The journey through pregnancy and birth is filled with mystery. It is a wonderful journey during which a woman can learn so much about herself and her abilities.
Giving birth to a child is often described as one of the most beautiful aspects of womanhood. Each pregnancy, each child born, is a special opportunity for a woman to discover within herself great strength and litheness.
Childbirth often is described as the peak experience in a woman’s life. But what is it really like to be a mother for the first time?
“I experienced a wide range of emotions,” Rita M., a new mother told me recently. “I was excited and scared at the same time. I even doubted whether or not I would be a good mother. I can’t tell you how many nights my husband and I stayed up praying that God would give us the guidance and strength we needed to be good parents.”
She added, “Having a baby is definitely an emotional transformation. From the first time I saw him on the ultrasound, to hearing his heart beat and seeing him and holding him in my arms was an emotional, weepy occurrence. Even now, just holding him in my arms, I still cry.
I believe for the dad it is the same kind of encounter. My husband went with me to every single appointment and ultrasound, and each time we came out crying and rejoicing together.”
Birth is a sacred, holy, soul-shaping experience, to be sure. It is also a profound rite of passage—a passage that is marked by three phases: preparation, journey, and return.
Childbirth classes are most often the rituals that begin to prepare and initiate new mothers in our culture. Every woman who is about to give birth has deep questions about her strength, her ability to endure, how she will mother and how she will love.
These questions are an integral part of the preparation phase of the rite of passage—exploring beliefs about birth, pain, and mothering, and uncovering hidden resources for coping with the unknown can have a profound impact on a woman’s psyche.
“My greatest fear about giving birth was just that—giving birth,” the new mother explained. “I do not deal well with pain. And with being a first-time mom, I was unsure of just how much pain I would suffer. I was induced on a Tuesday morning around 8 a.m. and by 5:47 p.m. my baby was finally here.
“My delivery was short and fast. I had an epidural, pushed for about 45 minutes and that was it. I did experience some pain, but it was well worth the gift I received in the end.”
The young woman continued, “I dealt with those fears in the only way I could—by believing that God wouldn’t put on me more than I could bear—even though there were a few times during the delivery that I might have questioned it. I put my trust in God and asked Him to give me the strength I needed.”
All rites of passage involve a descent. Taking the descent in awareness peels back layers of the self. The descent shapes, molds and stretches the woman to be reborn and redefines her capacity to love—it initiates her on a pathway she has never traveled.
“For me, I consider it a huge blessing to be pregnant and have a healthy baby boy. So many women today are unable to experience the joys of pregnancy and giving birth to a child. At the same time, so many children do not have a family or parents who can care for them. So, I consider myself to be extremely blessed with a privilege to experience these things.”
In other words, a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood is the foundation for new life.
“To be a mother means loving your child no matter how much he may disobey or break our hearts,” the woman said emphatically.
“Providing for him the things he needs and always being his biggest fan. My mom and dad who live in Indiana have been here for the first week and have helped us tremendously. I had so many questions. Mom was there to help me.”
Rita believes that an expectant mother in the later months of pregnancy should be honored, respected, cherished, and nurtured, since her time of approaching labor of birth can seem quite overwhelming at times. And ironically, at a time when a mother needs reassurance and pampering, the celebration of a new birth gathers friends and family in a sacred circle to honor her transition into motherhood.
Rita, however, never really had to seek a support system during her pregnancy.
“I never felt as if I were alone,” she said. “I was surrounded by a loving and supportive church family, with several moms to offer advice and help when I needed it. There were times when I had questions about what was going to happen next and whether I was doing the right things, but I always felt I had someone I could talk to.”
Rita remains confident after her return from the birth encounter. Nevertheless, the mother realizes how profoundly she has changed. Her status is different, and she has gained a new level of respect and responsibility.
She has participated in something that has changed not only her, but also how others relate to her.
Rita has gained wisdom that only a mother can have—wisdom that is born out of pain, wisdom that opens a young woman’s heart to compassion that is altogether new.
Rita has learned what really matters in life. And in starting a new life from her womb, she has redefined her capacity to feel, change, grow and love.
“Now that I am a mother,” she shares, “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I never knew just how much a new life could bring to our family.”
Top o’ the morning!