Thursday, December 29, 2011

Birth: a Rite of Passage

Once, on the beach, I met a woman who had a little daughter. I was not a mother yet. She spoke to me about the fact that when she gave birth she didn’t know anything about birth. She didn’t know she would bleed afterwards. She didn’t know the doctors would cut her perineum. She didn’t know many things and she was blaming her mother because she didn’t tell her, she didn’t prepare her for birth.

For what I knew, and my mother told me, the doctors cut women’s perineum at birth. For me that was a statement, a truth. That is how it was supposed to be, that is how my mother put it. I though every woman knew that. I felt pity for the woman on the beach. I could feel her disappointment, and almost her anger. She felt betrayed, by her mother and by the medical system. She felt alone.

When I became pregnant I felt ignorant. I realized I didn’t know anything about birth, just bits and pieces. I felt unprepared. I started buying books, as this was the only way I knew to gain knowledge quickly and thoroughly. The other way I knew was enlightenment, however you can’t count on that. It might happen but also not. I did hear a few brief yet encouraging birth stories from my sister-in-law and my friend. They were positive and nice: easy birth, no problems, meditation through pain on one side and 8 hours pre-partum shopping that made things smoother on the other. Those two stories made their way though many more unpleasant ones that I just discarded at some point.

I was attracted by natural birth. I started peeping at Youtube and discovered a whole world of natural birth video diaries. I stumbled upon the documentary “The Business of Being Born” and I cried. It was the first time I saw what the birth looked like, or how it was supposed to look in a normal situation. Here, the normality switched its meaning for me. Before, I thought giving birth in a hospital was normal and the way it was supposed to be. Now, I realized giving birth was an intimate event, so intimate that it should be practiced at home, or at least in a nice place with nice and caring people who would help without invading.

I realized the episiotomy was not necessary. No, women were not supposed to be routinely cut at the perineum. The perineum might tear and few stitches might occur afterwards, but, no, that is not a norm. My mother was wrong. They told her so when she gave birth just because it was a practice the ob-gyns were applying by routine on birthing women. She accepted the explanation without questioning. She didn’t have much choice. But, I had a choice. I had all the choices of this world, because I was looking for them. I realized birth was not just a mechanical procedure of extracting a child from a woman’s womb, it was a sacred act. It was a passage to life for a new creature. It was a rite of passage for a new mother. I perceived the birth of my child as a rite; archetypal, radical, mind-shifting, body changing, inner and external metamorphoses that would make me a different person. I would be reborn with the birth of my child. It was a rite that I had to go through with the total presence of my body and soul.

I needed a shaman to guide me as I was not wise enough in that practice. I found it in Ibu Robin Lim, my midwife. She was my guide. She was there to show me the way but she made me do the job. She believed in me. That was all that I needed. I felt I could trust her. I knew she understood my need for ritual. She was the prophet of birth poetry. She was my angel and my Mother, my Grandmother and my Great-grandmother. She was the connection to the holy feminine. She knew that I knew that she knew. We sang my daughter through together. The rite was accomplished, the transformation occurred and it was acknowledged. I was consciously new and ready for a major challenge of my life: Motherhood.

In some ways, the intensity of birth makes everything else look easy. It is the scary black forest, the unknown beast, the demon to face at the moment of passage to another stage of life. Yet, I am slowly realizing birth was only the beginning, a noisy and colorful inauguration of a life full of challenges, a celebration of intensity of parenthood. I am extremely glad it went as it went, so I could move forward without regret knowing I am on my arduous path towards wisdom.

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