a pearler (and one that I have actually witnessed women say to one another) “…all that matters is you both survive”. Really? Survival. Is that the best we can do? I believe we can do better. When women make these types of statements, what they’re retelling and perpetuating is a cultural norm about birth that I don’t believe is coming from within them, or their own innate wisdom. Comments like these are a symptom of what’s happening around us. Viewing childbirth as a rite of passage can feel quite foreign to women, or even a little scary and overwhelming – as I feel there is a lot of confusion in our culture as to what this even means.
Reframing birth as a rite of passage and questioning your values and beliefs about birth can be confronting. This shifts the significance of birth back to you, as a self-aware, self-responsible and autonomous woman, away from the primary focus on the baby and the gaze of the expert.
When you choose to honour this transformative event as the initiation it truly is, and make conscious choices about what you actually want, you reclaim your body, your power and begin to remember the magnificence of the divine feminine.The divine feminine is the energy of birth. It is life force energy. It is energy we can’t control. It is your innate body wisdom that knows birth. It is becoming birth. Typically, feminine energy is not cultivated or honoured in western society. Birth is a frontier that has been colonised by the values of patriarchy – masculine energy being the predominant driver of this. Masculine energy is great, when it’s in harmony with the feminine. But then even masculine energy has been exploited by the patriarchy too. Viewing birth as a positive rite of passage reframes birth as an experience that is for your evolution as a woman and human being. It is a pivotal experience that marks the transition from maiden to mother, or from a mother of one to two, for example. You can begin to shift your perspective towards your pregnancy and birth as an opportunity for growth, by seeing the inevitable transformations that take place physically, emotionally, spiritually, and physiologically, through the lense of being a phase of initiation and a rite of passage. Viewing pregnancy as a valuable experience in and of itself, and not just a means to an end (the birth and receiving your baby) might be the first step on the path to begins to nurture the phase and honour the event as an important rite of passage. Pregnancy can be a powerful portal of preparation and exploration. Your emotional senses and perceptions are heightened. Your energy system is more open than ever before. This is an opportunity to resolve your inner conflicts and do what Pam England calls the “work of worrying” which means to participate in healthy worrying about the fears you will no doubt have as you stand at the doorway of this major transition. Fears are healthy and normal for an event where there are unknown factors. Birth is always a mystery and no two births are the same, so even if you’ve done it before, there’s always elements of the unknown which you’ll encounter. Jane Hardwicke Collings writes that birth teaches us what we need to know about ourselves, and what needs to change about ourselves so that we can be the perfect mother for our baby. I feel that there’s truth in this. In my own experience, I didn’t get the birth I wanted, or hoped for. But I did receive the experience my soul needed to show me certain things about myself. Seeds were sown for self reflection and growth. The areas of self that were revealed to me were things I hadn’t even considered in my birth preparation. Birth was a portal that illuminated the ways I experienced myself and related to the world and others around me. Fundamentally, it’s often said, within birth circles — how we live, is how we birth. So, how do you live?
Resources Here’s some books and resources that explore birth as a rite of passage for further reading: Birthing from Within, Pam England The Natural Pregnancy Book, Aviva Jill Romm, MD Ten Moons – The Inner Journey of Pregnancy – Preparation for Natural Birth, Jane Hardwicke Collings BIrth as an American Rite of Passage, Robbie E. Davis Floyd The Fourth Trimester, Kimberley Ann Johnson Article – The Technocratic Model of Birth, Robbie E. Davis Floyd – http://www.davis-floyd.com/the-technocratic-model-of-birth/
Three Moons Pregnancy Circles, Darwin
Sit in circle with other pregnant women at the new moon over three months to explore your experiences in a safe space. Click here, or on image below for more details.
Clancy Allen is a Certified Doula, Kinesiologist & Yoga teacher specialising in pre-natal yoga. Clancy provides birthing services around Newcastle & the Central Coast, NSW. Clancy is passionate about birth being experienced as a rite of passage where women experience and know their power.