Pregnancy, birth and the first days of parenthood carry the deepest effects not only for the newborn, but for the new parents, at psychological, physical and emotional level. What are we doing to fully and effectively process this information to foster mental and emotional health in our families?
One of the most important parts of my work as a doula is helping couples enter parenthood with the sense of awe and reverence that it deserves. Sometimes in the midst of the excitement, the tiredness and the surprise, couples forget that they too have just been born as parents and that they need time, care and processing, for what follows is indeed a whole new chapter in their lives; one that in my opinion holds maybe the deepest potential for transformation.*
As I usually mention during my workshops, the purpose of ritual is for our subconscious mind to process information that our rational/verbal mind is incapable of conveying, thus enabling us to fully and healthily incorporate new experiences. When we undergo an event of such profound meaning and alteration, our subconscious world requires to integrate it in it's full dimension and it can only do so through symbolic language. All magical acts or religious ceremonies are strongly charged with symbolic material. Whether you believe in the spiritual world or not, the main purpose of the symbolic theatre that takes place during rituals is to tell your subconscious mind that something has changed in your situation and this can only be done without words: I now "belong" to another man (marriage), I am now a parent (4o days closure), I am reborn (baptism), I'm keeping this person from doing me harm (binding spells) etcetera.
We could then say this is one of the main purposes of placenta and closure rituals: To give a sense of completion, to feel psychologically prepared to step into this new stage, to allow the mind to leave the process of labour and birth behind so that we can enter our new roles with a clear head and a lighter heart.
Apart from that -beware now if you're not a believer as I'm about to enter the territory of mysticism and spirituality- placenta planting and closure rituals have their own spiritual meaning and are traditionally kept to offer confort for the family and foster the well being of mother and baby.
During this whole process of bringing a new being into life and becoming parents, there's a silent witness that protects the baby from the minute of conception until it is time for him/her to depart this world. This spiritual force is the Placenta, the eternal grand mother, the keeper of health, the guardian of water and wombs. Placenta comes into being after the baby is conceived and then naturally exits the body once the baby is born. It is the only organ created during adult life and released once its job is done.
This spiritual companion revered in many ancestral cultures can keep us healthy when revisiting her later in life (whether in person or in thought). The only important thing is that we plant it after birth so that the person can stay rooted and keep his/her feet in the ground, thus being able to march firmly and get to wherever it is they need to get to in life.
Placenta, being a tree -some say the visual origin for the tree of life symbol- needs to bee in the ground, planted under a tree, near to a water body such as a lake or lagoon, as placenta is the keeper of wombs, and water bodies are the wombs of the mother Earth. In this way, placenta fulfils her double mission of keeping both baby and water safe, healthy, abundant, strong.
Many of these ancient cultures also observe the 40 days after birth as a period of quarantine that is fundamental to ensure the mother's health, and require a closure ritual to take place at the end of these 40 days. This ritual seeks to provide the woman a safe space and time to:
- Come back to life, now as a mother/ Incorporate her new role.
- Accept that her body has changed: Somethings have been lost and will stay lost forever.
- Feel grateful with her body: As it has undergone extreme circumstances to bring life into the world.
- Observe her own strength: The first days are demanding and she might be feeling empty and sometimes inadequate. Revisiting the experience of pregnancy and birth can be extremely empowering.
- Get in touch with her womb and the spirit of the Sacred Mother: Seeking spiritual support
- Reclaim autonomy over her body: This might be one of the most important reasons to perform a closure ceremony. A woman needs a minute to process her motherhood as an additional role to the one of being herself. Her body has been shared for nine months and now will continue to be shared during breastfeeding. A closure ceremony focuses on bringing her back into herself also as an individual.
On the day this ritual is performed, mother and baby share the same energetic state that they did during birth. Bodies and souls are open and require soothing baths and massage to sweeten any sour experiences they might have had during birth, to be comforted and assured that they will be supported in the road ahead. After performing the closure ceremony, the family is left to have a floral and herbal bath together and to rest for what is left of the day.
After the ritual, the family is ready to come back to the world and step into their new life together.
* I would also address the psychological and emotional implications that birth and the first 24 hours have on the the wellbeing of the newborn, but I'm sure there's much more complete and better written resources out there in the web. If you want a place to start you can check this interview with Michel Odent.
*If you would like to receive more information on Placenta planting and closure ceremonies you can contact me at email@example.com.
*Family painting by Km Berggren