Every new parent goes through something of an initiation during the monumental transition of the fourth trimester. Changes happen on a profoundly spiritual and psychological level right after having a baby, and many cultures around the world recognize this with some sort of rite of passage.
These rites of passage are important for several different reasons. They signal the distinction of a parent’s new role in the community, which often helps the support system rally around the new parents’ needs. More importantly, however, is the way that rites of passage serve as rituals to help integrate parents into their new identities. Rites of passage help us internalize the significance of this transition, allowing us to more fully embrace the changes happening on every level.
In modern society, most traditional rites of passage, such as closing the bones, have been left by the wayside. The fallout from this is an expectation that new parents bounce back to business-as-usual, and a culture that minimizes the important social role that parents play. Reclaiming our rites of passage and creating our own rituals that honor and celebrate the significance of having a baby are key pieces to a much needed culture shift in postpartum healthcare.
Since most of us are separated from traditions that include formal rites of passage, we have to teach ourselves how to create something significant for ourselves. For those of us who want to be conscientious and respectful of traditions that don’t belong to us, this can be tricky. So I’ve written the following tips and ideas to help people create their own authentic traditions.
Emerging out of the womb after lying-in
A lying-in or babymoon involves creating a sacred bubble or protected environment at home during the first few weeks postpartum and intentionally emerging into the world at large as the postpartum dyad. In the cultures that do this, a celebration is often held to honor the “birth of the mother” and her crossing the threshold of the riskiest time for her health into a more stable physical state.
Adopting this concept by simply deciding when to start integrating back into the public and how to do that is a choice that can help prevent depletion, strengthen boundaries, and honor the tenderness of the postpartum dyad in those early days. It can be as simple as deciding that the first trip out is to a family member’s house, or as complex as creating a ceremony that officially honors the transition into parenthood after birth.
Honoring & thanking the body with bodywork ritual
Another fulfilling rite of passage may be an act of gratitude and deep care for our bodies and everything they have done to serve us during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Physically, these acts can help restore the nervous system and nourish circulation, and energetically, they can provide a sense of completion and closure to the openness that was creating during pregnancy. This can happen in several different ways.
Postpartum ritual baths are something that can be done throughout healing and can be made extra special when used to mark the transition out of recovery. Getting a massage- particularly an abdominal massage- from someone who specializing in postpartum healing is a great way to honor the service of our bodies and return energy inward as we transition into the full force of parenting. Another physical ritual is closing the bones, which involves wrapping the body snuggly in swaths of cloth and letting the new mother deeply meditate and come back into her body completely. These rituals are deeply nourishing on every level and when they are done with great reverence and intention, can serve to integrate us more fully into our role.
Creating a ceremony
Truly, anything can be a ceremony with the right amount of intention and creativity, and everything mentioned so far are great examples of potential ceremonies. The function of ceremony is to call in a specific purpose – whether that be to provide closure of the fourth trimester, to honor the new parents’ status, to welcome the postpartum dyad into the community – and create a meaningful ritual around that purpose. There’s no need to be intimidated by this process, as it can be as elaborate or straight-forward as anyone wants.
The basics are to have a beginning, middle, and end (for example, a word of gratitude, and offering, and a prayer or intention for the future), and to incorporate physical elements that have personal meaning and represent the themes and purpose of the ceremony. The possibilities are truly endless.
This list is simply a starting point and folks are definitely encouraged to explore the limits of their imagination of what rituals are meaningful to them. They can provide us strength, restoration, and the ability to adjust to the many changes that face us. More than anything, the act of reclaiming rites of passage as necessary elements of the fourth trimester is a step towards fully integrating as new parents.
Image via Treefrog Photography
Latest posts by Stephanie Tanner, RN, CHW (see all)
- Creating Meaningful Rituals for the Fourth Trimester - December 18, 2016