Over the years, I have been a witness to many birth rituals. Often, these are rituals drawn from different cultures. Those that spring to mind...
A Tibetan woman had a long labour, followed by a cesarean birth. Outside the operating room waited two beaming monks, their robes a bright contrast to the hospital walls. After the baby was born, the father asked that the first piece of cloth to touch the baby was a silk fuschia prayer shawl that had been blessed by the Dalai Lama. There, in the operating room, was one spark of colour. The birth shifted from medical to spiritual.
A Sikh woman laboured, standing by the bed in the hospital. While the nurse was ritually laying out the delivery cart, gloved and masked, the husband ritually laid out a prayer table. The altar of medicine looked out of place.
A Japanese woman reached down for her baby, pulled him up to her breast, and named him. "She must tell him his name as he comes to her breast," whispered her husband.
But there are also historical rituals to be considered...
At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, a current exhibition titled, "At Home in Renaissance Italy," highlights the rhythms and rituals of Renaissance living. One highlight is a portrait of a noblewoman, wearing a marten's pelt with a jewelled head. This fashion accesory was believed to act as a guardian to women during pregnancy and childbirth. The marten was thought to conceive through the ear and give birth through the mouth. Much easier!
The women were also pampered after the birth, their food being carried to them on ritual birth trays, lavishly painted with protective images.
Pregnancy is a wonderful time to explore these cultural and historical rituals, and perhaps foster a stronger connection between peoples and times.
Jacquie Munro, founder of the "Slow Birth" movement, is an experienced doula and childbirth educator and is well-known for her individualized, intuitive approach to supporting families in the childbearing year and beyond. Since 1987, she has provided support at over one thousand births, at home and in hospital, and taught thousands of expectant parents. At home, Jacquie lives only a bike ride away from four generations of her family. You can usually find her at the park or beach, playing beside her twin grandsons who call her "Deecy".