Our Births as a Rite of Passage

Written by Jane Hardwicke Collings

Birth is a Rite of Passage whether you acknowledge it or not. The experience we have teaches us life-changing lessons about who we are, what we’re capable of and what we need to face in our lives to transform into the Mothers for NOW. What we learn influences how we feel about ourselves as Mothers and how we mother our children.

A rite of passage is a culturally specific phenomenon, it serves as a mechanism to reinforce and carry forth the values of the culture. Rites of passage include births, menarche, bar mitzvahs, graduations, weddings, menopause and deaths. The purpose of a rite of passage is to teach the initiate that which she needs to know to be her new role. During the process the initiate is transformed into the new person, be it Woman, Graduate, Wife, Soldier, Adult or Mother. Many rites of passage actually inculcate or brainwash the initiates with the cultural values without them even knowing. Rites of passage enable a culture to continue.

Birth as a rite of passage is not a new concept for us, we’ve talked about it a lot, ‘work-shopped it’. During our pregnancy classes and antenatal care, this concept featured as one of our tools we used to envision our births.

During our pregnancy’s our personal issues become more obvious, like if you’ve got a problem with your Mother or your partner, it's louder, trying to get your attention when we’re pregnant, we’re on a different level (of self-awareness).

It becomes clearer and clearer that (what comes up for us) is about love or fear, and once you have that knowledge, you can’t go back, going back means ignoring your wisdom.” So our pregnancies are times of gestating not only our babies, but ourselves.

Four of us started our Mothering careers in hospital, with typical interventionist births, and learned from those rites of passage “how to be a good girl, to do what the Doctor says and don’t make any noise” SJ.

“For my first two births (in hospital) I never questioned anything, I gave away my power. The birth was controlled, I just lay there and they did everything, they even took control of the baby.” MG

The transformative effect of that sort of rite of passage is to conform to the patriarchal vision and expectation of Women as “good girls” and to keep going back for more to prove this to ourselves, either for subsequent birth experiences and/or on the ‘cult of the expert’ trail, as Jeannine Parvati Baker puts it, with ongoing visits to the GP and Paediatrician continually needing to look outside ourselves for the wisdom required to raise our children. Our experience gives us/teaches us our wisdom, so if we have disempowering rites of passage into Motherhood, then we are not empowered Mothers.

If we bring awareness to this process our experience of childbirth can teach us what we need to know next in our development – as rites of passage can – “I learned what not to do” CIW, and “(after my first hospital birth, I thought) how did this happen to me? (I learned) I have to pay attention and be involved in what’s going on with/to me” SJ.

“(After my first birth – induction, epidural, vacuum extraction) my expectations (of birth) changed. Rather than conforming to society’s expectations, I created my own.” CIW.

So sometimes the attempts of the culture to create mindsets in the initiates that best suit the system, in this case the medicalisation of childbirth – backfires and results in women stepping outside the system, often angered by what happened to them.

Our births teach us what we need to know about ourselves, and what needs to change about ourselves so that we can transform to be the perfect mother for our baby. To be as Jeannine Parvati Baker says “the Mother’s that the Earth needs NOW, for the children’s sake and for the Earth’s sake.”
“For my second birth (in hospital) I prepared myself by becoming informed, I had an empowering experience, (the hospital midwives) showed me respect and so I felt more self respect” GW.

“Becoming a Mother the first time woke me up, I had more than myself to be responsible for, (this resulted in me) listening to wise people not just the standard crap. (From my first birth) I learned how fantastic my body is!” CIW.

“My first birth (in hospital) taught me that its okay to say what you want, its always okay and never too late” CaW.

“I learnt (in my first birth) that I didn’t know what surrender meant, I had a homebirth transfer and caesarean section. I got what surrender means from my second birth (VBAC at home), and my attitude to myself, my sexual self and myself as a woman and mother transformed” JC.

“Each time I conceived was a new awakening to every aspect of myself, my life – how I was living, how my relationship was and where I was living” KK.

“(My first pregnancy) was about trust and having respect for myself. (I learned to be able to tell) other’s fears from my own” KL.

Once freed from the institutional approach to birth, women seem more able to experience the full range of possibility with their birth experiences, the rite of passage as Mother Nature intended ie the biological intention. “My second pregnancy (a planned homebirth after a first hospital birth) was a spiritual experience. I had reverence for this person inside me. Early on in my pregnancy I was given information, through my intuition and knowingness that this pregnancy would teach me about Goddess energy. I trusted my feelings rather than trying to rationalise them with what I should or shouldn’t do. I was motivated by the desire for the best for my child.” CaW.

“During my second pregnancy I learned to take responsibility for myself and that it wasn’t necessary to do what was expected of me.”KK.

“With my second pregnancy I had much more self direction which became for me self recognition. This lead me to wanting more choices and ultimately my choices, not anyone else’s.” KL.

“In this my third pregnancy, I can see the opportunity for my personal growth and empowerment. I will be conscious at this birth (previous 2 births on pethidine) and aware of my intentions when I bring my baby into the world.” MG

“In my second pregnancy, starting with knowing what I didn’t want, I learned to trust my body and to trust other women. I’d given up on women when my mother died, but now I could feel the strength of woman/women and the love from other women. All this resulted in an easier than expected first stage. I was expecting a much longer and more painful time. Now I am transformed, I have faith and confidence in myself as a natural mother. I’ve learned I don’t have to fight for everything. I can accept how fantastic it all is being a mother, and that I am a fantastic Mother!” CIW

“My second pregnancy taught me that I can follow my intuition and that I want to be around women in a deep way.” SJ.

“For my second pregnancy I was already coming from a place of power not fear. I knew what I didn’t want and I was open to receiving information that I needed for the birth of this child. That birth (homebirth) transformed me into a powerful kick-arse Mama. I don’t wait for things to happen to me anymore, I make them, I call them to me.” CaW

“During this my third pregnancy, I’m feeling less desire for outside assistance. I have more faith in myself, more harmony within, (planning a freebirth after two previous midwife attended homebirths) I am transformed into Mother, I feel that now my life has purpose. Every moment of every day is contributing to the future of my children and the world. I have never felt like that before, nor can I imagine anything I could do that will have such a profound influence.” KL

“Through each birth (Mother of 5) I come to know myself more, to have more confidence in my ability and to know that my needs are not just valid, they are vital for my health. I’ve learned to be more informed and more precise in my decision making and to absolutely follow my intuition.” SJ

So when we look at ourselves now, after birth, we can tell we are different. From our experiences we have gained knowledge and wisdom and through birth as a rite of passage we have been, as the initiate is – transformed. Transformed into empowered Mothers, capable of anything and everything! Trusting in our ability to raise our children. Lucky, ‘cos that’s the job description! And we want this for every woman.

Transformation is different to change.
Transformation is metamorphosis.
Transformation is a shift in root perspective, a restructuring of our internal consciousness – our beliefs and attitudes – such that we can never respond to things the way we used to.

We know that after childbirth we are never the same again. There is no going back. This is the way of nature -just as the way the caterpillar creates it’s cocoon, becomes a chrysalis and gestates itself in preparation for it’s rebirth, it’s transformation. The chrysalis will emerge as a butterfly. The struggle from the cocoon is essential for the transformation to occur. If the cocoon is cut open to make the emergence easier, faster, the butterfly will never be able to fly. The ‘struggle’ from the cocoon is the vital part in that process, the struggle or effort required to get out of the cocoon pumps fluid into the wings giving them sufficient strength to fly.
Is this what happens to women robbed of the ‘efforts’ of natural birth? Are they unable to express their true potential?

Evolution of our species occurs through birth as a rite of passage or devolution. What happens at birth is incredibly important for the life of the Mother and the child and either reinforces or creates new (from ancient) values about Women, Mothers, the feminine. Another way we will see this reflected is in how we as a culture care for the Earth – our Mother.

Our prayer is that all women, through their births, find strength, courage, love and support; that we remember the women’s wisdom that is in us all, that is our inheritance; and that we feel the connection that exists between us all.

Birth, Pregnancy, SpiritRain Inaya Ali