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There are several cultures where childbirth is understood to be a rite of passage. Beliefs surrounding this transformation are important because they inform the way in which women give birth.

The first culture that jumps to mind would be the Kung of the Kalahari Desert, where young men and women practice rituals that bring them into adulthood.  The most significant right of passage for the Kung men is to hunt and kill their first large animal. For women, the right of passage is giving birth. The Kung is a very subtle tribe who don’t honor bragging.  For example if a young man comes back from a hunt and boasts about making the big kill they will be ignored.  Instead they will quietly start passing out meat, indicating that they accomplished this feat.  For women to gain the same kind of honor, they go off on their own to give birth in the bush without saying anything to anyone. Once the child is born, they very quietly come back and start nursing their baby under a tree.  At this point everyone notices and comes by to congratulate her.  She is then honored for her stoicism and her warrior like abilities in her right of passage.

Another great example is Japan.  Most births still take place in the hospital, however there are maternity homes with live-in midwives where women go for pre-natal care and birth.  The Japanese and the midwives who work in these maternity homes have a specific saying about labor pain; they call it “metamorphic”.  They say that going through labor is a metamorphosis because it changes the woman into a mother the way that crawling out of the cocoon changes the caterpillar into a butterfly.  They adhere to an old story that states if you help the caterpillar out of its cocoon it will die.  It has to emerge by itself in order to survive and to be strong.

Japanese midwives approach birth with great patience.  They believe that the struggle and pain of labor helps the mother to grow and transform herself. The mother must look deep down inside herself and find out who she is.  The baby also needs the struggle of being born; the work is what transforms both the mother and the baby into separate beings with the power and the strength to go on and to be the mother-baby pair that they need to be.

The babies muscles will get exercised during birth which will prepare the baby to be ready to breastfeed.  This will also enable the baby to be aware of the smells and hormones needed to latch on.  If it’s born by cesarean section for example or if there are drugs at birth the baby’s consciousness will be reduced as well as the flow of necessary hormones.

The mother’s metamorphosis releases massive doses of oxytocin while she’s in early labor. Late in labor a flush of adrenaline gets her on a high and gives her the power and strength to push the baby out. Right after this stage comes another flush – the biggest flush of oxytocin she’ll ever get in her entire life.  This will transform her and the moment of suffering, pain and pushing.  If you watch women’s faces at this moment there’s a suffusion of joy and ecstasy in their expression.  Then the milk lets down, the prolactin comes and the hormones all work together to make the caterpillar turn into the most beautiful butterfly.

This excerpt is part of a video interview with Robbie Davis-Floyd and is being re-published with permission from Mindful Mama.

 

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