Updated: Apr 1, 2022
Our society is severely lacking in meaningful ceremonies. Of course, we have weddings, funerals, and even baptisms, yes…but with a closer look you will find how the sacred part of even these rituals is often missed in our western culture. Some weddings can be distilled down to a showy boozy party, and baptisms a hollow moving through the motions because a religion or our parents tell us that’s what we should do. Think about how many of the ceremonies in your life have been about outward appearances?
I digress…you see, it’s not your fault, or your parents’ either. Honestly, our culture is so focused on the external that it makes sense that these once sacred and meaningful rituals have been stripped to their most materialistic shell. And what about all of the profound rites of passage that occur completely devoid of even acknowledgement, much less ceremony? Like a young woman getting her first menses, boys becoming men, someone having sex for the first time, and both genders becoming parents…these are all huge milestones in a life where some old aspect of the identity literally dies or goes away, and we step into a new group of “belonging.” But without the ceremony, or social recognition these milestones so deserve, stepping into this new terrain may not feel like a homecoming…it may only feel like a death, or a disorienting shift into feeling lost.
One of the most profound identity shifts a female can go through is from maiden to mother. The shift is on every level: body, mind, and spirit; none of which will be the same on the other side.
“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” ~Rajneesh Look
From a psychological viewpoint, rites of passage are often broken down into these three sections: separation, transition, and reincorporation. Looking through the lens of becoming a mother, there are 3 clear stages in this rite of passage.
During the separation phase – pregnancy – women might dive into preparation mode reading “What-to-expect” books or checking out apps that show how the baby is developing in utero. Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on the baby, and getting all the things the baby will need. Baby showers often focus on baby clothes, diapers, and nursery decor, but very little on the mom and the huge life transition she is about to undergo.
Some moms might intuitively seek out a doula, midwife, or sign up for a childbirth class to meet other moms who have been through this rite of passage before, or others who are also pregnant at the same time. It can be exciting, uncomfortable, scary, or even anxiety-producing to feel your body morphing in ways you’ve never experienced; while also mentally preparing for caring for a little one, something many of us have never done since we have not been living in tribal community. And then there’s the looming knowledge that after birth, your life will no longer center around YOU. No one teaches you how to leave behind your old life and enter a new one!
The only way you can travel through a rite of passage is by facing and walking through your own unique fears. Each fear is like a doorway, you can choose to postpone, but cannot ignore. You must summon your courage and open the door to walk through to the transformation that’s on the other side. I cannot emphasize enough how impactful it is to surround yourself with a “tribe” of other mothers, and even grandmothers. These women will be an important layer in the fabric of your support postpartum. Since our society has created this isolated parenting paradigm, it is up to mothers to band together and create some form of tribe. Organizations like Nest+Bowl are popping up, centering the mother, and bringing moms together to feel less alone on this path. Part of the process of initiation involves those who have gone before you to be calling you into and through it. You are setting the tone for your motherhood starting now. Find your people!
The next phase, transition, is the actual birth: labor and delivery. In the mythical sense (and also reality), this is the period of trial. Sometimes it is long, sometimes it is short. It is always a period during which each woman is tested: physically, emotionally, psychologically beyond the limit of their previous self. It’s this trial that makes us stronger, more capable, more trusting, or more resourceful. These traits we will no doubt fall back on time and time again throughout the long road of motherhood that lies ahead.
Birth almost never goes according to the mother’s plan. Many women who don’t plan to have a Cesarean-section end up having one. Many women who didn’t want medication, end up choosing medication; many women who did want medication, couldn’t have it. And on and on… there are endless examples of how birth has a way of making its own plans. Every woman gets the exact birth she needs, like medicine, to pass on to the next chapter of her soul’s journey into motherhood. Regardless of your unique experience, it will be a portal that you will travel though and be changed by. There is no other way out but through!
And then comes the baby! The reincorporation period lines up with the postpartum period. It can be so disorienting, coming completely undone during the birthing process, and then suddenly having a new precious (and totally dependent!) little being to take care of. Often, mothers overlook their own care in obsessing about the newborn’s needs. Or caring for themself becomes a necessary means of caring for the baby. I invite you now, if you’re a new mother, to change this narrative. You are 100% a better mother if you are nourished, cared for, loved and at peace. There is NO SHAME in setting yourself up for these basic needs to be met first. In fact, that’s wisdom that a tribe with elders would make sure to uphold in support of a new mother.
The first year of a baby and mother’s new life can be a slow and arduous time of transformation; like a butterfly in the chrysalis that has come undone and needs that precious time in the enclosure to reform. This more painful part of the rite of passage can get stuck if a mother is isolated and/or struggling with postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety, which is much more common than many people think. One in five women suffer from PPD or PPA or some combination of the two. It’s a taboo topic in our society because as we addressed earlier, we are so focused on appearances…how would that look to admit to struggling during one of the “best things in life”? Well, I am here to say you’re not alone, and it won’t last forever. But if you are wondering if you're suffering from PPD/A, look up the signs online, and please seek a professional’s help sooner than later. Pain and discomfort, and growing pains with a partner are normal. Some anxiety, depression, and a lot of crying…totally normal. Also, educating your partner or caregiver about what’s going on can be monumental.
The best thing to do is stop resisting it, face it (the feelings, fears, overwhelm, what have you), let the waves come, and be transformed! Open up to therapists, trusted friends, and other moms about your process and feelings. You will undoubtedly have hundreds of surface conversations about how your baby is sleeping or where you got that cute bassinet…but I invite you to take it deeper mama, this is part of your transformation!
In times of fear, a person either steps into life more fully or slips into a diminished life riddled by fear and anxiety. If a mom is isolated or paralyzed with anxiety and fear, some part of her soul is lost and the motherhood identity gets stuck in this not-yet-transformed kind of purgatory. That is when the tribe is called to bring the mother more fully to the other side of this massive rite of passage. You need to let the old you die!
Remember that motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s totally ok if you are finding your new motherhood self slowly, or are having a hard time letting go of “her”...the old you. Find the people that can see you and hold empathetic space for you during this time. Find your pack of moms that is supportive of you, and force yourself to get out of the house with the baby. Let yourself cry, but also keep going! We mothers who have survived this rite of passage are here, calling you forth…and welcoming you home with open arms.
Written by Chelsea Hover