Rites of Passage, Community, and Culture

This article delves into an aspect of becoming a mother called rites of passage. This is not a new term; in fact this type of passage has been known and ritualized for 1000s of years. Here I am bringing it back into the conversation and highlighting how it is currently understood.

Rites of passage mark certain points within ones life when one is required to move from one role within a community to a new one. With this role change one is treated differently by the community, and he or she has acquired new responsibilities. Illustrations of these periods are birth, marriage, puberty, and becoming a mother. Indigenous cultures ritualized these significant passages of time through specific ceremonies and traditions. Rites of passage can be characterized by three stages.

The first stage is called either separation or pre-liminal. The initiate active starts disengaging from their group, society, or family. The symbolism in this stage is about leaving one’s old self, a letting go of the old skin, and death to the old self.
Next, this person enters the transitional stage, also called the initiation, liminal, or marginal states of being. This is where they start to develop their new self. It is a disordered state of being that can be confusing and disorienting. It can also be a time where the unexpected and excitement emerges.

In the third phase, the subject is consummated, incorporated, or in a post-liminal state. The ritual subject, individual or corporate, is once again in a stable state. This person is now expected to carry the rights and obligations of their new status as defined by their community.

Women who are pregnant and give birth undergo a rites of passage. Researchers such as Kathryn Rabuzzi, Sylvia Briton Perera, Robbie E. Davis-Floyd, and Clarissa Pinkola Estes have differing opinions about the rites of passage for pregnant women. Some authors state that the rites of passage starts with the beginning of pregnancy and end with the delivery of the child. Others state that the rites continue through the first couple of months of postpartum. Other researchers state that there are two rites of passage, one for the pregnancy and the other for the postpartum period. Through my research, the rites of passage model was definitely relevant for mothers with children up to four years.

Concurrently, there is new research showing that at each stage of a child’s life, the mother has to readjust her role/identity by letting go of how she was with her baby and develop a new way of being with her child, teenager, adult.

Within American society, it has been pointed out that there is a general lack of support for women undergoing this passage. As an example, the baby goes for frequent doctor visits and the mother only goes to one six-week medical checkup. These mothers are left to their own devices to find support on their own.

When this initiatory process goes unsupported, some women can have a harder time developing their identity as a mother. This can manifest for some mothers as chronic self-doubt, rigidly following the rules, and/or having a paucity of self-care. If you find yourself in this situation, please do try to find some support. It can be as simple as joining other moms to go for a walk. Meetup.com is a great resource for finding local mom groups. Postpartum Support International has good resources as well: http://www.postpartum.net/. I also offer support. 

Wishing everyone well!!!!!!